Monthly Archives

February 2017

The story of Ahmed, a syrian refugee, 21 years old

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Hello, I am Ahmed, 21 years old, from Syria. I was a college student who studied pharmacology, from a sort of well-to-do family. I dreamed to be a doctor in Syria as my father wished, moreover, to help people with my knowledge, but as you guess, my life changed a lot for last few years.

The changes of my life came to me all by sudden. One day, when I just had a time in my university, some of armed men took me and imprisoned me to the jail without any light. I got threatened for life, beaten up, and had to eat what they provide which I doubt it was for animals. It was only 7days after I lost my father. My mother had to find me even before she consoled herself from losing her husband.

I got released after my family gave them a vail for me. I was so wrapped with fears, and I was afraid of strolling the street, I was afraid of going school, even I couldn’t trust my friends. They got me only for 11 days, but my life changed completely. I lost my home at my home! I couldn’t stroll the street, I couldn’t freely talk to my friends. I felt like I was going to captured and imprisoned any time soon.

“Ahmed, you have to leave home for your future!” My mother urged me to leave Aleppo, Syria, where I was born and raised, a place where I dreamed a dream. I had to prepare to leave putting aside my dream to help people after I become a doctor, and contribute to the development of my beloved country. Packed a small bag for simple journey, borrowed some money from relatives for travel, I left Aleppo one year ago.

However, I didn’t leave Syria from the beginning of my journey. I went to a small town in Syria where my friend was working as a pharmacist. I worked with him for 5 month, but the small town became not safe anymore because of extension of the battlefields. I had to leave again, but I joined an organization working in a refugee camp near by the border. Helping doctors, I dispensed prescriptions. I tried to be optimistic and showed smiles to people during the work, but the horrors of war made it difficult more and more. Eventually, after 6 months in the camp, I decided to leave Syria.

As other refugees experience, it was not comfortable trip to Greece, at all. After leave from Syria, I went to Izmir in Turkey to take the boat to Lesvos island which belongs to Greece. Sometime I crossed the borders risking my life over the broker who never met before. But, you know what, the most difficult situation I suffered from was that ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ It was difficult to just wait result of the application for the refugee status and relocation, which I don’t know when the work is going to be over.

I came to Athens for some help because I was finally out of money. But few days after I arrived in WELCOMMON center in Athens, I heard good news that I will be relocated to Belgium. The latent hopes spurted out from deep inside of me, and I decided to do something good for other people those who should wait little longer than me. I wanted to talk about the hope through the education. So, I initiate children’s school in the center. Now, I am sharing the value of hope with around 15 children, every day, through the math, English, and Arabic language classes.

I will be relocated to Belgium very soon. Now, I even more dream about my future as a doctor. I witnessed and experienced that how much the world need doctors who can take care of poor and week. I want to be a doctor and I want to be ‘there’ where I needed them such as refugee camps. I will try my best to learn the language first, and try to study in Belgium. Actually, what I dream in the innermost recesses of the heart is that I want to establish a volunteers’ community for Syrian people in sometime.

I brought one doll from Syria. A small bear with white gown, wearing brown glasses. Whenever I felt hopeless, I saw the bear and told to myself. “As long as there is hope I don’t fall down.”(the end)

WELCOMMON, welcome in common, hosting and social inclusion of refugees

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WELCOMMON, an innovative project for hosting and social inclusion of refugees

www.anemosananeosis.gr , www.welcommon.gr

Kapodistriou 4, GR-Athens 10682

Tel 00302103803959, 00302103810646, welcommon.project@gmail.com

 

#WELCOMMON is an innovative community center for hosting and promoting the social inclusion of refugees. It is implemented by the social enterprise Wind of Renewal (“Anemos Ananeosis”) in cooperation with the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (EATA). The project is funded by EU through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) under the “Relocation Scheme Program” delivered in the City of Athens.

  

WELCOMMON means “Welcome in common”, not only for the refugees, but also, with the participation of the refugees (in common) and in cooperation with the local communities, a solution for the benefit of both the local population and the refugees (a win-win approach).

Welcommon offers to the refugees:

  • decent-safe accommodation, food and cover for basic needs
  • Psycho-social support
  • care for the children and the most vulnerables
  • social integration
  • cultural training/artistic workshops, visits to art exhibitions, parks…

Welcommon offers to the local community:

  • jobs (31 at the moment) and participation of volunteers (more than20 are supporting our daily work continuously)
  • professional training
  • professional specialization
  • a boost to the local market
  • social innovation
  • cooperation between Greek and other European initiatives, institutions, universities, local authorities

The building

          

Wind of Renewal/Anemos Ananeosis has rented the WELCOMMON building (a former clinic) for 9 years. The building is located in the central Athens (4 Kapodistriou St.), has 7 floors and an area of 3200 square meters. Its central location and its accessibility by the public transport contributes to avoiding the marginalization of the refugees and facilitates the participation of local people in its activities.

