Announcement : First Friday Art Show!

I have some incredibly amazing news, friends! My images from the Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center in Greece are going to be featuring in a gallery show for First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District! I can’t believe it, and feel honored and humbled by this opportunity. The proceeds from the show will benefit the Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center and the local group KC for Refugees, which does wonderful work in the Kansas City community connecting people who want to help with refugees who have been resettled in our area.

I am still working on all the details for this event, but I am actively looking for sponsors to help this come to life! If you own a business (or know someone who does) that is civically-minded, I would love to chat with you about sponsorship. There are many different ways to help, and no act is too small. Please send me an email at if you might be interested!

Be Senior Sinatex - Syrian Refugee Camp

A Place to Educate, Make Art and Be Human Again

I’m so proud and grateful to finally be able to share with you all a few more images from my time in Northern Greece at the Bê Sînor-Sinatex Cultural Center, a place for the 300 Kurdish refugees from Syria who are stranded at Sinatex Camp, to educate each other, make art and be human again. These images have been approved to be shared publicly, but I do so with the highest respect for everyone photographed. Many of those who were photographed have chosen not to have their images published, for safety and security reasons.

Be Senior Sinatex - Syrian Refugee Camp

After the evacuation of Idomeni, an informal refugee camp on the border of Greece and Macedonia, in May 2016, thousands of refugees were placed in military camps across Northern Greece. Camp Sinatex is a family camp of 300 Kurdish refugees, nearly all Syrians. Almost half of those residing at the camp are children. The global migrant crisis across the region has disproportionately affected children. Nearly half of the 4.9 million Syrians on the run from the brutal and deadly civil war are children. These children are not political pawns or terrorists…they are children, just like my own, who have lived through horror and pain that is unimaginable.

Be Senior Sinatex - Syrian Refugee Camp

According to UNICEF, the Syrian conflict has put 2.8 million children out of school, including 2.1 million inside Syria and 700,000 abroad. The volunteers at the Bê Sînor-Sinatex Cultural Center realized the most important thing they could do for the people, especially the 120 children at the camp, was to provide them with school lessons and an informal education.

Be Senior Sinatex - Syrian Refugee Camp

The set up for the informal school is very basic. There are two tents and some benches, plus one notebook to cover all subjects. These children have been deprived of everything, and many of them have never been to school in their lives because of the war. The effects of the loss of education on this young generation could be detrimental. While 91% of children around the world are enrolled in school, only 50% of refugee children attend primary school. Without the chance to study, an entire generation is at risk. According to the United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR), “In times of displacement, education is crucial. It can foster social cohesion, provide access to life-saving information, address psychosocial needs, and offer a stable and safe environment for those who need it most. It also helps people to rebuild their communities and pursue productive, meaningful lives.”

Be Senior Sinatex - Syrian Refugee Camp

This past summer I was fortunate to see Malala Yousafzai speak in Kansas City. Malala said the most surprising thing she’s seen in her travels is the lack of investment in education. She said if military entities worldwide stopped their spending for only eight days, we would be able to educate all of the children across the earth that are currently NOT attending school.

“More guns and bombs will never protect you. Educated children do not need to pick up guns.” – Malala Yousafzai

The volunteers at the the Bê Sînor-Sinatex Cultural Center realized that education was the best solution they could offer the refugee community stranded there. They found a piece of private land and began teaching. There are seven teachers from the refugee community who are teaching Arabic, Kurdish, math, science and geography. They also provide Kindergarten for the youngest children at the camp, and volunteers from all over the world are teaching English to all ages, including the adults. When I entered the camp, I was amazed to find almost ALL of the children could speak conversational English and German. They were eager and excited to learn. They wanted to know all about me and my family, and what America was really like. They were kind, smart and welcoming. While I was there, one of the older students was celebrating his 18th birthday, and his mother invited all of us into her tent, where she fed us a traditional meal and we ate a cake that one of the volunteers had purchased in town.

