Tag Archives: orphanages

2.16.2016

2.16.2016
              It has been a slow past few days since my last entry. The weather has been extremely windy making the waves are 3-5 feet high, making it too dangerous for the refugees to attempt their crossing from Turkey. Nonetheless every night we sojourn on, even for that small chance that there may be refugees willing to risk crossing because of the cheaper fares. We must stay our posts, for no one else will be there for the refugees if they do cross. I get no joy in boats crossing, for the refugees are searching for asylum and a better option in life. Yet, for my team of volunteers from A Drop in the Ocean, they need the experience and the inspiration.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Today is the last day that both Humans to Humans and many from Team Sweden will be patrolling the shores with us. It has been an honor volunteering and coordinating the night shifts with them. The 21st of February will be the last day that Team Sweden will be operating in Kos, and on the 22nd of February the last of the volunteers from Drop will be returning home. Until more volunteers are able to come, I may be patrolling the shores alone. There are possibly two volunteers coming from Norway with Drop the first week of March, but one week alone may be daunting if working in solitude. Sometime around the 10-12th of March the long-term coordinator will be here to relieve me, my Schengen visa will expire somewhere around the 20th of March. I just hope that they bring more volunteers, it is warming up, and the refugees will be coming in larger numbers this year. January 2015, 1600 refugees crossed to the islands. January 2016, over 60,000 refugees have crossed. Right now 54% of the refugees received on the Greek islands are women and children. Volunteers are still needed, please consider this as an option.
 
              I have a lot on my plate to consider for the next month. I could go to Lebanon where much work is needed, more than the islands. I have an option to either go with the independent volunteers who I have worked with and am meeting in Lesvos in the next few days, or I could go as a Drop representative and work for/with the established NGO’s under their umbrella of coordination and logistics. Another option that I have is to work at an orphanage in Turkey which is of high importance to me as well. One more option is to apply to work/volunteer for Medecines Sans Frontiers on the logistic side. They would fund me as well as giving me a slight living wage, but I also lose my freedom and ability to have an option as to what I can do to help. The last option that I have is to return home mid-March for a month. The reasoning to return home is to raise funds and awareness, but I am not too keen on the prospect of that. There is way too much work that needs to be done here, and not enough volunteers to do it. I have to figure out a way for myself and the other long-term volunteers to continue their work.
 
              While it has been a different experience living at the Hotel Oscar, we chose to move to the Hotel Catherine which is just down the block. I enjoyed the solidarity of sharing the same accommodation with the refugees, but on the long-term it would not work. Due to lack of cleanliness, no room service, and no hot-water this started to lower the morale of the volunteers, which could leave some walking away from their volunteering experience on Kos with a sour taste in their mouth. Part of the job of the volunteers is also taking care/helping themselves. If they do not feel good about themselves (lack of feeling clean) they will not be at 100% to take care of others. Hotel Catherine is newly renovated and each room is daily cleaned. When I checked the hotel I immediately turned on the shower to ensure that there was hot water. The rates per volunteer are also 9 euro/$10 cheaper than at the Hotel Oscar which also helps volunteers with their funding. All in all, I am extremely pleased with the hotel switch, and look forward to the first hot-shower in 10 days, and clean sheets and towels.
 
              Tonight will possibly be a busy night. This morning the sea was calm, almost flat. The other islands had received refugees already during the day, so we are preparing for a busy night. We have information from two different sources that they have friends or relatives crossing to Kos. I must get some sleep, I haven’t slept since yesterday. I had shift on the beach yesterday night/morning and after dropping off some volunteers to the airport I immediately had a 6-hour meeting with the UNHCR and International Medical Corps. We always serve supper to the refugees at the Boomerang Steak House, so I am running a little ragged. I should probably end this now while I have a couple hours to rest before another night on the shores.

1.16.2016

1.16.2016
              Started the day telling Todar goodbye. He will be here when I make another trip back to Lesvos next month; he has to finish setting up an NGO that will have its first mission on Lesvos, then to wherever humanity is crying for help. I left some of my belongings in a bag in his flat, so for sure I will get to see him at some point.
 
