By Paula Miller
Special to The SUN
On Monday, July 22, a team of Pagosa women will travel to a refugee camp near Athens, Greece. Located in Thermopylae, this camp houses 800 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
A typical day
Our group of five will be working with 200 children at Happy Caravan, a school created by a Syrian refugee, inside the Thermopylae Camp. Our volunteer schedule will be Monday through Friday, approximately 10 hours per day.
9 a.m.: Our Pagosa team will meet to share thoughts, experiences and concerns. Secondary trauma (similar to post-traumatic stress disorder) is a very real part of serving in this capacity. Our team is committed to watching out for each other so we can detect signs of trauma and step in with assistance.
10 a.m.: Morning planning session with all volunteers. Create lesson plans, be transported to the camp and school. Prepare the classroom for the day.
1 to 8 p.m.: Teach math, English and a variety of art, dance, yoga and self-care to three groups of kids ranging from 3 to 14 years old. Class sizes will be 10-25 children.
8 p.m.: Clean the classroom and school, and prepare for following day. Be transported back to the volunteer house.
In addition to daily teaching responsibilities, our team recently has been asked to serve as the interim program manager, running the daily educational program and managing all volunteers while they search for a permanent program manager.
Our team includes Casey Crow, Paula Jo Miller, Leslie Santee, Addie Thompson and Kelly Ziemer. Mary Jen Meerdink, a clinical psychologist, will support us, long distance, with periodic self-care check-ins. Two of us will be at the camp for six weeks. Three will be there between 10 and 21 days.
Plans in Pagosa
Our team has been planning this trip since October, having spent numerous hours on cultural research, logistics, fundraising, global calls and lesson planning.
In addition to planning this trip, we’re also planning how we will bring back what we learn. We will host a Kid’s Art Camp during spring break, teaching many of the lessons we’ll teach in the camp (and lessons we’ll learn there, too). We hope to host a public art project where our local kids can work together to create a piece that represents how they identify themselves as kids in our community, and in the world. And, we will continue to grow the BWI Ambassador Program for local kids who wish to learn more about kids their age across the globe.
From the beginning, each of us committed to personally pay for our own travel, accommodations and meals, as well as share the cost to purchase art supplies for the school. We have since formed Beyond Words International (BWI) and, through this nonprofit, we’ve raised funds by teaching art classes, throwing dance parties, hosting a CrossFit challenge, and running self-defense workshops. In addition, we’ve hosted Facebook and personal fundraisers, been invited to present to Rotary, and organized a group of amazing Pagosa Springs High School ambassadors who raised $650 in one bake sale.
Because of your incredible generosity, we are only $1,500 from our fundraising goal.
After nine months of planning, it’s hard to believe that we leave in just a few days. I’m humbled to work with such an amazing group of focused and determined women, some of whom I didn’t know nine months ago. We are wholly committed to doing whatever we can to help the kids in the camp begin to heal. Personally, my hope is to be of service, teach, learn and maybe heal in my own way.
Thank you to our friends, family and community for supporting this opportunity.
If you would like to help us reach our goal, please visit our PayPal Giving page where 100 percent of your tax deductible donation will be given to BWI, our nonprofit organization. Visit paypal.com/us/fundraiser/charity/3603448. Or, visit www.bwintl.org and click “DONATE.” Any amount will go a long way. Thank you and see you in September.
By Paula Miller