Be Senior Sinatex - Syrian Refugee Camp

I think this description of Bê Sînor, taken from their Facebook page, exemplifies what an incredible space it is:

It is place of welcome where everyone can do something valuable with the long and dreadful times whilst the borders are closed and we are awaiting the bureaucratic asylum system. We also organize birthday parties, dance evenings, yoga, sports, art classes, and distributions – all depending on the volunteers who come to join our project and the donations we receive. In the short amount of time that we have been teaching we have seen a big shift in behavior in the children, and they are all so keen to learn and have an education. Our teachers from the community and the volunteers try to counter the hardships that people are facing with creative lessons and lots of smiles. Forgetting your problems for a while, getting some structure in everyone’s daily lives and providing basic education for children and adults is worth a lot these days.

I am so grateful for the volunteers and camp community for allowing me to visit and photograph their space. When I visited in October, the weather was still mild and most of the children spent their days outdoors, running and walking around the area. Unfortunately, the harsh winter has arrived in Greece, and things are much more difficult. The temperatures have dropped far below zero, and snow is falling. The tents have no roofs provided, so the residents took everything they could find to put a roof over their head. There are still no washing machines, so the people – mainly the women – have to wash the clothes outside in temperatures, which reached -10°C this week. Currently, the camp is also without access to water due to broken pipes. They do not have electricity or heating and eventually it was impossible to teach outside in the two tents anymore. Volunteers describe, “watching the children trying to hold on with their freezing fingers to their pens and the adults not seeing their notebooks anymore during the evening lessons because it gets darker earlier.”

Be Senior Sinatex - Syrian Refugee Camp

Fortunately, there were two rooms inside of the camp building which the volunteers were able to use to continue lessons. They had been told by the Greek military that the rooms were too dark for school, but they have made do with the light from the windows and some tables that were donated Danish Refugee Council (which is also working at the camp). Also, after months of waiting, the children of Sinatex were FINALLY allowed to attend lessons at the local Greek school! This is huge for these children! You can learn more on the Bê Sînor Facebook page, but I wanted to share an excerpt from the first day of school here:

A team of teachers welcomed the children and us with open arms. A “Welcome to School”-sign was hanging on the wall. And within seconds the children found their places on one of the tiny school desks. For many of them it was the first time in a school building. The teachers had to explain them what the ringing bell means. Because of the war many children never went to school. During the time in Turkey the older ones were working instead of studying. The feeling to see these kids sit in an actual classroom is indescribable. But there was no time for happy tears, because of course everybody was way too excited to sit still.

The whole teacher team was amazing and very welcoming. The refugee children attend school in the afternoon, where as the Greek kids go there in the morning. But nevertheless there were some Greek kids hanging around and within seconds they were playing soccer together or tried to communicate with the little Greek they know or with their English. All of this was just amazing to see. Jony, one of the teachers who supported the kids and our project from the first day said, “This is the best day of my life!” Probably not only for him.

I have to expressly thank Alex Aronsky, Andrea and everyone else who welcomed us with open arms when we visited in October. I really believe if more people really understood and experienced the refugee crisis, especially it’s effect on a generation of young children, the world would open it’s borders and more people would open their arms. If you would like to support the efforts of this incredible team of volunteers, you can donate directly to Bê Sînor via PayPal by clicking here. Another group that does amazing work with refugees in the Kansas City area is KC for Refugees. This weekend, in conjunction with a few other organizations, there will be an interfaith prayer vigil for the local refugee community at Overland Park Community Church. In light of the new policies and rhetoric from the current American government, it’s so important to show our local refugees, who have already been through so much, that we support them. More information on this event can be found by clicking here. I will be there taking photos for KC for Refugees, and it would be wonderful to see some familiar faces!

Be Senior Sinatex - Syrian Refugee Camp

Finally, I must thank my best friend and sister, Theresa Frey, for inviting me on this journey with her. If I ever doubted that everything in life happens for a reason, this trip showed me the truth. I am so lucky to have Theresa in my life, constantly challenging me, working with me, and teaching me how to be better.

Be Senior Sinatex - Syrian Refugee Camp

Farm Sunset October 2016

Being Here, in 2017

Friends! It’s the start of a new year…and honestly, it’s a time where I can get easily overwhelmed. In the past I’ve written about lofty goals and ideas I want to tackle in the next 350+ days, but this year feels different. I have been struggling to wrap my head around last year and plan what comes next in several facets of my life. But after a chat with a good friend I realized something really important:

I’m already here.

