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Category: Uncategorized

GreeceHuman RightsHumanitarian AidRefugeesUncategorizedUNHCR

#SCMHelp4Syrians Greece Update

The refugees that had been stuck at border of Idomeni since early this spring have now been in the camps set up by the Greek government for just over 4 months. What you hear are stories of sadness and despair, families torn apart by border closures, depression, and more. The people all want to move on, they want to get their families back together again, and they desperately want out of the dreary, hard, noisy, buildings that have become their homes.

SCM is working in two camps at the moment: Karamanlis and Frakapor. While somewhat similar in size, they couldn’t be more different. They are about a five minute drive from each other, but Karamanlis is located in sort of an industrial park area with other buildings surrounding it, including a building being rented by another group that SCM has partnered with, called Swiss Cross. The warehouse serves as a storage place for all the donations that have come in for the camp, an office space for the two organizations, a community center, and has workshops for a tailor and a carpenter – both Syrians who are putting their skills to use to help their fellow refugees at the camp.


The Karamanlis Boutique shop where the people can come and pick out the clothing items they need and like.

It also houses the “boutique” and the grocery store where the people can come and spend points they are assigned based on family size to get food, household supplies, clothing, etc. This way, they can pick out things they want and need, and supplies can be adjusted according to demand. There is a falafel stand and a coffee shop that do charge for their wares, mostly sold to the aid workers that are there.

Frakapor is located near what must be a sewage treatment plant in an old warehouse and the odor from the plant is quite noticeable when you first arrive. After a while, you get used to it, and I imagine that the people living there have gotten used to it, but it just adds to the depressing conditions of life in the camp. They don’t have a community center like at Karamanlis, and this is something that would have a positive impact on the people there.  They do have an area for the classes we are teaching and both the adults and children are very happy about the classes SCM is providing in English, German, math and Arabic grammar.

While walking through Frakapor with our team lead Jamal, we were stopped by a man who spoke to Jamal briefly, and with some emotion about something, then we parted ways and continued on our walk so I could see the scope of the camp.  A few minutes later, we ran into the same man again, and this time he invited us to have tea in his tent with this family.

The man, whom Jamal knows and SCM has been helping to get treatment for severe depression, was very hospitable, he had his children there – two boys and a teen aged daughter, but his wife is not with them. With Jamal translating and filling in the story, the man’s wife had left Syria on her own before he did and made it to Germany. The man and his children planned to follow her, but only made it to Greece. They are originally from a city in the north of Syria, and traveled through Turkey, a journey that took them 17 days, then crossed to Greece, and finally they ended up at the border with Macedonia where they were abruptly stopped by the border closure. It has been a year now since the children have seen their mother and the man his wife.


They fled from northern Syria only to be stuck now in northern Greece, apart from their mother, who did make it to Germany right before the borders closed.

This broken family is just one of many such stories of how this crisis has torn families apart. They have been forced to flee their homes in Syria, in terror for their lives, and now they continue to suffer from separated family members, depression, lack of hope for the future.  And with nothing to do all day for most of the adults in the camp, despair runs rampant.

I met a woman in the camp who is also helping SCM as our teacher administrator for Frakapor. She was an administrator at home in Aleppo, Syria, and fled to be with her sister who is already in Sweden. Other members of her immediate family have also already made it to Europe and are settled in new communities. She is now with other members of her extended family – cousins and aunts. She was married, but her husband left her for another woman, and now she is on her own, and stuck in Frakapor. She is occupying her time, though, by helping SCM administer the education program at Frakapor.

Both of these people that I met at the camp had different stories, but they are both languishing in the camp, and I could see the hopelessness and sadness in their eyes. There are a lot of faces like that in the camp. I don’t want them to give up hope, but I can sort of understand that they don’t see how this is all going to end. Their chances of reuniting with family members already in Germany or Sweden or elsewhere seem to be out of reach, and no end is in sight for the conflict in Syria. They have lost everything, and many are thinking what else is there? The answer, in their minds, is another day in the concrete and steel box of the warehouse at Frakapor. And that’s it.

Please continue to help us help them. We want to continue to be able to supplement their food rations and get more educational materials for the classes. We also want to help support the craftspeople that are working in the camp to fix things, repair things, and more by getting them the supplies they need.

Thank you!


EducationHumanitarian AidJordanUncategorizedWomen & Children

#SCM Jordan Update – Sept 17, 2016

I have had a chance to visit our Jordan operations the last few days and see how things are going here. I was able to help out in the warehouse and also with a distribution to a community center in the Kerak region. It was a center that helps women in poverty to give them training and skills to help lift them out of poverty. They also have a microfinance program to help women get started in a new venture to make money for their families. Thank you to Myssar Majali and Raouf Hjazeen for arranging this visit and distribution for SCM to The Ladies of Al Kasar Village and introducing us to your important work.

