Ritsona Refugee Camp

$8,280 of $6,500 goal

Raised by 151 people in 19 months
For the month of November 2016, I am volunteering at the Child Friendly Space at the Ritsona Refugee Camp in Greece through Lighthouse Relief. This center provides the children a safe place to play and provides their parents respite in order to allow them to cook, clean, and work on their asylum. There are some deficits in the children's center as far as activities for the children. My original goal was to raise $1000 by next week to purchase legos (and/or similar building toys) for the children. Rather than just bring toys with me, the idea is to purchase them here in Greece in order to support the local economy. As you may or may not know, Greece's economy is very poor at the moment, and yet they have embraced these refugees and provided them shelter. 

Well, you guys raised the $1000 in a matter of like hours, so i keep increasing the goal. I've purchased legos, toys, arts, crafts, and other things for the kids. I've also started purchasing other things desperately needed at the camp such as bathing supplies, talcon powder, and items for the Female Friendly Space. You can check my updates for where the money is being spent.

My time here was/is self funded. I paid for my own flight, hotel, car rental, and food. This is not to pay for me being here. I can handle that on my own.

So 100% of these funds raised will go directly to purchasing these toys and providing them straight to the kids in the center. I am personally covering both the GOFUNDME % and the difference between the Euro and Dollar which means I am adding roughly 15% to all of the donations.

You in or what?

Feel free to contact me if you are interesting in other ways of helping either financially or with volunteering.
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The short of it: I want to start a posse of peeps who collectively help out the residents at the Ritsona Refugee Camp in Chalikda by funding a bus that takes the residents to the city center every week to buy groceries. Hit me up at mostartislame@gmail.com.

The (very) long of it: I got back ten months ago from volunteering at the Ritsona Refugee camp in Greece. You guys did an AWESOME job helping me raise well over $8000 (plus the $1000+ I put on on top of that) for the camp which bought shoes, underwear, toys, a wheelchair, and so much more. Not a month goes by where I haven't continued to either help the camp as a whole, or individual families.

The current need of the camp is transportation. The food system has changed. Previously, the Greek Army was providing food for the residents of the camp, but now the residents get monthly cards to purchase food. The only issue is that the camp is a twenty minute drive from the closest city (Chalkida). They can walk (takes hours), but there are no sidewalks and they risk being mugged by gypsies (they do exist). A bus is 500 euros per month for four trips from the camp to the city center. The residents would pay 1 euro each to take the bus (if they can afford it) and every few months, the bus would pay for itself.

My goal is to get 25 of you (minimum) to join my gang. That would be a donation of 20 euros each ($23.46) per month. If someone can't help one month, I will cover it.
We could think of a cool name for our group. We could nominate a treasurer, or we can choose to make individual donations to Cafe Rits (who is spearheading this, as they provide daily lunches for the children when they are in school, and so much more). The issue with everyone making individual donations to Cafe Rits is that the onus of responsibility would be on them to count up the donations; Whereas if we do it, and just send 500 euros and know it's done.

There would be ZERO administration fees here. Everything we do would go straight to the camp and the residents. In addition (regardless of doing this or not), if you ever wanted to go to the Ritsona camp to volunteer, or get a tour, I can help with this.

What do you think? My personal email is mostartislame@gmail.com. thank you. شكرا
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And then it was done.

Let me start by saying I cannot thank you guys enough for everything you did. We moved mountains. We really made stuff happen. Sounds trivial, but it is 100% true.

Hope your Turkey day was good. I ended up going out with the Cafe Rits folks, both the employees and the Syrian refugees that work at the cafe. There were probably 30-40 of us there and it was really fun. It was great to hang out with the refugees and their kids in a social setting away from the camp. Just all chat and have a good time. And Greek food on thanksgiving? I'll take it.

Last few days have been awesome in the Children's Friendly Space. On Wednesday, Mike from Germany put together a rad obstacle course, which the kids thoroughly enjoyed.

Yesterday, we did lego activities which the kids LOVED. It was the first we used the little legos (that you bought). They had never really seen building block accessories like these. Their eyes lit up when they found out they could connect some of the more interesting pieces. The kids who don't usually participate 100% were really into it. All the kids didn't want to stop (which is rare, they usually eventually get bored of just one activity).

Today, my last day, as I checked in the kids and gave them their name tags, Veronica, the staffperson, had the children do little square drawings. One by one, they walked up and gave the drawings to me as goodbye presents. It was really, really sweet. Alisa from London then put together a dancing activity. I had downloaded Arabic children's songs on Spotify and we just took turns doing a dance and the everyone would follow. We used the speaker you guys bought.

