One Day with CHEERing

A Day with Mariah

24 May 2023 / by Mariah Banks

My ideal workday: caring for babies and supporting mothers. Lucky for me, that was an average Monday at CHEERing!

My day began at the bustling Victoria Square in Athens, where I met CHEERing’s Grow Clinic Counsellor and Community Health Worker Pierrette. Despite the crowds, we quickly found each other thanks to our vibrant blue CHEERing sweaters. Carrying Grow Clinic gear, including a scale, measuring tape, patient charts, diapers, wipes, medicine, and vitamins, we were ready for our first home visit.

Pierrette and I spent the next few hours together, visiting refugee mothers, infants, and children at their apartments for CHEERing’s Community Mothers program. During each visit, we would weigh and measure infants and children and track their growth, discuss the health status of the mothers and children and address any concerns, and distribute supplies as needed. We also offered breastfeeding counseling to pregnant and nursing mothers.

Community Mothers is just one program that I was involved with while working at CHEERing. I arrived in Athens in January as a graduate student from Boston University, earning a Master of Public Health with special interests in maternal-child and refugee health. I was given the opportunity to serve as a CHEERing Fellow for three months, supporting various aspects of the organization’s preventive health services in Athens.

In addition to Community Mothers, I worked in Grow Clinics in refugee camps, assessed the growth and nutrition status of children, distributed vitamins and other supplies, and coordinated breastfeeding and preventive health care initiatives. I also supported CHEERing’s youth football program, cooking classes, and educational workshops – and even led a class about our planet! Lastly, I coordinated a research project on the health needs, barriers, and perceptions of health interventions among refugees in greater Athens, Greece. I recently presented this project at Boston University Center on Forced Displacement’s annual conference.

My time at CHEERing was truly rewarding and memorable. I will never forget the joy on a mother’s face when she learned that her baby is doing well – and I will always remember the pain on a mother’s face when she struggled to access much-needed care. My experiences in Athens fueled my passion for global health and health equity. I will carry them with me as I embark on my public health career, having graduated in May.

I had many impactful experiences while working at CHEERing, but my favorite part was the people: the babies I cared for, the parents and children I interacted with, CHEERing’s passionate staff. I am inspired by their resilience, hope, and dedication. I feel lucky to have spent the past few months learning from and working with them.

A Day with Camilla

5 October 2022 / by Camilla Bratland

Fun activities in Malakasa camp

I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the CHEERing team for four weeks during my summer break through my university’s civic engagement program.

While volunteering at CHEERing, I took part in a variety of activities. In the Grow Clinic, we weighed and measured children of all ages to keep track of their growth. On Wednesdays, we picked up the children from the Malakasa camp at the train station and ensured they arrived safely at the Athens football field. My favorite memory from this experience was when I was in charge of organizing activities and playing football with the youngest children.

In the Malakasa camp, we led many activities, from cooking sessions, painting sessions, beading sessions, English conversation sessions, workouts, and dancing for the children. We organized the painting sessions and beading sessions for the children in the refugee camp to be creative and have fun together. This art project also incentivized the children to practice their English, which was one of our goals. Being able to connect with the children and put a smile on their faces is one of the most amazing things I have experienced.

While at CHEERing, I learned so much about the people I met and their stories, as well as more about the refugee situation in Greece. I will be forever grateful for this experience! It was incredibly inspiring to see the team’s dedication and to be a part of the community the team has built.

A Day with Jana

12 September 2022 / by Jana May

I worked with CHEERing for 6 weeks during Summer 2022. As a medical student I mainly worked at the Grow Clinics in the camps and shelters around Athens. My responsibilities included weighing and measuring babies and children, supporting mothers with breastfeeding, checking vaccination statuses, and addressing any concerns the mothers had about their children. I saw a wide variety of medical problems whilst I was there including constipation, diarrhoea, malnutrition, dental problems, urinary tract and worm infections. I really enjoyed working at the Grow Clinics as it was fun to interact with the children and a good opportunity to put the skills and knowledge I have developed whilst being at medical school into practice.