It was really interesting to learn about their organization and their programs, and good to be able to give the children in need there new backpacks for school. The backpacks were donated to SCM by Operation Refugee Child (www.operationrefugeechild.org). We also gave them knitted items and hygiene kits for the parents.

20160917_013203 20160917_014108




‘Powerful story’: W. Leyden teacher spent summer helping Syrian refugees

Here is a story that appeared in the Chicago Tribune about one of our recent volunteers in Greece. She talks about what motivated her to volunteer her to go to Greece and the challenges facing the refugees there. The article starts her, then follow the link to read the complete story.


West Leyden High School math teacher Ayesha Shedbalkar said she had been aware of the plight of those affected by war in Syria, but it took one famous image to move her to action.

“I mean I knew what was happening,” she said. “I don’t think I had the urge to do anything until I saw that picture.”

That was the photo of Aylan Kurdi, a toddler who drowned with his mother and brother in efforts to flee Syria in September 2015. The Syrian Center for Policy Research estimates that more than 470,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war that began five years ago.

“It’s sad that it took a picture of a dead boy on a beach to make it real to me,” she said. “But I think it was then that I started to really pay attention to what was happening.”

Click here to read full article.

EducationGreeceHumanitarian AidRefugeesUncategorizedUNHCR


August 19 is World Humanitarian Day

“World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering. It is also an occasion to honour the humanitarian workers and volunteers toiling on the frontlines of crises. I pay tribute to these dedicated women and men who brave danger to help others at far greater risk.” — UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

SCM is grateful for all of those who have volunteered with us to provide aid to the Syrian refugees and others, on our medical missions and in the countless other ways you have helped. Without our volunteers, we would not be able to provide the aid we have been able to over the past several years in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and now Greece. Below is a letter from Rita Zawaideh, our President and CEO of SCM, about the situation in Greece.

on patrol

SCM Volunteers at Idomeni, walking among the tents to offer medical aid.

Continuing the record pace of arrivals in Greece in 2015, more Syrians and refugees from other countries in conflict fled from Turkey and got stuck at Greece’s northern border with Macedonia in Idomeni. The border crossing at Idomeni was supposed to be the gateway to Europe.  But in February, Macedonia sealed its border with Greece, leaving the refugees with little alternative but to wait and hope the border crossing would reopen so they could continue their journey north. The refugees camped out in the fields, in the cold February weather, hoping that the doors would re-open and the European countries would reconsider. As cold winter turned to spring, and finally the summer was almost upon them, the border remained closed.

The refugees stayed, hoping against hope that they would soon be able to continue on to countries like Germany to get on with their lives with the hope that some day, maybe one day off in the distant future, they could go home to their beloved Syria. But for now, their focus has been getting to safety where they could support their families and their children could go to school. We tried to tell them that the borders would not reopen and they needed to consider another plan. But what that would be is something that none of us knew.

The Greek government made a decision to clear the area around Idomeni of the refugee tents, and late one day in May the military with buses and started to round up the refugees. They took the refugees to vacant warehouses at several locations between Idomeni and Thessaloniki. This is where the new camps had been established. The refugees had no choice, they had to get on the busses, and many were not even given a chance to collect their meager belongings before being put on the bus.


One of the new camps set up by the Greek government in an old hangar – they are using vacant warehouses and military hangars to house the refugees.

No one knew what the conditions were going to be like but hoped it would be better than sleeping on the dirt and outside in the cold and wind.  Some of the camps turned out to be ok, but not that great.  The conditions inside the warehouses where the tents were erected are noisy, and the floor is hard and unforgiving. There were portable toilets outside and some sinks for washing, but no place for cooking so they had to make do with the food the military distributed which consisted of water, pasta and bread.  We all know that the Greek government itself has no funds for helping the refugees, and they were not expecting that these hundred thousand plus people would be staying in Greece, but they had no choice.

The Greek government promised that they would help the refugees with their asylum applications and that volunteers from the UNHCR and other organization would come in and register them.  The UNHCR is stretched very thin as well, and the registration process is completely bogged down in Greece. The refugees are waiting, and keep asking when they can apply for asylum, and if they have already applied, how long will it take to get an answer and what is going on with their application.  The UNHCR volunteers don’t have any answers for them.

Once the Greek government cleared the border area at Idomeni and opened the new camps throughout northern Greece, we realized that the refugees would be staying for a while, rather than simply passing through. SCM changed it’s plan of operation from providing short term assistance services like emergency medical aid, to long term social services such as education, mother and baby care, programs for adults to help them adjust and prepare with language lessons, and more.

New classroom being built by SCM with the help of the refugees

New classroom being built by SCM with the help of the refugees

Rasha, one of our previous mission volunteers, said she would go to Greece and help set up programs to address some of these issues in the three camps that we are working in.  We now have schools set up to teach basic subjects to the children – math, Arabic grammar, etc, as well as classes to teach languages to the adults. They can now learn English, German, and Greek. This has given the refugees something to look forward to each day, and a sense of making some kind of progress, rather than just sitting and waiting for the next move by the governments and the UNHCR. The families are excited, and the children really want to go to class and learn.

