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Saturday, January 14, 2017

A small drop in a huge ocean

There is so much to say! 

The work I do with pregnant women and with mothers and babies remains the same, whether I am in a fancy shmancy house in a rich suburb, or in a small room with no electricity, no heat, and water pouring down the walls. Mothers are mothers, and most pregnant women have similar concerns and worries, at least in terms of the coming labor and birth.

That's where the similarity ends. None of the women I have spoken to here in northern Greece want to give birth or raise their children in the situation they find themselves in. These families are people like you: back home, they are nurses, teachers, University professors, artists. They are the ones who managed to get out: a poor unemployed man and his family wouldn't have been able to pay for the treacherous voyage across to southern Europe.

I won't post pictures of the people I am meeting here. They have already been stripped of so much of their dignity. Living in a tent or a crowded room, being given rations of food, using communal bathrooms, wearing second hand donated clothing, being moved from place to place at the whim of the authorities ... having people take pictures of you and asking you personal questions, it's too much. 

So I'm posting pictures of snowmen, which shouldn't be living here in Greece - they belong in Canada. And pictures of the stray dogs that roam everywhere, through the city, around the camps, in the fields behind the buildings. This dog we met outside Sindos camp, it had been hit by a car so its back legs didn't work so well.


The camp is housed in a huge abandoned industrial warehouse, with many of the windows broken. The UN tents line the warehouse. Clothes are hanging outside the tents. Children run around and play, some of them ride bicycles, others climb on dangerous-looking objects that line the walls. There are painted handprints on several of the inside and outside walls.

Across the road, there is another warehouse where the supplies and food are kept. The camps are maintained by the military, so there is always a sense that you are being watched.

The smell in the warehouses is pretty overpowering at times. they are heated, so there's a strong smell of fuel. There's the smell of too many people living together for too long in small spaces. There's the smell of coldness, dampness and loneliness. There's the constant smell of cigarettes, because most of the men smoke here. 

Sounds? Children laughing or crying, dogs barking, people talking.

Inside the mother baby tent, we distribute diapers, food packs and essential items for mothers with children under two. Mothers who are pregnant or who need assistance feeding their babies are visited individually.

We are planning on starting up some activities for the women who live in the camp, so that they can have a few minutes to relax, having a foot rub, doing a few yoga stretches, learning about some aspect of motherbaby health.


This dog was lying outside another camp which is also very strictly controlled, but is easier to live. The people living there have rooms, communal spaces, and there are classes and activities organized every day.

We were sitting waiting the other day for our colleagues to finish their appointment. Before we knew it, we were having an impromptu chocolate eating and Arabic lesson session. Ten women - four English speakers, six Arabic speaker, and one woman who spoke both, got together and made jokes about everything and laughed at each other, while the kids played outside and the tiny kids jumped around and got yelled at. Life goes on.

If you feel tiny, if you feel like there's nothing you can do, look around you and find some way that you can help. Small things: if you're in Canada, make friends with a Syrian family who lives near you. If you're anywhere, donate money to any charity that appeals to you. If you are active in politics or you feel you can make a difference, make it! If you have any skills at all that you can share - health related, cooking, teaching a language, TRANSLATING from Arabic, sorting stuff in a warehouse, watching the coast off Lesbos for boats, then come to Greece and start volunteering!

I'm feeling very tiny much of the time. I want so much to help - the woman whose family lives in four different countries, the one who has lost many members of her family, the one who never wanted to give birth in a tent, the one whose husband is in a different camp ... and all I can do is care for those who I am lucky enough to meet, smile at the others, and be very, very grateful for what I have.



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