Thank you, Donors. Here’s what you helped me do.

To My Dear Donors:

I have been home for just over three weeks, but dispersed the last of your funds last week.
With the $7,755 you donated, we were able to make a beautiful difference in many lives. We helped some people with small things like clothing, food, and strollers. We were also able to make a huge difference to two families who continue to face dire circumstances.

Here is what we were able to do. Click for my posts that tell the behind-the-scenes story for some:

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Night Shift at the Watch Tower

All night, every night, volunteers on the Greek island of Chios stand watch over the thin slice of Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, searching for rubber dinghies carrying asylum seekers who are praying for safe passage and a peaceful future.
On my last full night as a volunteer, I joined the Chios Eastern Shore Response Team – CESRT for the 3–8 am shift at a 1000-year old Watchtower, the team’s lookout point for the southern side of the Island. From there, we could watch over a giant swath of water and coastline.

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Santa Clause in Limbo

Every morning in Chios my alarm goes off at 7:00 AM. It’s always too early because I’ve either stayed up too late working or worrying about my new friends, all residents of three refugee camps on this Greek island.

At the sound of the alarm my eyes open and a wave of adrenaline pushes me out of bed. I remember how much I have to do and am nervous that I won’t get it all done.

Each day starts with taking inventory of what I’ve already purchased for camp and what else I need to buy (thanks to my very generous donors).

While my coffee brews, I stuff my backpack with everything that will fit, then put the rest into little shopping bags that I’ll carry by hand: a purse for the mom nervous that her documents will be stolen, new shoes for the family who have sandals ready to fall apart, a phone charger for the 18 year old kid who misses his mother.

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Hospital Hotel: Special Delivery, Part 4 of 4

The bags are finished.

Each one is at least half-full, and I’ve taped room numbers to each one. On the advice of many volunteers who’ve distributed clothing before, I’ve hatched a plan to deliver them. Raja, a friend who lives at Hospital Hotel, will meet Sofia, Carlos, and I at our car parked just outside. She’ll bring the bags inside, delivering to a few rooms at a time. Otherwise there might be too much confusion about which bag belongs to who.

I’d say everyone got about 90% of what they asked for. I had to give up on perfection because I’ve learned that a giant project involving the preferences of people in 15 different families can make you crazy. It’s like trying to find the perfect birthday present for your husband’s boss’ wife’s cousin. It’s totally impossible.

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Hospital Hotel: The Man from Room 257, Part 2 of 4

I have been taking orders for 35 minutes. It would seem that having an opportunity to tell someone exactly what you need, as opposed to selecting one item from a box after you’ve queued for ages to get it, is downright outrageous. It is crazy. It is a very special gift indeed.

Women tug on my arm while I’m talking to their neighbors and children squeal “My friend! My friend!” while they jump up and down between me and the person I’m talking to.

My notebook now contains 10 pages, each full of hastily scribbled orders like “Girl dress size 3; Men’s shorts size M; Women’s bra, size????”

Guessing bra sizes is hilarious.

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The Hospital Hotel, Part 1 of 4

Everyone lives in the camps, whether you are elderly, pregnant, seven days old, or have a broken leg. You live in your tent or, if you are lucky, a “container,” which is a portable plastic room with a small window and a door.

But the UN attempts to help some of the most vulnerable people—those who are very sick and would absolutely not do well in the camp environment. For a select few of these people, there is the Hospital Hotel. Inside you’ll meet the kindest people in the world with stories that will shatter you. They are “survivors” in a way that my American self absolutely can’t relate to. They all have extensive medical needs, which is how the hotel got its nickname.

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Tiny miracles happen all the time

“A 7-year old boy just broke his leg. He lives in one of the tents, and he is too big for his parents to carry,” said Gabby. “What do you think about buying him a stroller?”

Gabrielle Tan and I had just finished a long meeting to discuss where I should direct the very generous donations I’ve received from nearly 50 caring people who want to help refugees. Gabby is the founder of the Women’s Center on Chios, and she has made it her mission to identify and help the most vulnerable people on the island.

In reality, all camp residents are vulnerable. They are running from extreme violence, have lost family to war and terrorists, and have waited for months to learn whether the European Union will grant them asylum or send them back to Turkey—which sentences them to homelessness, hunger, and little hope for a safe and comfortable future.

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