When People Show Up for You

A few days ago I held my First Fridays photography exhibition to benefit refugees, with all proceeds donated to Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center in Greece and here at home via the incredible group KC for Refugees. This show has been in the works for months. Last October, when I visited Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center, I felt the little sparks of an idea. But first I had to process the images. Then the election of 2016 happened. The world changed. Sort of…I mean, to these refugees, the world was basically the same. And as I’m learning (slowly) the world had already been in tatters for so many people, but being a midwestern, white, woman of privilege, I was a bit tone deaf to it all. I had endless hope and idealism. I still do, but it’s different now. Now I recognize the need to re-engage in a world that I’d largely left behind in the past few years. I knew I needed to step back into advocacy.

After the first travel ban (in February) that was instituted by the executive branch of the federal government, which halted all refugee admissions to the country and temporarily barred people from seven Muslim-majority countries to the United States, I volunteered to photograph a local, multi-faith prayer vigil for all refugees. This was led by the group KC for Refugees, and working with them on this project meant the world to me. In the past few months I’ve also spoken at events with Dr. Sofia Kahn, the founder of KC for Refugees, and photographed the one-year anniversary celebration for Syrian refugees who have been resettled in the Kansas City area. Through this work, I realized I wanted to do more. I wanted to be able to raise money for these organizations that have done so much good in the world.

I reached out to the volunteers at Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center, and asked for them to go through the hundreds of images I’d shot at the camp, and see if there were any that the camp residents would be okay with me sharing publicly. They approved a handful of them, and then I began reaching out to people in the area to see if I could find a venue. I knew hosting a photo exhibition of the images at First Fridays in the Crossroads District was the goal. This is one of the most well-attended events in Kansas City, with all sorts of galleries and makers opening their spaces to artists to share their work. I reached out to a client of mine, Kate Hulsen from Helix Architecture, and asked if they would have any interest in renting out their space for me to host this event. She not only said yes, but informed me that they would donate the space for free. What a huge gift! We picked a date and the planning began.

I pulled out every favor and every marketing/PR trick in the book to make this show a success, including media coverage that spanned from the Kansas City Star, Ink Magazine, Fox 4 Kansas City and a very special segment on Afentra’s Big Fat Morning Buzz on 96.5 The Buzz. But even with all of that, I wasn’t sure if anyone would show up. Free events can be tricky, and this one was happening on a holiday weekend, when there were a ton of other entertainment options happening in the city. We spent Friday setting up, and as the clock ticked closer to 6 p.m., I held my breath a bit.

We were expecting maybe around 60 people total, but as we locked the doors at the end of the night, around 200 people had come through, more than triple what we were hoping! My goodness…it was really incredible. To see people start trickling in, and then realize there were more behind them and even more behind them. It was amazing! At one point I said to a friend, “People came. They came!” And do you know what she said to me?

“Megan, you show up for a lot of people. Of course they would show up for you.”

And then I cried for three hours. Okay, not in the moment, but there were a lot of tears afterward, because it’s true. I do try and show up for people I love and causes that are important to me, and it felt so wonderful to know that people would do the same for something like this. We raised a ton of money, which will be split between Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center and KC for Refugees, and hopefully a lot of people learned a little something about what life like a refugee is ACTUALLY like and what they can do to help.

There are so many people to thank…it’s hard to know where to start. But it’s worth a try because these people renewed my faith in the goodness of the world, and they deserve to be recognized.

I must share my deepest thanks and gratitude to the residents of Camp Sinatex in Greece and the wonderful volunteers, especially Alex and Andrea, at Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center. I am so incredibly humbled to have been invited into their world and been able to document all the good that is happening there. These people changed my life in such a significant way, I will be forever grateful.

Of course, there is Kate and the whole crew at Helix Architecture + Design. I am so grateful to have had such a gorgeous space to host this event, and I know that the location and space itself is part of why many people came.

Jenna from J.Lynn Designery created beautiful posters for the event, which garnered so much interest and attention! She is so talented and if you’re looking for a website or logo designer, I can’t recommend her more!