Even though my main responsibility was to attend the grow clinics, I also had the opportunity to attend some of the evening cooking sessions, which were run at Camp Malakasa for some of the children. Here the children participated in an activity or listened to a talk and then we cooked a meal with them, which was a lot of fun, and the children loved it. I gave a talk on puberty to the girls, and it was great to see them so engaged and asking so many questions about their health.

My 6 weeks at CHEERing flew by but it is an experience I will never forget. I met so many kind and interesting people, I experienced a different country and culture, and helped this great organisation make a small difference to people’s lives. 

A Day with Maria

17 August 2022 | by Maria Inês Silva

I had the opportunity to work with the CHEERing team for six months helping out with cooking sessions and nutrition classes for kids, supporting a school lunch box program, and providing counseling to the mothers at the clinics.

As a Nutrition Intern, I led talks for children (e.g., talks on sports drinks, the sugar content of cereal, vitamins and minerals, etc.) and for parents (e.g., food introduction for kids over six months). I developed creative ways of communicating science and health through these talks, games, and worksheets. Additionally, I created tools and materials for beneficiaries and the CHEERing team.

At the camp’s clinics, I performed nutrition counseling for women and children and helped treat constipation, diarrhea, picky eating, and anemia.

Interacting effectively in a multisectorial team with dietitians, pharmacists, medical students, doctors, directors, administrative staff, coaches, and social workers was crucial to providing adequate quality of care to all CHEERing’s beneficiaries. 

I’ve learned a lot while working with CHEERing. The people here at CHEERing have been one of the best parts of working here! I will never forget this experience and everyone who I’ve had the chance to work with.

Now, I feel like I’m ready to take on new challenges!

A Day with Rana

17 May 2022 | by Rana Sabreen

Lunch with the CHEERing team (Rana on the far right)
Medication organization at Elna Maternity Shelter

As part of my Erasmus Mundus master’s program, I began my internship at CHEERing in November 2020. With the second Corona wave and the resulting travel and movement constraints, joining the organization was challenging at that time.

After a one-week quarantine, I started my training with Alexandra, a passionate volunteer who explained to me the activities and tasks and the NGOs with whom we are collaborating. Even though I have a broad background in disaster response and health promotion, working at CHEERing exposed me to entirely new dimensions of the sector. Working with children and newborns daily brought me unexpected pleasure, and within a short time, those babies became a part of my world. Not to mention the new knowledge I gained about reproduction, lactation, and sexual health.

As a pharmacist, I was able to assist in the management of medical stock at the ELNA Maternity Center, including attempting to identify medical needs, separating expired products, coordinating donations, and developing a system to ensure that the medical stock was correctly managed by the different volunteers.

The greatest part of joining CHEERing was the organization’s international atmosphere, the people I met and their various stories, and the new friends I gained. I’m thankful for the chance to work with CHEERing and the modest differences we were able to make in people’s lives.

A Day with Mike

2 February 2022 | by Mike Madoff

Malakasa girls football team practices in a car park before Mike helped CHEERing locate a field.
Mike relaxes with the CHEERing team to catch up on the day’s news

We pulled up to an empty Orthodox summer camp. I got out of the car with our head coach and approached the groundskeeper, who was sweeping in front of a locked gate—just beyond it, we could see a perfect, lush soccer field. Equipped with one week of Duolingo Greek, I attempted to translate, “football, koritsi” pointing through the gate at the field. The groundskeeper stared blankly as we mimed kicking a ball, then shook his head and turned away. No luck here. We laughed it off and got back in the car to scout the next field on the map. 

I joined CHEERing in fall 2021 with the goal to understand  the realities of the refugee crisis. My main duty was to be a driver, ferrying volunteers to Malakasa and Eleonas refugee camps, as well as to deliver supplies, from baby scales to soccer nets. I also filled in in an assortment of other roles,  including memorable days as a junior soccer coach.  Despite a couple of decades separating me from my own soccer career, it was a delight to get involved in coaching the girls. It was incredible to see in just the span of a few weeks how much they learned, not just about soccer, but also about how to communicate and work together as a team.  