              Kristine, Mari, and I headed to Camp Moria to hand out blow pops/lollies to the kids. It had been raining all night and all day. There was a lake right in the middle of Afghan hill. It looked so desolate there, volunteers and refugees all were hiding from the elements. One tent that we entered had 5 Moroccan men inside, who cordially invited us in, while disregarding our muddy shoes and wet clothes. They were just happy to see visitors who were concerned about their well-being. The blow pops do not discriminate about age, which is good, because I am 30 and have had more than my fair share of them.
 
              We talked with the Moroccan men in an Italian, French, Arabic, and English conversation. I would like to point out that these were not Syrians. While we should not discriminate about nationalities when a human is seeking asylum, it is important to note that there are other nationalities that are fleeing as well. One man worked as a mechanic for a Japanese car manufacturer for 5 years. If I remember correctly it was either Nissan or Toyota; this is a man that made the cars that we drive in the US.
 
              Kristina started to check on the well-being of the men. Three of them had decent shoes, not quite good-enough for wandering through Europe in the winter, but they were about as good as they were going to get. One man had on shoes that were made of canvas, unsuitable for anything but style. The other man was wearing a pair of shoes three sizes too large, while all had wet socks. We were able to procure fresh socks for all of the men, and one pair of shoes for the man with canvas shoes. The distribution tent would not give us shoes for the man whose shoes were too big. They said it was not a precedence, as we were standing up to our ankles in mud, and he had a couple thousand miles to walk through the ice, snow, and mud of Europe. I watched as Kristina took off her shoes and gave him hers, they fit better than Cinderella’s slipper. She then slipped on the refugees’ shoes with pride. I do not know of a single person in my life that would have done the same. I am proud to call her friend or AKA “Lesvos Mom.”
 
              Mari and I took Krisina to the airport. Due to the bad weather all the morning and afternoon flights had been cancelled. I realized then that I was going to have to take the ferry back to Samos since it was delayed a day instead of flying to Athens with Mari and then hopping on the ferry there. We sat at the airport for 3 hours. Kristina spent most of her time in queue, I just glared at my cell phone since the Wi-Fi was impossible to connect due to all the people waiting for their flight. There were quite a few volunteers, at least 1/3 of the people waiting for flights. There were many faces I recognized, and several from A Drop in the Ocean. It was bittersweet. I was able to say goodbye to some that I had not seen before we left our hotel, but saying goodbye is difficult for me. I have to go to Norway this summer. My social media is no longer in English, it is a mix of Norwegian and Arabic. I have bonded with these volunteers and grown relationships with them that I have never had with my military brothers or friends back home. I had to tell Kristina goodbye. It was hard…
 
              Mari had a couple hours before her flight so we took our car back into town to grab some supper. Our friend S. Ahmed met us. He had one day left before he was to be deported so he was going to catch a ferry to mainland Greece. Since he is from Pakistan he will not be allowed to gain asylum in Europe because he is not from a priority coalition war zone. We talked about the war, Russia, the US, the coalition, China, and Iran’s involvement in Pakistan. One thing sticks out from the conversation. Mari asked how the war would end in the middle east and we both responded with the same answer. The only way to end this war will be for the world to fall into WW3. We both said that the world will kill so many that we will end it because we ran out of lives or else because we destroyed what was left of the world. Albert Einstein was so right when he said, “World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones.”
 
              I dropped Mari off to the airport. This was the part I have been dreading since the moment I left Frida, Ingrid, and Solfrig at Samos. Almost all of my experiences on the islands were with her, we have our plans for the orphanage. Seeing my closest friend leave was heartrending. She will be back in a month, when we go to Turkey to look at an orphanage, but this time I have to return to Samos alone. She has to go back home, and already knows from other friends how hard it is. Everyone that went back is miserable and feel that their life is meaningless.
 
              After sitting in the rain for half of an hour waiting for the car rental person to pick up the car I headed back into town. I must have looked like a mess. It took me another half hour of wandering in the rain to find a hotel. This is the first time I have been alone on the islands, and with the rain and today’s events I really wanted to sit down and give up. Today was tough, tomorrow will be harder. Last time I took the ferry there were 6 of us friends riding into a perfect sunset. Tomorrow I will be going alone riding through a storm.
 