The WELCOMMON building was overhauled in August and September 2016. Wind of Renewal renovated and refurbished the building throughout, adapting it to its new requirements and giving it a “second life”.  Mostly repaired and second-hand furniture have been used, combining social and environmental responsibility.

 

It meets all appropriate specifications for the safe and decent accommodation of guests:

  • 66 rooms most of them with private bathroom
  • fire-extinguishing systems
  • safe balconies and staircase
  • accessibility for handicapped individuals
  • 24-hour entrance security
  • facilities for gatherings, tutorials, artistic and other activities
  • Wifi and TVs in each floor
  • Washing machines, driers and refrigerators (common use)

The building can host up to 200 refugees and 15 volunteers from abroad.

Professionals as well volunteers have contributed to this hard work –completed in less than a month-and-a-half at a cost of less than €50,000.

 

The structure of WELCOMMON

WELCOMMON presently employs 31 professionals in the following areas:

  • Administration / management / secretarial support
  • Reception
  • Interpretation / cultural mediation
  • Social and psychological support
  • Primary health care
  • Building maintenance
  • Human resources
  • Education/training/capacity building
  • Security

Many of our employees, previously in the ranks of the unemployed, have experience on refugee issues.

 

 

Synthesis of Welcommon’s guests

WELCOMMON welcomed its first guests on 12th of October 2016. Guests are selected by the UN High Commission for Refugees, in the framework of its relocation program and asylum seekes and with priority given to vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, families with children, the elderly, handicaped etc.  The majority are Syrians (90%) and children (65-80%), often accompanied by only one parent, usually the mother.

Welcommon hosts 160-170 people.  On 11/12/2016, 91 of them are underage:

  • 10 babies up to 1 year old
  • 11 from 1,5 to 3
  • 17 from 3,5 to 6
  • 33 from 6,5 to 12
  • 20 from 12,5 to 18

We are also hosting 6 pregnant women, some of them from 16 to 18.  We have already seen the first 2 births from a mother 16 years old and a mother 18 years old hosted in Welcommon!

     

    

Health issues

All our guests undergo the Mantoux test (for tuberculosis). We also ensure that all children are vaccinated so they can attend the formal education system (school or nursery structures), according to Greek legislation. We have established a close cooperation with doctors hired by the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency, in the framework of its refugee program.

In all cases, we strive to provide services to the refugees in cases of urgent health needs. We organize their medical records so they have at their disposal all relevant data, whether they resettle in another country or stay in Greece.

   

In cooperation with the community of Syrians living already in Greece, we are in the process of setting up a network of Arabic-speaking volunteer doctors of various specializations. We are also developing close ties with social clinics.

Social workers and interpreters accompany our guests to doctors and hospitals. Welcommon covered the whole cost for medicines and vaccinations through donations.

   

Welcome classes and education/training of children, a basic need

Refugee children have remained out of an education system for between two and five years. Some of them could never attend school. This, combined with the fact that they are for a long period away from home, leaving in camps and moving from one place -or country- to another, most of the time under difficult conditions, results in a lot of problems. Therefore it is essential for them to return to a formal as well as to a non-formal education and training system as soon as possible.

  

At WELCOMMON we provide support at three levels:

  • Enrolment in the Greek formal education systembased on the existing public structures and their age (kindergarten, primary, secondary and high school). Before they begin attending school classes, we provide them with the health checks and vaccinations necessary, according to Greek legislation. We believe their attendance is very important, not only for gaining knowledge and skills but also for their social life in the future and their adaptation to social realities.
  • Opportunities for non-formal education,training and empowerment with social skills, despite limited appropriate resources. We have organized “classes” with the participation of refugees and volunteers as teachers. Proper facilities are provided inside WELCOMMON itself with the support of technical infrastructure. We try to develop innovative ways of teaching and learning languages using computers and e-learning methods. We are also looking for cooperation with other organizations in the form of workshops and classes for language learning (Arabic, Greek, English, German), mathematics, science, painting, photography, music. We are also in contact with specialists, sports clubs and other experienced organizations that can offer opportunities for participating in sports activities.
  • Empowering parents (often single) to be fully able to take proper care of their children, offering them a place for gradual rehabilitation as well as social, psychological and pedagogical support. This is obviously something that takes time and needs more human and financial resources which we are lacking at the moment.

