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I'll Never Be the Same After Seeing What a Refugee Camp is Really Like

Photograph by Twenty20

I'll never forget the video I saw in the fall of 2015, showing freezing refugees on a raft, arriving on a rocky shore in some unknown land. That same week, a photo was published that shocked the world: Alan Kurdi, a 3 year-old boy from Syria, dead on a beach in Turkey. This imagery haunted me for months. The refugee crisis became this intangible tragedy, almost popularized on social media. There was an enormous amount of tragedy, but it was too far away from me. I wanted to help, but I didn't know how.

Soon after, I became aware of Carry The Future, a California-based non-profit that started by collecting used baby carriers and delivering them to refugees on the go. As a mom of three and proud past babywearer, I immediately found my old carriers and sent them in. Over the course of several months, I became more and more interested in CTF and my urge to go and help only got stronger. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was buying plane tickets to Greece—where there are many refugee from all over the world—and meeting my future teammates over Google hangout.

For two weeks in November, I left my family behind and joined four other women in Greece. Our purpose was revealed just a few days before our arrival, as the needs in camps change so frequently. We were told that camps needed more hands on deck. To help, to hold, to deliver aid. We were going to meet basic needs of some of the world's most vulnerable people.

RELATED: What It's Like to Start Completely Over as Refugees With Kids

During my trip, we traveled to several refugee camps and squats. At one, we fit moms with baby carriers. At another, we filled a school with school supplies. If camps were out of diapers, pads, or soap, we spent our personal money buying as much we could. At another camp, we organized donations. At another, we fit women with bras. Each camp was so vastly different from the one before it.

As you can imagine, the experience was amazing, but completely devastating. We heard heartbreaking stories of war and survival. We heard stories of family members drowning while fleeing to Greece, daddies being killed by ISIS, mamas who are raising day-old babies in tents during the winter.

The tragedy is unbelievably great.

I always assumed that once in a camp, a person's basic needs would be met. What I saw was quite different. Small organizations are doing everything they can, but there is still not enough. There were thousands of refugees living in tents, unprotected by heavy winds, rain, and snow. Children were running around without proper clothing or shoes. Moms were out of diapers and desperate for more. The food in some camps was completely inedible.

It was shocking.

However, the refugees I met are some of the most resilient people on this earth. These amazing families have experienced traumatic war and violence in their home country, followed by the trauma of fleeing, and are now living yet another extremely difficult reality. Yet, they are not hopeless. They continue on, making a life for their children. They save every penny. They start businesses. They do everything they can to keep moving.

Returning home was extremely difficult. I had violent nightmares for weeks. I was unable to speak about my experiences. I felt very stuck in the middle of two gravely different realties. How was I supposed to go about my normal routine as a stay-at-home-mom in middle class America, all while knowing what's happening across the pond?

RELATED: Refugee Life Through the Eyes of Kids

Thankfully, my friends and family have helped me to understand my role in this crisis, which has prompted me to be an advocate so that more and more people can do some good in this world. Not everyone can hop on a plane and go to Greece, but everyone can do something to make the world better.

Here are a few ways to get involved in the refugee crisis:

Get educated.

Read the news. Follow organizations on Facebook. Watch documentaries on Netflix. The more you know, the more you can help.

Send in a baby carrier.

Carry the Future is still collecting carriers and it's an awesome way to make a refugee's life a little easier.

Donate to small non-profits that are on the ground, doing good work.

Your money will be spent meeting basic needs of families living in camps.

Get involved with your local refugee resettlement agency.

There are refugee resettlement offices in nearly every state. Many rely on volunteers to help them help refugees get settled into life in the US.

Let your politicians know you care.

It's important that we advocate for refugee resettlement. Lawmakers need to hear from the American people on this!

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