Warm Fuzzies and Cold Realities

A 10-year old girl was having tooth pain and couldn’t sleep. That’s all I knew.

So I went with Sofia and Carlos, Portuguese volunteers, to Dipethe camp to find this girl, meet her family, and arrange to take her to the dentist on Friday.

Dipethe is a small camp located in and around an abandoned municipal theater, where about 500 people live in tents both inside the open-air building and around its perimeter.

Walking into the building felt a lot like walking through a front door and straight into someone’s living room. It’s as cozy and colorful as you could hope to make it, with a narrow strip of bare floor down the middle and squishy padding under soft blankets along the sides.


An indoor area of Dipethe Camp.

Families have pitched their tents and carved little homesteads in every available space, while those with access to outlets have plugged in fans.

We were able to find our girl easily, and though we arrived unannounced as perfect strangers, she and her father welcomed us with smiling faces and warm handshakes. We told them we were there to talk about the dentist, and they invited us in to sit down.

She has four young brothers, and I gave them each two stickers. When we got settled, the eight year old put one of his stickers on my shirt, then insisted I take some of his snack. In return I gave a few more stickers to save for later. And by “later” I mean roughly 30 seconds, when he plastered them all over his 2-year old brother’s butt while he was napping.


Carlos attempts to draw a map of Europe.

While the grown ups talked about boring things like where they were all from, I whipped out a deck of UNO cards, and they caught on quickly. They refused to give each other the cards that would require their brother to take more from the deck, but they laughed wickedly when I made them draw four.

Eventually, it was time to go. We snapped photos, shared kisses like old friends, and put on our shoes.

Then there was some commotion when the dad greeted a visitor. She was a mom carrying a boy of about two years old, and her young daughter stood beside her.

He rushed to find a large bottle of water, two pieces of fruit, and a package of crackers, which he handed to her with urgency. She nodded, then walked away.

“They are from Vial,” he explains.

My stomach dropped.

Vial is hell on earth. It is the government-run camp that serves rotten food and refuses to let volunteers provide meals. It is more inland than the two camps on the coast, which means it has no sea breeze to relieve the punishing heat, and many women are still wearing the warmer dresses they received when they arrived in March.

Two days ago a dad from Vial asked if we had baby wipes, because they haven’t had access to any in four weeks. Now I carry a stash in my backpack for when I see folks with babies from Vial (Thank you, Donors!).

I looked again at the mother walking away. Her baby was so skinny.

I made eye contact with Sophia and Carlos, and we were all thinking the same thing: It’s time to go grocery shopping.

With one last goodbye to our new friends, I caught up to the mom and tapped her shoulder. I made the sign for eating and asked, “Would you like to eat?” she nodded. Her son had already eaten half the banana. He was so hungry.

We walked them to a patch of shade outside and asked her to wait. Then we went power shopping.

What do you buy someone from Vial? Vitamins, fat, and protein are important, but the food can’t require refrigeration. We split into three directions and soon our basket was full of bananas (yellow for now, green for later!), apples, bread, cherry tomatoes, milk, water, almonds and toothbrushes. And, of course, chocolate.


Some of the groceries we bought.

Before my trip, an anonymous donor gave me $50 and told me to keep an eye out for a family who really needed it.

I used $35 of it to buy this family enough food to fill their bellies for a few meals.

While Carlos and I gathered the bags, Sophia ran ahead to bring them to a place down the street from camp, so that we could give her the groceries in private.

I didn’t understand anything she said besides “Thank you! Thank you!” She flung her arms around Sofia, then smooshed my cheeks and kissed my face.

People in the care of any government shouldnot be this happy to see food.

I said, “Please enjoy,” and then, “Good-bye.”

I was five steps away when the tears started and wouldn’t stop all the way through dinner.

Learn more about my volunteer trip to help refugees in Greece, and how you can help, too. –> https://www.youcaring.com/refugee-garden-kids-istanbul-and-…


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