Steamboat woman helps refugees in Greece
May 27, 2016
It's probably not often a retiree from a Colorado mountain town is presented the opportunity to become involved in an international news story, but that's precisely what happened to Steamboat Springs resident Rondell Ferguson.
Ferguson — a retired sales representative for North American Title in Fort Collins who relocated to Steamboat in 2014 — recently returned from a trip to Greece, where she worked for 10 days as a volunteer with her oldest son, Ryan, with Hot Foods Indomeni, a relief organization that provided food for Middle Eastern refugees at the recently shuttered Indomeni Refugee Camp, in northern Greece near the Macedonian border.
The circumstances leading to Ferguson's trip were as unlikely as the trip itself.
Ferguson's son, a documentary filmmaker and, as Ferguson describes him, an "explorer," had been traveling through Europe for several months when he found himself in Greece seven weeks ago and quickly settled into a volunteer role with Hot Foods Indomeni. For Ferguson, this came as no surprise.
"As soon as I saw it (the refugee crisis in Greece) on the news, I knew that's where Ryan would be, and sure enough, there he was," Ferguson said.
Through her subsequent conversations with Ryan, Ferguson decided to travel to Greece herself and lend a hand to the relief efforts there.
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"I thought this would be the experience of a lifetime, and to do this with my son was incredible," she said.
She left Denver for Greece April 26.
Once there, she worked for 10 days with Hot Foods Indomeni, preparing and serving hot meals to some 5,000 refugees per day in two distributions. She said at its busiest, the camp, which was intended to house 2,000 refugees, held as many as 14,000, although that number had dropped to about 8,000 by the time she arrived.
"These are beautiful people," Ferguson said. "And they're stuck in a real humanitarian crisis."
She spoke with particular passion about a 22-year-old Pakistani refugee named Juwad.
According to Ferguson, refugees from Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan are not permitted in the Greek military facilities to which most of the Indomeni refugees were taken following this week's closure of the camp, and the border to Macedonia — the route north most of the refugees want to take — has been closed.
She said Juwad will most likely be sent back to Turkey, which she said would endanger his life. If he is sent back to Pakistan, she said, he will almost certainly be killed.
She told of another family — a man, woman and child — who had prepared a meal for her and her son one night as a way of saying "thank you." Through the course of the meal, she learned the child, who she had initially taken as simply being shy, had actually had "his ears blown out” by a bomb blast in Iraq.
"It really opened my eyes," Ferguson said. "I can't look at the world the same way anymore. These people are human beings, and lots of them are in real trouble."
Ferguson — now back home in Steamboat — said the experience has changed her life.
"There's this perception that all the people in the Middle East are bad people, and they're not," she said. "They're people, like us. They have a different religion, but to me, it all ends up being the same."