After the session, I went to one of the kid's Isobox's (home) for a late lunch that the mother prepared for me (see pic below). The spread was INCREDIBLE. Rice, fried cheese, spinach, chicken, lamb, pita bread, etc. She went out of her way to make sure there were non meat food items for me. It was just me, volunteer Amandine from France, the mother, and three of her children (one of which I had became really attached to, and vice versa). We ate, chatted, joked. It was really special and a great way to spend my last few hours at the camp. I was gutted saying goodbye to my 5 year old friend. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.

I have a friend Megan who decided to come out in January for the month. She will be volunteering for Lighthouse as well. It's such a double edged sword because I want to pass along messages to the families and kids to say hello while she is out here, but on the other hand, hopefully they aren't because that means they have found asylum somewhere and moved on with their lives...

As far as spending, it has been a whirlwind the last couple of days (in a good way).

A few days ago, just after I made my last post, I was informed that ECHO really needed socks for the children. It has been getting into the 40's at night, and the kids run around in flip flops. You bought 400+ pair of socks for the kids.

The next thing that was needed (as decided yesterday) was shoes. Shoes can be pricey, but through the owner of the hotel I am staying at, I found a store that was blowing out their children's shoes to me at 11 euros each (around $12). He sold me 100 pair and dropped them off at the camp late afternoon today. I went to Jumbo one last time and purchased every pair of children's shoes and boots they had (64 pair). I also purchased another 37 rain ponchos for painting (and rain?).

Lastly, there is just over $11 left, so I am making a donation to Cafe Rits tonight...that will take us over the edge.

If you have ANY interest in volunteering at the Ritsona Refugee Camp, or speaking to anyone about future donations, you can reach out to me, or feel free contact these organizations directly:

*Lighthouse Relief (the organization I volunteered for): http://www.lighthouserelief.org
*Echo 100 Plus (the warehouse): http://echo100plus.com/en
*Cafe Rits (the cafe making Syrian food for the residents): https://www.facebook.com/caferits/
*IAMYOU (working with the children and their school education): http://iamyou.se

Anyways, here is the final spending list:

$8180 total raised. I added $1227 so the real total raised was $9407. Not too shabby in my book.

724 euros (on children's toys/crafts)
789 euros (on the projector for the female friendly center, this was paid an picked up 11/8)
204.35 euros (on puzzle mats for the children, shower gel for the residents, and talcon powder for the infants)
219.96 euros (on lego sets for the older children)
95.28 euros (on coffee and olive oil for the ECHO warehouse)
198 euros (on tools including an electric drill)
289.74 euros (on lighting and electrical)
177.29 euros (on women's underwear and additional craft supplies for the children - 11/8)
182.91 euros (on coffee - 11/8)
561.12 euros (the last of the construction needs to complete the Children's Center for winter including tools and lumber! - 11/8)
320.95 euros (131 bottles of hair conditioner 11/9)
213.78 euros (74 bottles of hair conditioner 11/9)
262.55 euros (400+ pairs of socks 11/10, pic below)
180 euros (wheelchair 11/11, pic below)
82.14 euros (craft supplies for the kids at Jumbo 11/12)
150 euros (wheelchair upgrade 11/15)
729.05 euros (tool for the residents to check out 11/16)
29.95 euros (bluetooth speaker 11/16)
553.22 euros (three gym mats for the children's center 11/18)
187.53 euros (47 rain ponchos for the children to wear while painting. This way, they won't get their clothes dirty)
398.89 euros (400+ pair of children's socks at Jumbo)
522.95 euros (37 more rain ponchos and sneakers/ugg type boots for the children)
1096 euros (100 pair of children's winter boots)

TOTAL SPENT: $8,168.66 ($11.34 left as of 11/25/16).

Love,
Jonathan
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I feel like the most selfish person the in the world.

Over the weekend, on my day off, I got a message from a friend who works at Cafe Rits (the cafe that provides free Syrian and culturally appropriate food to the residents) that they were making pastries with the kids and asked if I wanted to join. Armandine (new volunteer from France) and I jumped in the car and headed over. It was really, really fun. See a quick video here that they posted: https://www.facebook.com/caferits/videos/1782704511982702/

Later that night, I had an epiphany of sorts. I really didn't want to come home. I wanted to stay for another week. Four weeks wasn't enough.

I called Julia and basically she said, "you do you" and that she would hold down the fort.

I emailed my bosses at LA County and late Monday, I got word from the big cheese that another week would be okay.

