A Boulder mother helps establish Operation Refugee Child, an organization dedicated to providing supplies, toys — and hope — to refugee children living in squalid refugee camps in Greece and Turkey.
Boulder Source: How was Operation Refugee Child established and how did you become involved in the organization?
Anna Segur: After seeing a photo of a Syrian refugee toddler who drowned in September, I was very upset and wanted to find a way to help. I connected with four other mothers living in Orange County, California who were also interested in helping refugee children. We started an Indiegogo site to collect funds for 1,000 backpacks filled with supplies as well as for airfare to Greece, where the largest refugee camps are. For 4-5 months, I only stayed in touch with the other Operation Refugee moms over Facebook. I met the other moms for the first time in Greece when we arrived to distribute backpacks filled with supplies to refugee children.
Boulder Source: It sounds like you have a background traveling internationally. Can you tell us about it?
Anna Segur: Professionally, I’ve been a consultant for rural assistance in developing countries for drinking water and sanitation projects. I’m now a program manager at CU Boulder for environmental engineering projects.
Boulder Source: Can you tell us about your first experience with refugees in Greece?
Anna Segur: After meeting the other Operation Refugee Child organizers in Lesbos, Greece, we went to both of the refugee camps on the island. One camp, managed by the IRC, had vulnerable populations and families where we were able to distribute the backpacks directly. At the second camp, Moria camp, we needed volunteer help. We also visited the port city where refugees wait for the ferry to Athens where they will then continue to immigrate north into Europe. The port was filled wall to wall with thousands of families sleeping on the bare floor of the terminal with only 4-6 bathrooms.
Seeing thousands of stranded refugees in appalling, squalid conditions of camps filled with mud, and without no food, sanitation, drinking water, medical services — and waiting for days on end in the port terminal on Lesbos – was a truly shocking experience.
Boulder Source: Are there any particular scenes or memories you think would give people a sense of the scope of the refugee crisis?
Anna Segur: People often assume refugees are economic migrants, but I saw firsthand that the most of the refugee families were leading lives similar to those of us in Boulder. They were not impoverished rural families who had traveled to Greece for job opportunities, but educated families from urban and suburban areas who never wanted to leave their countries, but were forced to give up their careers, to give up everything, to escape war and danger and save themselves and their families.
According to a report by the United National High Commission on Refugees, over million refugees arrived in Europe by sea in 2015. An average of 1,866 arrived to Greece by sea in the first 79 days of 2016. 60% of the refugees are women and children.
Boulder Source: Can you tell me about support from the Boulder community?
Anna Segur: There’s been quite a lot of involvement from individuals, for example a Girl Scout troupe, which is putting together Hope Boxes and other individuals who are donating items for backpacks.
Boulder Source: Are you gathering donations from across the U.S.?
Anna Segur: Yes, there’s been a huge response from across the country. People are donating Hope Boxes, backpacks, and funds. For example, a man from Pennsylvania wants to collect items for 100 Hope Boxes. Also people are volunteering to travel to refugee camps to deliver backpacks. Many people are volunteering in ORC’s California warehouse to pack contents of boxes into backpacks.
Boulder Source: How many children has ORC provided backpacks to since the organization was founded? What is your goal for this year?
Anna Segur: ORC has distributed 2,480 backpacks and has a goal of distributing 10,000 backpacks this year.
Boulder Source: What are items of greatest need right now?
Anna Segur: The season has changed and now the children need sun hats, durable rubber shoes (like Crocs), insect repellant, hygiene items like soap, shampoo, lotion.
Boulder Source: How can people help?
Anna Segur: Go to the Operation Refugee Child website at http://www.operationrefugeechild.org/take-action and take action!
Buy Supplies for a Backpack: https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/1SU5N1J43VKCB/ref=cm_sw_su_w
Make A Donation: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/operation-refugee-child–12#/
Set Up A Corporate Partnership: email@example.com
A letter included in a hope box: