Dana Sachs Volunteers with Syrian Refugees

In You Only Get What You Give by Emily Colin1 Comment

Follow Me



Newsletter



Latest Posts


Latest Tweets


In April 2016, the writer Dana Sachs traveled to Greece with her friend Kathryn Winogura to volunteer in the refugee camps that have sprung up along the border to Macedonia. Kathryn has worked in refugee resettlement for 25 years, and as she described the crisis, Dana became inspired to do what she could to help. The interview below is her story.

Q: What made you decide to go to Greece and volunteer in the refugee camps?

A: I’d written a book about displaced people during wartime and the evacuation of children from Vietnam in 1975, so I was already interested in the idea. When a friend who works in resettlement told me that she was going to Greece, I was curious . . . it was a chance to see what was happening first-hand.

Q: Did you volunteer with a group, or on your own?

A: We volunteered independently. My friend Kathryn Winogura had been researching the situation for months, and we knew we’d need to be flexible. The situation was changing every day. We were open to anything, and we didn’t know what we would be able to do. But we did know that if we went to a hotel that held volunteer meetings, we could find out. (Note: Photo credit for all of the images in this blog post go to Kathryn. Check out her blog for many more photos of the refugee camps.)

Q: What was a typical day like for you?

A: We’d talk about it the night before, and then wake up in the morning and think, what should we do today? Every day was different. We were volunteering at two camps, so sometimes we’d go to the baby washing tents in the morning at one camp, then go to the grocery store and get diapers, and then we’d deliver the diapers and volunteer in the central distribution warehouse.

Q: The baby washing tent? Can you tell me more about that?

A: Sure. It was run by Nurture Project International. There were two stable tents you could stand up in—one tent with nurse practitioners that would give medical care for infants and pregnant/nursing mothers. And then the other one—well, remember that these families were living in tents, with no water or electricity. So in the other tent, the mothers would wash the babies in small plastic bathtubs, and the volunteers would help, providing them with hot water, towels, clean diapers, and wipes.

Q: When you spoke about your volunteering experience the other night (during a presentation at Wilmington, NC’s Thalian Hall) you talked about giving out clothes to the refugees, how the lines stretched and stretched like the ones at Disneyland. Can you talk about that a little bit?

A: Yes. Clothes—they mean so much to people. They protect us from the elements, of course, but they also represent who you are as an individual. To compromise about that—it’s demoralizing. Most of these women are Muslims, and so they’re very modest. And most of the clothing we were giving out was from European, non-Muslim donors. There was a lot of frustration, especially because many people only spoke Arabic and there wasn’t always a translator. We tried hard to make sure that people never left unhappy. It was a big thing to get a new set of clothes. Once a little girl came up to the storage container and wanted a new shirt. I thought, I want to find the best shirt for her that I can. So I tried, and when I came out with it in my hand, she gave me such a big smile. It made me so happy. There were moments of joy—but there were some really sad things, too.

Q: During your presentation, you talked about a family living in the camps that really made a big impression on you. How did you meet them?

A: Kathryn met them on the clothing distribution line in Idomeni. They invited her to come to their tent for coffee. So we did, and we all bonded.

Q: How big was the family?

A: Dad, Mom, three children—two girls aged 10 and 12, and a baby—plus an extended family. Nine all together, living in a tent.

Q: Wow. And how did they come to the camp?

A: They left Syria because where they lived was bombed, and they wanted to go where they thought they could find a better life. They were trying to get to Northern Europe, but then the borders closed and they were stuck in Greece.

Q: And of all the families you met, why did this one stand out to you?

A: I guess because their lives seemed much like mine. They lived in a city, drove a car, seemed to have had daily routines quite similar to the way I live at home. They were also very open-minded. I’m Jewish and they’re Muslim, but that made no difference in our relationship. They seemed like the opposite of fundamentalists. They respect differences between people and want us all to live in peace.

Q: And you’ve kept in touch with them?

A: Yes, using the translator through WhatsApp. It’s not exact, but you can get the idea. I’ve been texting with them a lot since I got home, and we’ve talked about what happened in Orlando. They’ve been very sympathetic. The father texted me, “Sorry for what happened to your country. I have influenced my heart with you.”

Q: Where is this family now? Are they still in the Idomeni camp?

A: No. The whole camp was evacuated, and they wound up at a camp where the conditions were really horrible. So now they’re squatting in Athens, in a camp in an abandoned school. I’ve been texting them, letting them know I’m coming back.

Q: When are you going back to Greece?