1.14.2016

1.14.2016
              This morning I had to bid my farewells. Half of the volunteers will still be there when I return in three days, the other half will have returned to their homes by then. It was not necessarily the easiest telling Frida, Solfrid, and Ingrid goodbye. As we were waiting at the port for Theresa to say goodbye we saw a girl walking with her bags away from the ferry. I vaguely knew who she was, but that was due to her spending time with Mari the past few days. She was not going to go on the ferry with us, and she was in tears. Mari spent the time we were waiting for Theresa trying to comfort her, while I was anxiously pacing wondering if Theresa would make it on time, or if the ferry would leave without us. It made bidding our adieu’s a little easier to the three girls. We will definitely see each other this summer back on the isles, but they will depart for home the day before I return to Samos.
 
              On the ferry there were so many familiar faces. If we did not recognize them, they definitely recognized us. Each one of them had seen us dancing, distributing clothes, working with the children, erecting tents for them, etc. Our tickets placed us in the interior of the boat with three general populace, but as we were standing on the deck waving to the girls and Theresa, we decided that we would rather be with the refugees who had to stay outside, most of the familiar faces were out there. We ran into one of our friends, Tardik, who speaks fluent English so we sat by him. Soon enough there were about 10 around us, we utilized him as our interpreter.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              The ferry trip itself was 11 hours, but it seemed much longer than that. After about 3 hours Tarek came to me with a concern about the families, women, and children who had to sit outside the whole trip. We both went inside and with the power of a reflective vest and possibly me being American we were able to persuade one of the crew to allow the women and children to go inside.
 
              Had that not happened there is no way that the next events would have happened. Tardik and I took a walk around the ferry and began to talk. He had actually worked on a ship mostly out of the Indian Ocean which allowed him to gain culture. His father had been in the hospital for 3 years so he spent every night sleeping there, helping the nurses and doctors. There he learned some medical work, nothing in depth, but he knew enough to help people. His goal was to go to Germany where his sister teaches English. He knew that he needed to continue learning English and further his education, and he mused about possibly doing some work with the UN.
 
              We talked for a while about who we were in the heart. He had never really felt like he belonged anywhere before. He had given up his religion, and due to his work on a ship gained culture. In Syria most of his peers looked at him like he was different because his thoughts did not align with the rest of the general populace. He was another one who just never felt quite at home, even when he was home. Even those at the camps and on the ferry asked him why he was spending more time with the volunteers rather than with his own people. I told him about myself, my immigration story, my military background, and my intentions about the orphanage and working on a book to tell the individual stories about the refugees. Due to his ability to speak English I told him that I would like to start with him, and that perhaps he could help us. He was immediately on board, but it never happened today.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Roughly half-way through the trip we broke open the bags of toys, balloons, markers, and blank sheets of paper. We informed the children and their families that the drawings would be used to help the islands and to buy toys for the children who would be passing through the islands in the upcoming future. We let them know that we would be selling them online via Ebay. All of the children wanted to help.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              When we opened the bags I started to make balloon animals and blow up regular balloons, Mari started handing out sheets of paper and markers. This was my first time to interact with the children besides my first night at Moria Camp on Lesvos, and they were clamoring all over me to get a balloon animal. The balloons went quick, mostly because I could only find a few bags of them on Samos. Many of them broke because they were old and sticking together. Next time I come here I must fill a bag with balloons for balloon animals.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              The next two hours we sat with the kids drawing pictures. I have a stack a good inch thick in my laptop bag now. Some were regular kid drawings, some were pieces of art. I have no idea what happened to the markers, especially since all the caps were rolling all over the floor. Not a big issue, I doubt they cost me over 10 euro from donations. Some of the younger children had more marker on their faces than on the paper but they were happy as were their families. For 11 hours on the ferry they had nothing to do but sit, and the camps themselves become monotonous after a few hours. I can only imagine how bored the children must have been.
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
 