Brooklynn Mieczkowski of Yellow Daisies Kitchen created amazing and delicious sugar cookies for our event, plus some extra treats as well. She also imagined up a cupcake bar, where the kids could decorate their own cupcakes with frosting and sprinkles, for the kids room! She is incredibly creative, and if you ever have any baking needs (she did Lucy’s incredible Harry Potter cake and Tate’s Pac Man cake a few years back), reach out to her!

My friend Gretchen and Brooklynn saved me by working the donation and print sales table all night long! They were the life of the party and I know they are a big part of why we made so much money. I’m so grateful to have friends like them who step up so selflessly to help!

Kymberly Janelle Photography came out with a baby on her back and took beautiful photos for me (most of the ones in this post are by her) so I wouldn’t have to worry about having my camera in tow all night. What a gift! And the images are beautiful!

Afentra and the team at 96.5 The Buzz donated concert tickets that we were able to auction off to raise even more money…it was an unexpected gift and I’m so thankful!

Special thanks to Mandy McKinney from KC for Refugees, Leslie Scott and the team from ONE, and the ladies from Catholic Charities for coming out to share how their work helps refugees in our community.

My mother-in-law did so much, I can’t even fit it all in a blog post! From coming out this summer and putting together concepts for me (the banner overhead was her idea!) to coordinating all the food and drinks, to setting up and tearing down afterward, she was a godsend. Thank you as well to Aunt Connie who helped set up, tear down at the end of the night. Extra special thanks to my husband’s amazing family for driving up a couple of hours to show support!

Of course, so much love to my husband and my kids who have been endlessly supportive (the cupcake bar helped). My goal in all of this is to show my kids that we can do good things in the world regardless of what anyone else may be doing, and I hope they are learning that lesson.

To everyone who showed up this past Friday…friends, family, co-workers, fellow-advocates, politicians, people who just showed up for the cookies…THANK YOU! I am so grateful that so many of you showed up for refugees and opened your hearts and your wallets. I am incredibly thankful!

Finally, to Theresa, who was there in spirit, thank you for inviting me on this journey so many months ago. Thank you for trusting me to do good work in the world. Thank you for all of it.

First Friday Photo Exhibition : September 1st!

In October of 2016, I traveled to Greece to visit a refugee camp for Syrian’s fleeing civil war. I found an amazing place, the Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center, where volunteers from around the globe focused their attention to a small, forgotten camp, half an hour out of Thessaloniki. Camp Sinatex is a family camp of 300 Kurdish refugees, nearly all Syrians. At first the volunteers concentrated on aid supplies and non food items, but soon realised that the most important thing they could do for the people, especially the 120 children, was to provide them with lessons and informal education. The proceeds from this photo exhibition 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. Helix Architecture has generously donated their space for us to use for this amazing event!

September 1, 2017
6 to 8:30 p.m.
Helix Architecture
1629 Walnut
Kansas City, Missouri
RSVP HERE

UPDATE: We will have a kid-friendly space at this exhibition, so please feel free to bring your children!

About the Bê Sînor-Sinatex Cultural Center
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. 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. The set up for the informal school is very basic. There are two tents and some benches, plus one notebook to cover all subjects. 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. 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.”

About KC for Refugees
We provide Greater Kansas City’s diverse community and organizations a platform to welcome our local refugee families through our core mission of education, connection, support and collaboration.

EDUCATE community groups and organizations on the refugee settlement process* at national and local level
CONNECT community groups both with local refugees through social activities and with each other
SUPPORT refugees by working with local agencies and encouraging people to donate time, funds and household items
DEVELOP alliances with regional and national organizations working toward the same vision

* How The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) works with designated local agencies in the selection, placement, and support of refugees and their families.