A: I’m going for 10 days in July, starting on the 18th. This time I’m going to Athens, with three other people. I was in a rural area in the north before. Everything’s changing so quickly; there are so many different needs. So I’ll either be volunteering in the camps in Athens or in the squat communities which have sprung up in Athens.

Q: You were able to raise some money to donate to the relief effort during your first trip, right?

A: Yes. Together, Kathryn and I raised about $20,000. So far, I’ve raised about $8,000 for this trip, and we’re expecting more donations, so that’s fantastic.

Q: When people think about the refugee crisis, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like there’s nothing we can do to help. What message would you like to share with people who want to make a difference but feel stunned and stymied?

A: I want to help people feel connected to the families who are living in the refugee camps. If they feel a sense of connection, then what’s happening will matter to them, and we can begin to solve this problem. It’s in our national interest to make sure that we help to get these families resettled. Instability causes poverty and war. If I can illuminate the crisis for people back home, maybe that will help to change the conversation. Open minds may eventually open borders.

Don’t assume that you can’t go over there and help—there are lots of organizations that need volunteers. You can support the relief effort by giving through an organization like Doctors Without Borders—or donate through my crowdfunding page, where all the funds will be used to purchase supplies for Syrian refugees.

Learn more about the volunteer effort at Idomeni here.

Or join these Facebook groups for up-to-date information:

Information Point for Greek Mainland Volunteers

Information Point for Idomeni Volunteers

Immigrant and Refugee Support Group in Athens

BIO

Dana Sachs is the author of four books, including The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam (Beacon Press, 2010).

Follow Me



Newsletter



Latest Posts


Latest Tweets


In April 2016, the writer Dana Sachs traveled to Greece with her friend Kathryn Winogura to volunteer in the refugee camps that have sprung up along the border to Macedonia. Kathryn has worked in refugee resettlement for 25 years, and as she described the crisis, Dana became inspired to do what she could to help. The interview below is her story.

Q: What made you decide to go to Greece and volunteer in the refugee camps?

A: I’d written a book about displaced people during wartime and the evacuation of children from Vietnam in 1975, so I was already interested in the idea. When a friend who works in resettlement told me that she was going to Greece, I was curious . . . it was a chance to see what was happening first-hand.

Q: Did you volunteer with a group, or on your own?

A: We volunteered independently. My friend Kathryn Winogura had been researching the situation for months, and we knew we’d need to be flexible. The situation was changing every day. We were open to anything, and we didn’t know what we would be able to do. But we did know that if we went to a hotel that held volunteer meetings, we could find out. (Note: Photo credit for all of the images in this blog post go to Kathryn. Check out her blog for many more photos of the refugee camps.)

Q: What was a typical day like for you?

A: We’d talk about it the night before, and then wake up in the morning and think, what should we do today? Every day was different. We were volunteering at two camps, so sometimes we’d go to the baby washing tents in the morning at one camp, then go to the grocery store and get diapers, and then we’d deliver the diapers and volunteer in the central distribution warehouse.

Q: The baby washing tent? Can you tell me more about that?

A: Sure. It was run by Nurture Project International. There were two stable tents you could stand up in—one tent with nurse practitioners that would give medical care for infants and pregnant/nursing mothers. And then the other one—well, remember that these families were living in tents, with no water or electricity. So in the other tent, the mothers would wash the babies in small plastic bathtubs, and the volunteers would help, providing them with hot water, towels, clean diapers, and wipes.

Q: When you spoke about your volunteering experience the other night (during a presentation at Wilmington, NC’s Thalian Hall) you talked about giving out clothes to the refugees, how the lines stretched and stretched like the ones at Disneyland. Can you talk about that a little bit?

A: Yes. Clothes—they mean so much to people. They protect us from the elements, of course, but they also represent who you are as an individual. To compromise about that—it’s demoralizing. Most of these women are Muslims, and so they’re very modest. And most of the clothing we were giving out was from European, non-Muslim donors. There was a lot of frustration, especially because many people only spoke Arabic and there wasn’t always a translator. We tried hard to make sure that people never left unhappy. It was a big thing to get a new set of clothes. Once a little girl came up to the storage container and wanted a new shirt. I thought, I want to find the best shirt for her that I can. So I tried, and when I came out with it in my hand, she gave me such a big smile. It made me so happy. There were moments of joy—but there were some really sad things, too.

Q: During your presentation, you talked about a family living in the camps that really made a big impression on you. How did you meet them?