Our first priority is to enroll as many children as possible in neighboring schools, according their age. But due to lack of vacancies it was possible -up to now- to enroll only few of the children in schools (only 8 of a total 91).  For this reason and in order to give both to children and parents the opportunity to return in a “normal” daily life, we are planning an integrated program of non formal education activities. At the moment, a lot of activities are organized and implemented with the valuable contribution of our volunteers and include languages lessons (german, english, greek), pottery, painting, cinema and dance classes. Also, usually on Sundays, we organize visits to interesting sites of Athens, parks and art exhibitions.

Since 2017, we have expanded the non formal education activities for children but also for adults, so that all of them during their stay in Welcommon to have the opportunity to participate in a complete and integrated training program similar to the formal education program. Our aim is to provide basic knowledge, skills and capabilities similar to those provided by the formal education and additional social skills through creative activities and innovative learning methods.

 

We can afford the rooms and places for such an education and training activity, as we have transformed the rooms of a whole floor (2nd) in small classes. It is true, that we need more human and financial resources in order to be able to offer such services to all the children. Therefore we are seeking foundations and citizens who would like to support our plan.

Resources – fundraising – donations

Although the basic costs for hosting the refugees in WELCOMMON are 90% covered through the cooperation with the Athens Development and Destination Managerment Agency, in 2016 and 2017 – there are many other costs not covered by this grant (for health care issues, education, social inclusion etc).

We are seeking donations and more resources in order to promote social inclusion, health services and materials, training, welcome classes and creative activities (e.g. painting, music, dancing, sports, language lessons, capacity building etc.), as well as environmental management, energy efficiency and the maintenance of the 3200 sq.m. building.

Catering

 Three meals per day are offered. Our first priority is to provide food, in line with our guests’ individual nutritional requirements, according to age, state of health or religious persuasion. Due to the large number of babies and children and to their special nutrition needs, we had to offer extra food stuff such as infant milk (formula), fresh milk, yogurt, fresh fruits and juices. In addition we purchased 3 refrigerators and placed them in the communal areas of the floors, in order to store the fruits, the milk or other food.

 

Entertainment

We organize very often live music nights thanks to musicians-volunteers playing Arabic, Mediterranean and Greek music. All, but mainly the children participate and enjoy very much hearing music and dancing.

 

 

As the majority of our guests are underage, we had to purchase an amount of toys for different ages. We selected those that can be used not only to provide fun but also educate. In addition as we organize several artistic classes, we had to purchase the necessary materials, such as papers, markers, pencils, brushes, canvas, pottery tools and other crafts materials.

For the entertainment, but also for the daily briefing, of the adults we purchased satellite TVs and placed 1 at the gathering place of each floor.

As we organize cinema afternoons, 2 per week for adults and 2 per week for children, we had to buy the relevant equipment, such as projectors, speakers etc. Some of them are second hand.

Other activities: repairing the clothes – washing machines

We purchased two sewing machines and sewing materials and made available a room next to the clothing “store” so that guests can repair the clothes.  As some of our guests are tailors and dressmakers, we asked them to organize the place and the materials and also to help or to instruct those who are interested. This process is a tool for empowerment with skills and abilities as well as a means for capacity building and a return to a normal daily life.

In addition we bought 4 washing machines and 4 driers which are placed in the basement and are available to the guests who can use them to wash their clothes, according to a weekly schedule.

       

Some more future plans     

In the near future WELCOMMON aims:

To offer opportunities for employment, by tapping the skills and aptitudes of the guests, mainly the asylum seekers who will remain in Greece, through their participation in the running of the organization and in collaboration with other organizations and agencies.

To create a data base with the curricula vitae of refugees –both inside and outside the facility- so as to facilitate their employment in businesses seeking specific qualifications and skills. 

To set up social enterprises with the participation of Greeks and refugees/ immigrants, in the following areas:

  • Repair and reuse of clothing and footwear -which will create jobs for both refugees and the local population- and sale of clothing at reasonable prices.
  • Renting of various products, such as baby items (cots, cradles and carriers), items for handicapped people, special equipment for the chronically ill (oxygen apparatuses, special beds, wheelchairs etc.) at reasonable rates.
  • Food and catering

To develop a network and permanent cooperation with similar initiatives and structures at regional, national and European level, as well as in other neighboring countries, for an exchange of experiences and good practicesthrough regular meetings, seminars and workshops, thus building bridges between different cultures, societies and activities.

 

We aspire to contribute not only to relief efforts but also in the form of education and social inclusion strategies and practices.

We would like to see a real change in the hosting policies implemented in our country and the development of a holistic strategy for the refugees in Greece.

Bank accounts:

Anemos Ananeosis / Wind of Renewal

Pireaus Bank: GR8301720180005018077868253   BIC: PIRBGRAA

Eurobank: GR7202602440000180200876471   BIC: ERBKGRAA

For Welcommon project