Last night, after going to a goodbye/birthday dinner for some volunteers, I came back, worked on the festival, and eventually called American Airlines. Because the change of flight was not due to a death of a family member, I would have to pay, and unfortunately, only business class was left, which would be $1500. It would also be another $500 or so between additional hotel, car rental, and food, so like $2000 for another week. Between what I've spent to be here and matching the donations, I am in around $4000 for the month. What's another $2000? I can afford that no problem.

For no reason, I woke up around 5am. I called Julia. She said she misses me. Harlow (the dog) misses me. We talk. I have reports due for day job. I have the festival to book. I have a life I should to get back to. We hung up.

I started sobbing. I haven't cried (outside of someone's death) since I was very young. I recently got misty eyed when The Specials confirmed the fest, when I watched the TV show This is Us, or when I was reminded of the movie Life is Beautiful. This wasn't misty eyed. This was straight up sobbing.

I think about selling everything and just volunteering for a few years (like others here are) and then (my) "reality" sets in. I have a retirement. I have a beautiful condo. I have art, and records, and cars, and vespas. I have Pizzanista, Long Beach Cafe, and Fresh Kabobs. I have Netflix, cable, Hulu, and Kodi....Julia and I have our life.

I think about the kids here. I think about how much they will miss me...and then I realize just how narcissistic it is to believe a word of that. Sure, the kids had fun with me. I am the bearded, tattooed guy who likes to hold their hand and skip back to their homes after we play. But there is also Alisa from London, Mike from Germany, Armandine from France, Linnea from Sweden, and when we are gone, there will be other volunteers from around the world. The kids will still have fun. They will still skip. One month of volunteering did not change anyone's lives. Nothing will be forever changed.

On the other hand, the donations definately changed lives. I met 30 year old Mohammed at the camp the other day and he thanked me profusely for the wheelchair. The women have conditioner and new underwear. The babies have talcum powder. Last week, the women in the Female Friendly Space did Zumba thanks to the projector. Construction projects that would have not been possible are now completed. There are now tools the residents can borrow. There are tumbling mats being delivered next week. And of course, the thing that started this all, there are building blocks for the kids. We used them yesterday.

Saturday, I return to my life.

I know you guys have said such nice things to me on Facebook, through text, and here on this Gofundme page. Telling me what a "good egg" I am, but as I type this, I unsuccessfully try to hold back tears and just feel that I am the most selfish person in the world. I am going back to everything these people have lost. My home, my family, my things.

If there was anyone you know that had expressed an interest in donating, ask them to do so by Wednesday evening (California time). I will do one last run Thursday. If no more donations came in, just know we done good everyone. Real good. No one comes here and does this. Not to the extent we did.

Anyways, here is the latest as far as the donations and spending:

724 euros (on children's toys/crafts)
789 euros (on the projector for the female friendly center, this was paid an picked up 11/8)
204.35 euros (on puzzle mats for the children, shower gel for the residents, and talcon powder for the infants)
219.96 euros (on lego sets for the older children)
95.28 euros (on coffee and olive oil for the ECHO warehouse)
198 euros (on tools including an electric drill)
289.74 euros (on lighting and electrical)
177.29 euros (on women's underwear and additional craft supplies for the children - 11/8)
182.91 euros (on coffee - 11/8)
561.12 euros (the last of the construction needs to complete the Children's Center for winter including tools and lumber! - 11/8)
320.95 euros (131 bottles of hair conditioner 11/9)
213.78 euros (74 bottles of hair conditioner 11/9)
262.55 euros (400+ pairs of socks 11/10, pic below)
180 euros (wheelchair 11/11, pic below)
82.14 euros (craft supplies for the kids at Jumbo 11/12)
150 euros (wheelchair upgrade 11/15)
729.05 euros (tool for the residents to check out 11/16)
29.95 euros (bluetooth speaker 11/16)
553.22 euros (three gym mats for the children's center 11/18)
187.53 euros (47 rain ponchos for the children to wear while painting. This way, they won't get their clothes dirty)

TOTAL SPENT: $6,150.82 ($300.18 left as of 11/22/16)!!!!

Love,
Jonathan
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Guess what? I called the company who makes the gym mats (pictured) in the UK and they were willing to make an exception and ship to Greece! I ordered three of these: http://www.cannonsuk.com/gymnastics-mats/Cannons-UK-Foldable-Double%20Mat-10ft-x-4ft-x-50mm.html. They are easily foldable and seem to be sturdy enough to last, but soft enough to let the kids tumble on them. The Children's Friendly Center outside flooring is basically just small stones. This is great when it rains (reduces mud), but sucks when it comes to the kids using the rocks to throw, or want to play on the ground. Anyways, thanks to those donations last week. They took us over the top and allowed me to get these. They should be delivered next week, just in the nick of time before I leave on November 26th.

