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Changing the Lives of Refugee Children in Greece
By LAUREN SHABER · PARTNER MARKETING SPECIALIST · UNITED STATES
I'm a passionate marketing specialist living near Portland, Oregon. Outside of work, you'll often find me in the kitchen, behind a camera, or planning my next big trip. Because I'm also a devoted volunteer, I donate regularly to causes I care about and give my time whenever I can.
Most of my volunteer work has been related to children in some form or another. In high school, I co-founded a local chapter of an organization that provided lower-income children with shoes, books and supplies so they could attend school comfortably. I also spent a couple weeks visiting orphanages in Vietnam learning about the adoption process and the poor circumstances in the homes.
In my college years, I fundraised and supported St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, that seeks to find cures for children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Since then, I've donated monthly and volunteered my time whenever I can.
As I was planning my next big trip, I realized it would be an opportunity to pair volunteering with exploring a new country, essentially merging two of my biggest passions. When Time2Give was launched, I knew this was my opportunity.
The Time2Give program allows employees to give back in a way that are meaningful to us personally. You can use the hours to support a local cause like your child's school a few hours each month, or all at once on a bigger scale such as attending a volunteer program. I chose the latter, which is how this trip came to be.
As I was scrolling Instagram one day, I came across a platform called 109 World, which uses the power of social media to bring together social influencers and everyday folks to make a difference. They host social mission trips where volunteers spend a chunk of time on location, supporting grassroots organizations for a specific cause, and bring a well-known yoga teacher to integrate yoga each morning.
They've built animal shelters in Aruba, brought drinking water to a remote village in Nicaragua, provided on-the-ground disaster relief efforts after the Ecuador earthquake, and more. They're making a difference and I wanted to be a part of it.
Their next trip was supporting children at a refugee camp in Greece. I started a fundraising campaign on Volunteer Forever and started saving. It was definitely a pricey initiative (about $3,000 USD, not including travel) but knowing that a large portion of that went directly to the school as a grant, I was going to make it happen. Because I'd be flying 20 hours, I decided to tack on a week of PTO beforehand to explore the Greek Islands, which has been on my bucket list for years.
For the volunteer part, 109 World partnered with The Worldwide Tribe, a brother-sister duo on a mission to share the stories of refugees to shed light on the real story, not what the media focuses on; and ArmandoAid, a grassroots organization that manages the school on the Oinofyta Refugee Camp, about an hour north of Athens, where our group of 25 volunteers would be spending our time.
The Oinofyta Refugee Camp houses 700 people, 250 of which are children. Many have left their home country—primarily Afghanistan, due to violence or death threats from the government and, with the help of smugglers, have crossed borders, walked long distances, taken boats and somehow made it the more than 3,500 miles to mainland Greece. These children have been forced to leave their homes, some have lost their parents and siblings, and many are traumatized and haven't attended school for months.
Oinofyta is one of the only Greek refugee camps to have a school on-site, where volunteers help the children rebuild their lives by teaching key subjects like English, gardening, science and math. The school is managed by ArmandoAid, a grassroots organization that is currently providing these children a sense of normality that they can depend upon. As volunteers, our goal was to create a space that acts as a safe space for the community to learn and, most importantly, for children to express themselves in these extremely challenging times.
The program was unique because it paired yoga with volunteering, an experience unlike any others I had researched. We woke up early each day, starting our mornings with yoga and meditation, literally steps from the ocean. Mid-morning, we'd drive the 45 minutes to the camp and start our work.
Over the course of five days, we accomplished everything we set out to do: repainted the entire school, inside and out; installed new flooring; put up shades over the playground to give protection from the hot sun; and built a wall to maintain the children's privacy. When I wasn't on painting duty, I spent time with the children on the playground, hearing stories about their families and how they came to Greece, and practiced English with them.
The goal is now to build out the school's computer room and continue raising funds so Armando Aid can provide children with a daily piece of fruit; supplies like paper, pencils, and markers; and cover living expenses for their volunteer teachers. If you're in a place to do so, please consider donating or providing old computers and equipment to the school.
This incredible trip truly changed my perspective. Many of the things we worry about day to day are, in fact, minuscule even though they feel huge. Being at the camp made me realize that in the blink of an eye, everything can change. There's no guarantee to have a job to go to, an income coming in regularly, and even a family to see over weekends or holidays. We should all be extremely grateful for what we have and not take family or work for granted.
The refugee crisis affects every person in every nation, not just those in Europe, Africa or the Middle East. Even in America, there are thousands of refugees admitted annually. It was important for me to learn firsthand what being a refugee is like, to understand the worldwide crisis so I could learn how to support the cause back home.
Cisco employee or not, I encourage you to volunteer or donate to the refugee crisis when you can. Every hour, every dollar, every social share helps.
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