A: Kathryn met them on the clothing distribution line in Idomeni. They invited her to come to their tent for coffee. So we did, and we all bonded.

Q: How big was the family?

A: Dad, Mom, three children—two girls aged 10 and 12, and a baby—plus an extended family. Nine all together, living in a tent.

Q: Wow. And how did they come to the camp?

A: They left Syria because where they lived was bombed, and they wanted to go where they thought they could find a better life. They were trying to get to Northern Europe, but then the borders closed and they were stuck in Greece.

Q: And of all the families you met, why did this one stand out to you?

A: I guess because their lives seemed much like mine. They lived in a city, drove a car, seemed to have had daily routines quite similar to the way I live at home. They were also very open-minded. I’m Jewish and they’re Muslim, but that made no difference in our relationship. They seemed like the opposite of fundamentalists. They respect differences between people and want us all to live in peace.

Q: And you’ve kept in touch with them?

A: Yes, using the translator through WhatsApp. It’s not exact, but you can get the idea. I’ve been texting with them a lot since I got home, and we’ve talked about what happened in Orlando. They’ve been very sympathetic. The father texted me, “Sorry for what happened to your country. I have influenced my heart with you.”

Q: Where is this family now? Are they still in the Idomeni camp?

A: No. The whole camp was evacuated, and they wound up at a camp where the conditions were really horrible. So now they’re squatting in Athens, in a camp in an abandoned school. I’ve been texting them, letting them know I’m coming back.

Q: When are you going back to Greece?

A: I’m going for 10 days in July, starting on the 18th. This time I’m going to Athens, with three other people. I was in a rural area in the north before. Everything’s changing so quickly; there are so many different needs. So I’ll either be volunteering in the camps in Athens or in the squat communities which have sprung up in Athens.

Q: You were able to raise some money to donate to the relief effort during your first trip, right?

A: Yes. Together, Kathryn and I raised about $20,000. So far, I’ve raised about $8,000 for this trip, and we’re expecting more donations, so that’s fantastic.

Q: When people think about the refugee crisis, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like there’s nothing we can do to help. What message would you like to share with people who want to make a difference but feel stunned and stymied?

A: I want to help people feel connected to the families who are living in the refugee camps. If they feel a sense of connection, then what’s happening will matter to them, and we can begin to solve this problem. It’s in our national interest to make sure that we help to get these families resettled. Instability causes poverty and war. If I can illuminate the crisis for people back home, maybe that will help to change the conversation. Open minds may eventually open borders.

Don’t assume that you can’t go over there and help—there are lots of organizations that need volunteers. You can support the relief effort by giving through an organization like Doctors Without Borders—or donate through my crowdfunding page, where all the funds will be used to purchase supplies for Syrian refugees.

Learn more about the volunteer effort at Idomeni here.

Or join these Facebook groups for up-to-date information:

Information Point for Greek Mainland Volunteers

Information Point for Idomeni Volunteers

Immigrant and Refugee Support Group in Athens

BIO

Dana Sachs is the author of four books, including The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam (Beacon Press, 2010).

In April 2016, the writer Dana Sachs traveled to Greece with her friend Kathryn Winogura to volunteer in the refugee camps that have sprung up along the border to Macedonia. Kathryn has worked in refugee resettlement for 25 years, and as she described the crisis, Dana became inspired to do what she could to help. The interview below is her story.

Q: What made you decide to go to Greece and volunteer in the refugee camps?

A: I’d written a book about displaced people during wartime and the evacuation of children from Vietnam in 1975, so I was already interested in the idea. When a friend who works in resettlement told me that she was going to Greece, I was curious . . . it was a chance to see what was happening first-hand.

Q: Did you volunteer with a group, or on your own?

A: We volunteered independently. My friend Kathryn Winogura had been researching the situation for months, and we knew we’d need to be flexible. The situation was changing every day. We were open to anything, and we didn’t know what we would be able to do. But we did know that if we went to a hotel that held volunteer meetings, we could find out. (Note: Photo credit for all of the images in this blog post go to Kathryn. Check out her blog for many more photos of the refugee camps.)

Q: What was a typical day like for you?

A: We’d talk about it the night before, and then wake up in the morning and think, what should we do today? Every day was different. We were volunteering at two camps, so sometimes we’d go to the baby washing tents in the morning at one camp, then go to the grocery store and get diapers, and then we’d deliver the diapers and volunteer in the central distribution warehouse.

Q: The baby washing tent? Can you tell me more about that?

