Last year I was the winner of PMD Beauty’s #brilliantconfidence humanitarian trip. When I was contacted I couldn’t believe that I not only got to pick a humanitarian trip to go on, but also bring another person along! I knew my best friend Lauren of 23 years would be the perfect person to bring with.
I’m a pediatric nurse in Indianapolis and Lauren is a therapist and a wedding photographer in Seattle. We grew up serving together in youth group, however, this was our first international service trip.
We were drawn to the Syrian refugee crisis and started to learn about ways we could serve in a helpful manner. Excited to help, we signed up to spend a week serving at a Syrian refugee camp in Chalkida, Greece with Cross Cultural Solutions. One of the things that stood out to us about this program is that CCS employees and serve the camp year round. Through CCS volunteers help for various amounts of time throughout the year. The organization also employs staff full time to ensure services are always running.
Before we arrived at camp we completed a series of humanitarian trainings specific to refugee camps. Including Lauren and I, there were 7 volunteers during our week at the Syrian refugee camp. On the first day, Lauren and I were assigned to different areas of the camp. Lauren was sorting clothing donations that camp from all over the world so that the area could be quickly restocked for residents to shop in. I was in the laundry center which was a caravan that had about 15 washing machines. Residents would drop their laundry off and we would wash it and return it in their bins. I liked being able to interact with the residents during my time in the laundry center.
The residents were excited to have clean clothes and many spent time thanking us as they picked up their clothes. The residents spoke Arabic, Kurdish, and French African. I tried to learn ‘Thank you” and “You’re welcome” in the different languages and being in the laundry center helped with that. I believe that PMD’s mission to spread #brilliantconfidence was completed during this day giving others the confidence in having clean clothes.
One of my favorite things about this week was getting to serve with my best friend. Lauren and I have been friends since we were four years old and were raised more like sisters than friends growing up. It was special to be able to process the different things we were learning during our week together. One thing that struck us was the hospitality of the Greek people. Because of a large influx of Syrian refugees, the camp was under construction to house more people.
The camp currently held 800+ residents and when the construction is completed, it will be able to hold another 1,200+ residents, more than doubling it’s size. We were surprised to find out that the Greek government actually pays for the construction of this larger facility. We discussed this with the locals who explained to us that their government is happy to it because when they see brothers and sisters on the streets they welcome them into their homes. This spirit of hospitality and giving is something we encountered time and time again during our time in Chalkida. We were met with warm hugs and warm meals. Seeing this spirit was such a wonderful reminder of the importance of caring for our brothers and sisters around us regardless of where we are at.
In addition to working at the laundry center and the donation center, Lauren and I were able to see some of the work that happens in the female friendly space that CCS supports. The female friendly space provides a safe space for women inside of the refugee camp. Within the female friendly caravan there is education, art, therapy, and community centers. Speakers come in to have workshops for the women and girls. A recent talk was put on by a lawyer to layout the specific documents they need to start the process of obtaining other citizenship. One of the volunteers from CCS, Maria,had worked in the female friendly space for many weeks and had wonderful stories of these incredibly strong women.
On Fridays Maria said they had beauty Fridays where they make face and hair masks. She explained that it was important they used things ingredients such as honey and yogurt for their masks because she wanted to be teaching the women recipes they could remake their own.
One big barrier for the female friendly space is that many husbands and other men in the community did not like the women in their family going there. The caravan had been vandalized and broken into many times. To help keep the women safe, a fence was constructed around the caravans. During some of our volunteering week we were able to place pine needles in the face to make it more private. It was important that we used something that was already in nature and of low value so it wasn’t a coveted item that would be taken from the fence.
We loved the way PMD’s mission of #brilliantconfidence connected with this very special place. Our friend Maria was the perfect person to be caring for and empowering the women at the camp and Lauren and I loved getting to learn from Maria during our time together.
We knew our week at camp Ritsona would go too quick and it certainly did! We spent our last day in the laundry center and had an extra amount of laundry to get through because the upcoming Monday was a Greek holiday so services at the camp would be closed.
During our time at the camp, we met a 10 year old girl who we will call Ranya. She loved to laugh and was able to speak four languages. We asked her how long she had been at the camp and she said 3 years. Her dream was to meet up with her brother who was at another camp in Germany. She lit up when she was talking about Germany and shared that she wanted to be a pilot one day and fly all around the world. When we were cleaning up the laundry caravan and Ranya gave us hugs before she left. I think she is someone who will stay in our hearts, and while our conversations were simple to Lauren and I they were deeply impactful. In three years at the camp she had not lost hope, determination, or optimism. I hope one day I am able to be a passenger on one of her flights and that Ranya is able to become anything she dreams about.
Thank you PMD for this experience that Lauren and I will carry with us forever! It was a week that opened our eyes and hearts. We were able to see light shine in what would otherwise be total darkness. There was a great deal of pain in and around Ristona but also so many examples of love. We can’t wait to continue to use all that we learned in our day to day lives and continue to spread #brilliantconfidence.