I got a thank you email from ECHO 100 PLUS for the donations we made to the warehouse. I wanted to share it with you guys:

"Dear John,

Thank you for your generous and thoughtful donations to Echo100plus and to the residents of the Ritsona camp. Your donations of olive oil, over a full weeks supply of coffee, 400 pairs of men's socks, 200 bottles of hair conditioner, twenty bottles of talcum powder as well as many women's underwear have been amazing for this month's distribution capabilities and have helped us to fill in several gaps in our supply.

Thank you again!

Arielle Stein and Josh Stepputat
Echo100Plus
Ritsona Coordinators"

Check out what Echo is doing here: http://echo100plus.com/en

Last few days at the camp have been really interesting (and somewhat challenging). The older kids haven't had school due to Greek holidays, so yesterday's session with the kids was VERY crowded, 35 or so kids. We played with big pieces of tissue paper, which the kids LOVED. They ran around with streams of it, like a bird, decorated the camp, made headbands, it was funnnnn. Also, we played with empty boxes and let the kids draw, cut, and create.

Today, the camp was super busy. There is a "ribbon cutting" on Tuesday for the diplomats/donors of the ISOBOXES the residents moved into (the trailers). The Greek army and all of the NGO's have been fervently cleaning up the camp for media...painting, sanding, moving/dismantling the old tents....although this will obviously give the impression that the camp is cleaner than it was, the residents ultimately benefit. Their micro city is beautified. I'm not mad about this. The press/diplomats/donors will leave, and the things that wouldn't have been able to get attended to, got attended to! Win/Win in my book.

Not sure what I am doing this weekend, maybe drive to experience the hot springs? Maybe go see The Stranglers play in Athens Sunday? We shall see. I know I need some respite.

This coming Wednesday, they are supposed to be done with our "winterization" and we are finally supposed to move back into our Children's Friendly Space!!!! Can't wait!!! Then the kids can play in a gated area. It helps with our supervision of the children.

Anyways, here is the latest list of spending (all of which are in euros):

724 euros (on children's toys/crafts)
789 euros (on the projector for the female friendly center, this was paid an picked up 11/8)
204.35 euros (on puzzle mats for the children, shower gel for the residents, and talcon powder for the infants)
219.96 euros (on lego sets for the older children)
95.28 euros (on coffee and olive oil for the ECHO warehouse)
198 euros (on tools including an electric drill)
289.74 euros (on lighting and electrical)
177.29 euros (on women's underwear and additional craft supplies for the children - 11/8)
182.91 euros (on coffee - 11/8)
561.12 euros (the last of the construction needs to complete the Children's Center for winter including tools and lumber! - 11/8)
320.95 euros (131 bottles of hair conditioner 11/9)
213.78 euros (74 bottles of hair conditioner 11/9)
262.55 euros (400+ pairs of socks 11/10, pic below)
180 euros (wheelchair 11/11, pic below)
82.14 euros (craft supplies for the kids at Jumbo 11/12)
150 euros (wheelchair upgrade 11/15)
729.05 euros (tool for the residents to check out 11/16)
29.95 euros (bluetooth speaker 11/16)
553.22 euros (three gym mats for the children's center 11/18)

TOTAL SPENT: $5,963.29 ($187.71 left as of 11/18/16)!!!!

That' it for now. Have a great weekend everyone.

Love,
Jonathan
painting!
a generic pic of the mats you bought
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Read a Previous Update
Ally Squirrell
19 months ago

Wonderful hearing all this progress. Thank you for doing this, from all of us.

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Donick Cary
19 months ago

Inspired. Love it all. Glad Im not the only one doing the Macarena to stay fit. Leave some vinyl for the Greeks! ❤️️❤️️

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$8,280 of $6,500 goal

Raised by 151 people in 19 months
Created November 1, 2016
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KL
$100
Kenny Lam
8 months ago

Here you go Jon

$100
Anonymous
19 months ago
MB
$25
Maria Brunner
19 months ago

I just think you are amazing for you doing this. Our whole industry needs to come aboard and help you.

$339
Anonymous
19 months ago
$20
Anonymous
19 months ago
MB
$200
Mike Berault
19 months ago

Hey Jon happy to send some cash. I'm proud of your contribution. You took a stand for others and that act in itself has incredible value. Safe travels, see you soon.

Ally Squirrell
19 months ago

Wonderful hearing all this progress. Thank you for doing this, from all of us.

+ Read More
Donick Cary
19 months ago

Inspired. Love it all. Glad Im not the only one doing the Macarena to stay fit. Leave some vinyl for the Greeks! ❤️️❤️️

+ Read More
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