The last three years or so have been a crash course in goals, resolutions and overcoming obstacles. Almost every facet of my life has gone through a fairly extreme overhaul…from my marriage to my career to my parenting status to my family. Illness and health have been a huge factor in the past few years, both for myself and for those I love the most. After really taking a look back on last year and everything I went through, I felt a sense of calm. Did I accomplish every goal I set out for myself last January? No. Not even close. But I learned so much and one of the biggest lessons was that I don’t have to wait until January 1 to decide to change my life for the better. I make that choice on a daily basis.

Farm Sunset October 2016

Last year was a big one for my business. I completely overhauled my pricing and the way I sell my photography. I created and facilitated the 30 Days of Summer Photo Challenge, which had hundreds of participants. I did a dozen television segments. I went to Greece to photograph a refugee camp. And I photographed dozens of families, newborns, children and couples…it was a fantastic year! Personally, I went through many (MANY) challenges, but I’m very proud of how I came through it all, even though there is MUCH to improve upon. One of the biggest personal goals last year was getting fit, slowly and surely, over about nine months of hard work, exercise and nutritional changes. I feel better physically today than I did in my 20s, which is saying something! I am officially in my mid-30s now and I feel stronger than I ever have. I also started working to find ways to make an impact as an activist in my community. This is something I didn’t plan on when 2016 began, but now I’m grateful for the opportunity.

In 2017, I’m looking forward to some more changes in how I do business, with a focus on continuing to be profitable while also serving my family, friends and community. There will hopefully be a few more writing and blogging projects (which took a backseat last year) and maybe even a new creative endeavor or two! I want to create more than I consume, and make the world a little more joyful every day. I am excited to reach out and work with even more creatives and amazing people doing wonderful work in my community.

If you’re interested in working with me in 2017, or you have an awesome project you want to chat about, send me a note at Let’s make this the best year yet!

Bê Sînor - Sinatex Cultural Center

The Bracelet

In the next few months, I plan to share more about my trip to Greece in October…this is the first post of many that will hopefully convey a bit of what we saw at the refugee camp outside of Thessaloniki. I hope by sharing these stories, I can help raise awareness for the Syrian people who have fled their war torn country looking for a better life for themselves and their children. For more information please visit the the Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center on Facebook.

Bê Sînor - Sinatex Cultural Center

As we drove to the Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center (the refugee camp I visited in Greece in October), we chatted with our cab driver. A kind man, he even stopped at a cafe on the way because he noticed I didn’t have a frappe (an iced coffee drink that’s super popular in Greece) and wanted me to have one. We talked about the city where we were staying and he told us about his teenage son. Soon the topic moved on to where we were headed…the refugee camp outside of town in the old textile factory. He was kind, but firm about the challenges facing his country as they deal with the ongoing economic and refugee crises there simultaneously. Greece is in extreme financial peril, and yet, due to their geography and location across the sea, they have taken in more refugees from Syria (and Africa) than any other nation in the European Union. They have the least in terms of resources to support this influx, and yet, the boats still come.

Bê Sînor - Sinatex Cultural Center

I could sense his frustration and while I didn’t agree with everything he was saying, I understood why he felt the way he did. He said he didn’t understand why we would come visit his beautiful city, just to head out the camp, where no Greeks visit. He shook his head in disbelief, but drove us to our destination, and then promised to return to get us later in the day.

Bê Sînor - Sinatex Cultural Center

That day was one I will never forget, but one of the most significant moments in my memory is when my friend Theresa was interviewing a few of the teachers for her research project. The kids immediately noticed the teachers were sitting down to talk with Theresa, so they ran over (as all kids would) to figure out what was going on. As I saw the teachers struggling a bit to concentrate on Theresa’s interview with kids hanging on their every word, the old camp counselor and coach in me came out, and I started playing with the kids to distract them. We played hide and seek, did puzzles, painted and threw around a football. One sweet girl with huge brown eyes pulled me over to a quiet spot on a large rock under a tree, and asked me to hold a knotted end of string. She started braiding, carefully and slowly, little fingers making sure every move was perfect. She asked me where I was from, if I was married, and if I had any kids of my own. She wanted to know my kids’ names, and then she repeated them over and over…their American names foreign to her ears and tongue. She held my hand for the most of the afternoon, and whenever she had a free moment, she stopped to work on the bracelet she was crafting out of string. “For you,” she said.