A: Sure. It was run by Nurture Project International. There were two stable tents you could stand up in—one tent with nurse practitioners that would give medical care for infants and pregnant/nursing mothers. And then the other one—well, remember that these families were living in tents, with no water or electricity. So in the other tent, the mothers would wash the babies in small plastic bathtubs, and the volunteers would help, providing them with hot water, towels, clean diapers, and wipes.

Q: When you spoke about your volunteering experience the other night (during a presentation at Wilmington, NC’s Thalian Hall) you talked about giving out clothes to the refugees, how the lines stretched and stretched like the ones at Disneyland. Can you talk about that a little bit?

A: Yes. Clothes—they mean so much to people. They protect us from the elements, of course, but they also represent who you are as an individual. To compromise about that—it’s demoralizing. Most of these women are Muslims, and so they’re very modest. And most of the clothing we were giving out was from European, non-Muslim donors. There was a lot of frustration, especially because many people only spoke Arabic and there wasn’t always a translator. We tried hard to make sure that people never left unhappy. It was a big thing to get a new set of clothes. Once a little girl came up to the storage container and wanted a new shirt. I thought, I want to find the best shirt for her that I can. So I tried, and when I came out with it in my hand, she gave me such a big smile. It made me so happy. There were moments of joy—but there were some really sad things, too.

Q: During your presentation, you talked about a family living in the camps that really made a big impression on you. How did you meet them?

A: Kathryn met them on the clothing distribution line in Idomeni. They invited her to come to their tent for coffee. So we did, and we all bonded.

Q: How big was the family?

A: Dad, Mom, three children—two girls aged 10 and 12, and a baby—plus an extended family. Nine all together, living in a tent.

Q: Wow. And how did they come to the camp?

A: They left Syria because where they lived was bombed, and they wanted to go where they thought they could find a better life. They were trying to get to Northern Europe, but then the borders closed and they were stuck in Greece.

Q: And of all the families you met, why did this one stand out to you?

A: I guess because their lives seemed much like mine. They lived in a city, drove a car, seemed to have had daily routines quite similar to the way I live at home. They were also very open-minded. I’m Jewish and they’re Muslim, but that made no difference in our relationship. They seemed like the opposite of fundamentalists. They respect differences between people and want us all to live in peace.

Q: And you’ve kept in touch with them?

A: Yes, using the translator through WhatsApp. It’s not exact, but you can get the idea. I’ve been texting with them a lot since I got home, and we’ve talked about what happened in Orlando. They’ve been very sympathetic. The father texted me, “Sorry for what happened to your country. I have influenced my heart with you.”

Q: Where is this family now? Are they still in the Idomeni camp?

A: No. The whole camp was evacuated, and they wound up at a camp where the conditions were really horrible. So now they’re squatting in Athens, in a camp in an abandoned school. I’ve been texting them, letting them know I’m coming back.

Q: When are you going back to Greece?

A: I’m going for 10 days in July, starting on the 18th. This time I’m going to Athens, with three other people. I was in a rural area in the north before. Everything’s changing so quickly; there are so many different needs. So I’ll either be volunteering in the camps in Athens or in the squat communities which have sprung up in Athens.

Q: You were able to raise some money to donate to the relief effort during your first trip, right?

A: Yes. Together, Kathryn and I raised about $20,000. So far, I’ve raised about $8,000 for this trip, and we’re expecting more donations, so that’s fantastic.

Q: When people think about the refugee crisis, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like there’s nothing we can do to help. What message would you like to share with people who want to make a difference but feel stunned and stymied?

A: I want to help people feel connected to the families who are living in the refugee camps. If they feel a sense of connection, then what’s happening will matter to them, and we can begin to solve this problem. It’s in our national interest to make sure that we help to get these families resettled. Instability causes poverty and war. If I can illuminate the crisis for people back home, maybe that will help to change the conversation. Open minds may eventually open borders.

Don’t assume that you can’t go over there and help—there are lots of organizations that need volunteers. You can support the relief effort by giving through an organization like Doctors Without Borders—or donate through my crowdfunding page, where all the funds will be used to purchase supplies for Syrian refugees.

Learn more about the volunteer effort at Idomeni here.

Or join these Facebook groups for up-to-date information:

Information Point for Greek Mainland Volunteers

Information Point for Idomeni Volunteers

Immigrant and Refugee Support Group in Athens

BIO

Dana Sachs is the author of four books, including The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam (Beacon Press, 2010).

Follow Me



Newsletter



Latest Posts



Latest Tweets