The highlight of my experience was the CHEERing community, a mix of local and international volunteers alongside refugee families. Over dinner, we heard stories about the treacherous crossing to Europe, and shared in the celebration of birthdays and graduations.  The global refugee crisis is set to accelerate in the coming decade, driven by climate change, political instability, and other forces that can feel far beyond our control. I am grateful to have had the opportunity through CHEERing to be able to make a small difference in a few lives, and also to take these real human stories forward into my own.

A Day at Football

10 January 2022 | by Athená Davis

Grow Clinic at Eleonas Camp
CHEERing Girls’ Football Practice

I spent 3 months volunteering with CHEERing beginning in August of 2021. I arrived while forest fires were still raging outside of Athens which meant there was a lot of work to be done.

Working mostly at our Grow Clinics, I was excited to do hands-on work and interact with our beneficiaries every day. Everyone we met was so kind and welcoming and I will never forget the joy on a mother’s face when she learned how well her baby was doing. I was absolutely in awe of the incredible amount of dedication and support the peer counselors gave to CHEERing and the volunteers. Their kindness and generosity were fundamental to my time in Athens.

While I was initially drawn in by CHEERing’s work doing Grow Clinics at refugee camps and shelters, I was also given the opportunity to work with the CHEERing girls’ football team in Malakasa camp which turned out to be one of my favorite parts of working at CHEERing. Each week we’d host 2-3 training sessions with over 30 girls whose excitement seemed to grow bigger each week. Lucky for me, my birthday happened to fall on a day where we had a football session. When the girls found out it was my birthday, they sang to me in 3 different languages and a few of the girls even made up a special birthday dance for me.

A day with CHEERing is a day full of generosity and care, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a special dance.

A Day with Marina

3 January 2022 | by Marina Menchini

I started my internship with CHEERing in February 2021. Athens was in full lockdown and I was quarantined for a week, during which the storm Medea raged through the city, bringing some unexpected snow on the balcony of the sixth-floor office.

Our work was mainly divided between Eleonas Camp and Elna Maternity Center. After almost a year of social distancing, I remember being momentarily shocked by the liveliness of the camp. So many people living together and going on with their everyday lives. There was work to be done, problems to be solved, children to be fed. A reminder that life must be protected and cherished as it is unstoppable, no matter the circumstances.

My job as a nutritionist intern involved direct counselling to the mothers, as well as creating tools and materials for nutritional evaluation. I also managed the office and supplies with my collegue Rana, an incredible pharmacist who taught me how just about anything can be solved with the correct use of an Excel sheet.

My favourite part of working with CHEERing was the people. Every person I met had a story to tell, had lived a unique journey I felt so incredibly priviliged to be a small part of.

Working with CHEERing means making an immediate difference in the lives of refugee mothers and children living in Athens.

A Day at Malakasa Camp

7 December 2021 | by Charlie Fisher

I came to Athens, Greece to work with CHEERing for the summer. Originally from northern Wisconsin, the 40+ Celsius/100+ Fahrenheit heat wave was enough for some of the older children in the refugee camp to nickname me “ice cream cone” when they came to visit our CHEERing table each week… because each week, I was consistently melting under the Athenian sun.

Despite all the jokes about my red face in the heat, I remember those hot days with only a smile now. I remember how the peer counselors would sneakily fill my water bottle up with ice-cold water that they had frozen overnight, after I had told them to keep it for themselves. But instead, these amazing women always chose to share, to take care of every member of the CHEERing team, even with limited resources themselves.

I remember how one day in the refugee camp, we saw an Arabic baby and did the best we could to communicate with the family without an Arabic translator present. After the family left, they returned with a plate full of falafel for us. A family living in these conditions, with no food to spare, would not take no for an answer when they found a way to share what they had with us.

I will never forget that generosity, and the hope it filled me with. To spend one day with CHEERing is to spend one day learning from the most resilient and inspiring people from across the world.