Back at our main office in Seattle, we started collecting school supplies and Rasha was able to gather supplies in Greece as well, and she got the refugees involved in building the enclosure for the school room, desks and chairs for the school, and also helping with teaching.  If they were previously teachers in Syria we got them to come and help.  We wanted everyone to get involved, so depending on their skills, we had them come and use those skills to teach the children – anything that would help contribute to activating the minds of the children, and anyone who wants to learn. From agriculture, mechanics, sewing, jewelry making, etc.

Depression is an enormous problem among the refugees, and this is one way to help alleviate that. Losing hope for a future that does not include living in a tent, seeing no end to the misery in their home country, children who are as old as 11 who have never been to school in their young lives because of the war in Syria, and so much more are all contributors to depression amongst the refugees. We are doing our best to help them as much as we can. So we, as volunteers and a small NGO, have our work cut out for us to keep these people motivated, and give them some hope, by getting them educated so they will be prepared for the new world that is coming to them.

You can help us by volunteering to go on missions with us. But if you are not able to go, please help us keep working by donating to SCM by going to our Donate page:  https://www.scmmedicalmissions.org/donate/

We really need your help so we are able to keep helping the refugees.

Thank you,


EducationGreeceHumanitarian AidRefugeesUncategorized

English classes for #refugees underway at Frakapor Camp

Our women and children program coordinator in Greece sent us an update about the English classes she was able to get started at the camp in Frakapor in northern Greece. She had over 60 adults show up for the adult session and will be working to split the group into smaller groups so the students can get more attention.

We had one of our talented volunteers in the Seattle area – Kay from The Crafty Arab – create some posters for the classroom to help with the learning process. Thank you Kay! We also received wooden desks from some volunteers that brought them from Germany. We will be using some and sharing the rest with another organization we are working closely with.

Without our volunteers, none of this would be possible! You can help support their efforts by donating today! We need to get more school supplies and food for the refugees.


New Camp for the Refugees

Most of us have seen the news headlines of the Greek government moving the refugees out of the makeshift camps at the Greece-Macedonia border at Idomeni. The refugees are being moved to official camps set up by the government and SCM is there to continue providing aid. Sindos is one of the new camps that is in a huge, old factory.

Here is a description from our volunteer Madi W. who has been on the ground since last month and plans to stay as long as we need her:

Sindos5-26-2016May 24, 2016: We’ve moved in to a new camp called Sindos. Although these camps are run by the military and have both military and police presence, the residents have free movement and the environment is very relaxed. The camp is located behind a Mercedes dealership outside of Thessolaniki in an old hangar. Tents are pitched inside and are numbered. Being inside is a huge upgrade from living in the mud and dirt in Idomeni. 350 people were moved in on Sunday morning before we came to set up that afternoon. We’ve been given a gray, garden shed-type building next to Block C with electricity and a private room to see patients. The view from our clinic window is a large green fence where people hang laundry to dry and the clinic door looks at the old building where the police and military are based. When we first moved in it had a very abandoned feeling to it and the empty blocks were echoed and eerie but today as new residents from Idomeni poured in they filled the place with life. The power of community is so strong! Women who had seen our OBGYN, Sam, earlier in the day brought friends back so they could all enjoy quality care and a wellness check. People come and tell us about their sick family members or friends, they accompany them and ask questions and advocate for them. That shows me that we’re a trustworthy service. They are confident in our ability to help as best we can.

Idomeni is being cleared so our team is present at the camps within walking distance of the hotel: Hara and Eko. We’ve been providing regular care at Eko since we arrived here back in March and are now working closely with a group called Katrinos out of a wonderful yellow ambulance for women’s care and the bright Swedish ambulance for general care. There have been weeks where we’ve had too many medical care providers- back in March I wouldn’t have even imagined that as a possibility! As the populations and needs change we try to adjust accordingly. The trust that we’ve earned here means so much to us. Hara and Eko will soon follow Idomeni as far as clearing out but we are standing by our community until the last patient is relocated to better conditions.

Sindos5-26-2016-iMay 26, 2016: The conditions in Sindos are not ideal but the basic framework is certainly loads better than in the pop-up camps or in Idomeni. The tents are large and sturdy and are inside where they’re protected from the wind and rain. The military and Swiss Cross are starting to hand out sleeping pads as well as blankets. There’s only porta-potties and there’s no hot water. 

The food isn’t ideal but we need to remember that lots of these peoples diets are supplemented by food from small NGOs or food they make themselves. We’re working on getting access to raw foods for them to cook and prepare for themselves.

We are now providing medical services at three camps – Sindos, Eko, and Hara. Eko and Hara will likely be closed down and cleared by the government. They currently operate on land near two gas stations. We will continue to provide medical and humanitarian aid for as long as we are needed. Please donate to help support our efforts in Greece. Your donations will go towards purchasing medications and supplies, and providing logistics support to our teams on the ground.