              I gave Tardik my camera and cell phone to take pictures of the children drawing. It is easier having another Syrian taking the pictures rather than a volunteer. There are cultural differences so we have to ask permission to take pictures, something that does not occur on Lesvos. In general, one should not take pictures of teenage girls or women, and of course make sure to ask before taking a picture. Many of the pictures taken today display the child either holding their picture, or of them actually drawing it. This will help out massively because we can display that it was an actual refugee child that drew the picture.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
             Without Tardik’s help there is no way that this would have run as efficiently or the magnitude of pictures we had procured. I believe this was a massive life-changing experience for him. He saw the children so happy, the parents thanking us, and noticed the children having something to pass their time. I am so thankful for his help but also that he was able to be a part of this. I pretty sure that I spent a pretty penny on cookies for all the children, or else I was massively overcharged for my cup of joe. I will just go with the latter, because who is really counting anyways?
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              I was nodding off since I had only slept three hours the night before, and I have before mentioned our sleep predicament as volunteers. I ended up falling over and sleeping on the metal floor, but woke up with a blanket that one of the refugees had wrapped around me. Tarek had been sitting next to me watching Mari’s and my bags, and had a cup of coffee for me by the time that I had woken up. I ate a few bites of food, talked with a few refugees around me, and then let the refugees use my Bluetooth speakers to listen to some tunes. They are from the same group that we were dancing with a few nights before, so I knew that music was their thing. Within minutes there was a group in a circle clapping and dancing.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Mari fell asleep next to a refugee family and our bags. Besides perhaps our passports none of the refugees would have let anyone touch our luggage. Everyone around us tried their best to take care of us as a show of gratitude. For some all they could do was offer us a blanket, others sat on the floor so we could sit on a chair, we had some share some food with us, one gave Mari a hat, while another gave me a necklace.
 
              As Mari was sleeping, Tarek and I fell into deep conversation. He has decided that he wants to write a book to help the Syrians learn how to integrate into society, help them with the immigration, and to help with the refugees learning English. I immediately thought of my friend Kristina who is a publicist back in Norway. This book of his is going to happen, it will take a while, but he also knows that it will also help him with fine-tuning his English.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              We sat at the aft of the boat and talked. His life had changed in the past few hours. Instead of his previous plans, he wanted to do work helping people. I am not sure what he and Mari had talked about while I was sleeping, but I think it was the same as my previous conversation with him. He had found people whose thoughts aligned with his, and after seeing the dynamics with the children he decided to change his life goals. He told me that Mari, the other volunteers, and myself had helped him, and now he wants to return the favor. Humans helping humans. We became brothers tonight, staring out over the Aegean Sea. I told him that I will find him in Germany, that I will follow him on his migration. I need him to help me with the book that I am working on as well. I believe that he could be extremely vital to the world due to his language skills and culturism.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              When the ferry arrived at Athens, the goodbyes began. We had Lasse Olofson, a journalist from Sweden who we had met in Lesvos. This trip changed him as well, and I know that our paths will cross again on Samos. He is helping a boy who lost his college diploma and passport gain asylum in Sweden. Then of course it was difficult saying goodbye to Tarek, but I will see him before I return to the States.
 
              My phone now has more pictures and group-selfies from the last 10 minutes on ship than the past two years of owning my phone. I hope to see these humans again, for they have become good friends and their faces have become very familiar these past few days. As we were saying good-bye I have never been thanked, hugged, or told that I was a good man so many times in my life.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              The dynamics of the day could have easily been something totally different. We had heavily thought about taking a flight to Athens which does not cost much more than the ferry. We could have stayed inside the boat where it was warm instead of giving our seats away. We could have not last-minute brought the toys, balloons, bubbles, and drawing things for the children. Had we not though, Tardik would not have decided to help the refugees, the children would and women would have been sitting in the cold, and we would not have this incredible story to tell the world. I would sit outside in the cold every night to have a night like we had today.
 
Video of the children with Andrew and Mari: https://www.facebook.com/lasse.oloffson/videos/1013861825345083/
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
These are some of the pictures the kids drew on the ferry to Athens. These are their memories. These are the kids who are afraid to go and play when it is sunny out because the coalItion does not go on drone missions when it's cloudy or there is a storm. As we were on the ferry jets flew by twice and I watched some of the children cringe in fear. These children were almost all under 10 years old, kids just like the ones back home. Imagine your child with these memories. ‪#‎ChildrenOfWar‬