September 2015 – When the rains came down.
You do not forget rain like that – 90 minutes of water coming hard. The main thought on my mind was ‘How did these families make it through the night?’
At that point in the global migration, we naively believed that the tide of refugees from the Middle East would reduce to a trickle with the winter. At least, we hoped it would slow because the Balkans in January is nature’s foulest mood – it rips and chews the skin when given the chance.
At the camp, one pitiful tent did her feeble best to protect the donated clothes and shoes from the downpour, but there was no space for people, not even the smallest amongst us. Families were everywhere, soaked and pasted to one another in a shivering mess of mud caked hunger and exhaustion. The volunteers trying to match the tentative pleas of people to donated shoe were overwhelmed.
In my peripheral vision, there were suddenly wet toddler toes attached to a mother’s arms – both of them shivering to the soul. The big sister stood to the side and spoke a few words of English. She became the translator for our exchange.
“Do you have shoes for me, please?” She had waited patiently until her mom and brother were cared for.
I looked down at what had once been her shoes, now riddled with holes, muddy, the soles flapping in the wrong direction.
“How long have your shoes been like this?”
She shrugged, “A long time. Days. But when the rain came last night, I am now too cold.”
And so we looked for shoes. She and I, we searched through shoes – a teenage Syrian girl of 14 with a size 37 and an American mom of 4 teenage daughters, “37 women’s! Anybody? 37 women’s?”
It is a popular size in women’s shoes – the most common.
Gone. The 38s were gone too. We tried a 36 – painfully small.
The volunteer shrugged at me in a helpless gesture. This girl had days of traveling ahead of her. At 14 and so much like my daughters, I could not let her leave that camp shoeless.
Grabbing her hand, I desperately pulled her into the tent’s volunteer entrance. The minutes were ticking too quickly – the call to load the bus was coming. Pushing past boxes and bodies, we began sorting through the mountain of clothes and coats and shoes. The clock ticked.
‘Just one stupid pair of size 37,’ I muttered under my breath.
The finality of the call in Arabic reached our ears. ‘Load the bus.’
Gently, she laid her hand on my arm. “No worry. No shoes. I go. Shukran.” (thank you in Arabic)
She slipped out of the tent and into the rain. She was gone.
Since September, we have lined shoes of all colors and sizes in soldier formation along the Balkan highway and watched them march away to freedom. Through it all, I have not forgotten the face or the gentle resignation of my Syrian friend.
Today, we are desperate for shoes. We are able to give 50 pairs of shoes weekly. The estimated need is 1,000 per week.
One thousand people who have come through the ice and the snow with shoes like my girl in Röszke. At times, they come with no shoes at all.
Because the camp’s need for shoes is so big, when NCM – Central Europe delivers a box of shoes, there are cheers. We are known as the shoe people.
A $10 / 7 GBP / 9 euro donation puts a pair of boots on refugee feet along the Balkan highway. It is as simple as that.
Courage for the journey – it is our motto along the refugee highway. Courage for the soul. Courage for the body through rain and snow and freezing temperatures. Courage to hold onto hope in the dark night. Courage to believe that life after the journey awaits. With your donation, you give courage and boots for their journey.
If you would like to give a donation for shoes, click here.
Please do NOT send shoes. Shipping is extremely costly. We have a special deal worked out with a reputable shoe company close to the camp.