Bê Sînor - Sinatex Cultural Center

Before we knew it (and honestly, before I was ready, even though it was almost dusk) we saw the cab driving up the dirt road to pick us up. The sweet girl tried to finish the bracelet as quickly as possible so I could take it with me, and while she worked, the cab driver got out of the car and waved at us. As we gathered our things and headed toward the car, my new friend followed me. I loaded up my belongings, and she ran over to hug me, kiss my cheeks, and thank me for telling her about my life. She handed me the half-finished bracelet and I promised her I’d finish it up and wear it, always.

The cab ride home was quiet. Our driver’s mood and energy was completely different. I could tell seeing the children, especially my interaction with the little girl, had affected him. His words were kind. He spoke of the refugees in a different way on the drive home. He asked questions about what we saw. He softened. We were quiet.

Today I wear my bracelet with pride. I brought home the unfinished project, and completed it at my kitchen table, with my own children by my side. Right after the election, I noticed it had fallen off and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was devastated…but when I texted Theresa to tell her how sad I was that the bracelet was gone, she simply replied with, “But your heart is there.”

She is right. As always. My heart is there.

A week ago I found my bracelet, hidden just under my bed. I am wearing it again, and I hope it will always remind me of the sweet girl with the brown eyes…who not only gave me a beautiful gift, but softened the heart of a kind man with nothing but a small act of love.

What Dreams May Come…

Today’s the day, and I should be frantically running around, trying to do all the things and check items off my list. But instead I’m sitting in bed with my laptop and the sleeping kitten. I feel oddly calm, which is so unlike me when I’m preparing for travel. Maybe it’s just because this trip is so different from any I’ve ever taken? Maybe it’s because I’m in denial this is actually happening? Maybe I just need more coffee?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always told stories. I tell them through my writing and my photography, and most of the time they are meaningless to anyone else. But that’s okay, because they mean a lot to me. I am made of that stuff that just inherently NEEDS to share, or else my head and my heart might explode.

We talk a lot in our home about using our talents to help others. I may not be perfect or famous or have a million dollars, but I can share my gifts in a way that lifts others up. I’m a storyteller, and my life’s goal is to tell stories for good. To tell the stories that need to be heard. Sometimes those stories are mundane and sometimes they are magnificent.

I met my best friend and chosen sister, Theresa, when I was 8-years-old. In the past few years she has grown so much, and these days I’m the one who looks up to her. She has risen in the academic ranks at her job and in the past year she has begun a very intense research project, which is focused on education rights for Syrian refugee children who have been displaced due to the civil war there.

This summer she reached out and asked if I’d be interested in traveling with her to Greece to photograph the refugees and refugee camps there in conjunction with the United Nations. I couldn’t believe it. This is a dream opportunity for me! Our goal is to learn more about the current state of primary education for refugees in Greece. We want to heighten awareness for support needed for further development of access to education, and the bigger picture for the Syrians, Afghans and other nationalities of refugee children residing there.

I fly to New York today. Tomorrow we leave for Greece.

I am in awe of this opportunity. I know I can’t even fathom yet how this will change me. I think that’s why I’m still laying in my bed, instead of frantically running around. I am preparing, in the only way I know how.

Be still. Be still. Be still.

I will be off the grid while I’m away, but I hope to keep updating social media when I have internet access. I would assume the best bet for photos is to follow my Instagram and for video content to follow me on Snapchat under the name “crazeebananaz” (I love Instagram stories, but it’s still a bit glitchy for me, so I’m going to plan on snapping most things and then uploading to Instagram stories if I can). If you’re able, send some good vibes or prayers or juju or whatever into the universe for us, as we embark on this journey. We can use all the encouragement we can get…

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