About Megan Peters
Megan Peters is a photographer based in Kansas City and founder of August Light Studio, a photography studio focused on creating imagery for professional and commercial businesses. Megan has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and is an award-winning photographer and writer. In 2016, Megan traveled to Northern Greece with her good friend and academic researcher Theresa Frey, where she visited the Bê Sînor-Sinatex Cultural Center, an informal school within the Camp Sinatex, a camp for 300 Kurdish Syrians fleeing from civil war. Her photographs from this trip have been used in academic research to showcase the reality of education opportunities for refugee children. In 2015, Megan was the featured photographer for the Phoenix Project, a community art project, which included Megan’s photographs of domestic violence survivors. Megan was awarded “Artist of the Month” by the South Mass Street Art Guild (SMAG) for her work on the Phoenix Project. In 2013, Megan was the recipient of a grant from the beauty brand Olay, who funded “The Motherhood Project,” a collection of photographs of women, which capture the strength, joy and melancholy of motherhood and all its challenges. You can learn more about Megan through her blog, crazybananas.com or at augustlightstudio.com.

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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 megan@crazybananas.com if you might be interested!

Megan at the US Capitol for ONE

Girls Count : Advocacy in Action

Success is where preparation meets opportunity.

I’ve heard that quote a thousand times, but until the the past few months, I really had no idea what it meant! I know I have been a bit quiet on the blog, but if you’ve been following me on social media, you probably know it’s been ANYTHING but quiet in my life! I am so grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way in the past few months, each one seems greater than the last, and all of them feel destined to happen. I am a person who likes to have a good, solid plan before I do just about anything. I don’t think anyone would describe me as spontaneous, but lately, I feel I’m just going with the flow more and more, and it’s been pretty incredible!

Washinton DC Monuments

Last year I reconnected with the ONE Organization, a group I worked with before I had Tate six years ago. They reached out to see if I’d be interested in volunteering again, and I jumped at the chance! ONE is a global grassroots movement of over 7 million people, who are working to eradicate extreme poverty and preventable disease. I love ONE for lots of reasons, but one of the most significant is that ONE is a bipartisan group. They work with leaders on both sides of the aisle and do not align with any particular party. In times like these, I appreciate their commitment to bipartisanship and cooperation.

This year’s initiative with ONE is focused on the 130 million girls worldwide who are not able to attend school. The program is called Girls Count, and was officially launched last week with an incredible online platform. They are asking people to literally COUNT the 130 million girls, one by one, making the longest movie ever.

A few weeks ago, ONE invited me to their yearly Power Summit, and I jumped at the chance. I spent several days in Washington D.C., learning all about advocacy and government. Another thing I LOVE about ONE is that they don’t ask for anyone’s money…just your voice. They don’t raise funds or donate to causes, they simply work with governments to pass laws that help those living in extreme poverty. At the end of the training, I was fortunate to head up to Capitol Hill, where I met with my representatives in Congress and talked to them about saving the Federal Foreign Aid Budget, also known as the 150 Account. The 150 Account is only 1% of the federal budget, and it provides for ALL U.S. foreign aid…it saves millions of lives and supports the Defense Department in their fight against extremism and terrorism. It was an honor to talk to our representatives in D.C. and see government in action.

ONE Power Summit 2017

Then, last week, on International Women’s Day, I was asked to visit our senators local offices and deliver hand-written letters and a petition signed by nearly 900 Kansans supporting the 150 Account and foreign aid. The Kansas City Star even included me in their round up of International Women’s Day Activities, which was a special treat. I was one of hundreds who delivered messages to their government worldwide! It feels incredible to be part of such an incredible group of people who are working to make our world a better place!

Girls Count for ONE on International Women's Day

Thanks for following along as I share more about my advocacy work in the next few weeks and months. I’m so excited about the work I’m doing, and I want to share it with everyone! Soon I’ll be sharing about a Kansas-based group I’m involved with, which is working toward electing more pro-public education candidates to local and state offices, and I’m also continuing my work with local refugees. So many people have reached out to me because they want to do something, but aren’t sure where to start. Hopefully these posts will give you some ideas! And if you ever want to reach out personally, I’d love to chat with you about becoming more involved in any of these causes!

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

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