What is #WELCOMMON
WELCOMMON, an innovative project for hosting and social inclusion of refugees.
#WELCOMMON is an innovative community center for hosting and promoting social inclusion of refugees. It is a structure not only for refugees but with refugees for the benefit of the local community as well.
It is implemented by the social enterprise Wind of Renewal (“Anemos Ananeosis”) in cooperation with Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (ADDMA), in the framework of the refugees’ relocation program of the Municipality of Athens and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). It is funded partially (hosting and functional costs) by the European Union.
The building where WELCOMMON is housed hosted a public clinic by 2013. We rented the space from the owner company, aiming to transform it into a model space, within the urban fabric, for temporary hosting of refugees – and in the future of other vulnerable groups – in a way that leads to their social inclusion. Our goal was to implement in practice a different refugee hosting model that is win-win for both refugees and Greek society.
In order to shape our project, we cooperated with migrant and refugee communities and the organizations representing them in our country (Greek Migrants Forum, Greek Refugee Forum, Anassa Cultural Center, Syria-Greece Union, while we studied the existing (good and bad) examples of such efforts. Our plan differs from most others, because it aims in an integrated way both in reception and temporary housing (in decent conditions) and in the social and job integration of refugees.
We aspire to contribute not only to the efforts of hospitality but also to the development of strategies and practices of social inclusion. We want to see the implementation of a substantial change in the hosting policies in our country and the development of a holistic strategy for refugees in Greece.
In order to prepare WELCOMMON, we had been working intensively from mid-August to late September 2016, offering personal and voluntary work and reusing equipment and spaces to deliver a quality result at a minimum cost. On October 12, 2016, our first guests, 30 refugees – 5 mothers with 25 children, were welcomed. We quickly, though, arrived near the capacity of the space that is the hospitality of 160-180 people.
– Dignified and safe housing, feeding and meeting basic needs. The 65 available rooms can accommodate 160-180 people. We have organized around 800 m² of space for various social, educational and creative activities. We meet the nutritional needs of the guests, as accurately as possible, depending on age, health status or cultural perceptions. Guests can wash their clothes in the washing machines and tumblers that exist in the center, or use sewing machines to repair them.
– Psychosocial support. For this purpose 3 social workers and 1 psychologist are working in the center, while we seek systematic collaborations also with departments of higher education institutions from Greece and other countries as well as with structures providing psychiatric support if is needed. We support systematically and on many levels the preparation, intercultural education and social inclusion of our guests in cooperation with organizations and services based in Greece or in the countries of resettlement.
– Primary medical care and systematic support (medical records file, interpreting, escort) for secondary care, if necessary, respecting the cultural and religious sensibilities of the guests, especially since the populations we host now are among the most vulnerable ones and with multiple needs.
– Non-formal education of children as well as adults, such as: continuous and innovative language courses (Greek, English, German, Arabic and more), painting, music, photography, creative activities for adults and children. We are preparing children who have been left out of school for many years to be able to return to school soon.
To local community
– New innovative services and new organizational models that help address social issues in a way that enhances social cohesion and benefits both vulnerable social groups and society as a whole. To provide services to refugees in a way that empowers and enables them to re-organize their lives, is something that could be applied to other vulnerable groups, such as long-term unemployed, socially excluded people with socio-psychological difficulties and people with special needs.
– New jobs creation in WELCOMMON, directly for about 30 people today, that upgrade their knowledge, experiences and skills so as to be able to respond to new realities with their profession (e.g. teachers, social workers, psychologists etc.). In fact, we offer a kind of continuous practice and vocational training through working at WELCOMMON (both for employees and for volunteers from Greece and around the world). We offer work opportunities in a complex and multicultural-multilingual environment, with refugees from 15-17 different countries and volunteers from different countries, with a multitude of different skills and abilities, with different cognitive and cultural backgrounds. We seek systematic cooperation with other institutions (universities, international organizations, social organizations, municipalities, professional bodies) from Greece and abroad, while we host seminars and exchanges in fields such as social services, psychological support, education, accommodation of refugees and other vulnerable groups, thus strongly contributing to professionals’ expertise.
– Stimulating the local economy and market, since all funds (almost 100% European, even the donations) spent on the operation of WELCOMMON (services or products) return to Greek economy and local market (Public Utility Organizations, catering, building maintenance, creative activities and children’s education materials, medicines, etc.) supporting employment direct (employment of 30 people who are employees at WELCOMMON) and indirect (employment of vulnerable groups in the social cooperative that has undertaken the cleanliness of the building, catering staff providing food, companies providing various kinds of services etc.).
It is not self-evident that a refugee accommodation space must and can be a quality place, not only with adequate infrastructure but also with aesthetic and participatory approach. Despite our limited resources, we want to keep the center in a quality situation. It is not always easy, since we host 160-180 people, many of whom are children, people with special needs, people who stay in Greece temporarily and are waiting to leave, people from 15-17 countries that speak 11 different languages and have different characters, needs but also skills.
It is a fact that we insist on the original WELCOMMON concept, that means WELCOME but IN COMMON, and we are not disappointed. This means that we are shaping the conditions for quality accommodation and integration of hosted refugees but this can be achieved when refugees themselves are involved. You might wonder that if in Greece often you can see lack of coordination and cooperation in just a block of flats, how can this be done with „passers-by“?
We are very happy when we find that many refugees are involved in this project and not only keep their premises in good shape, but also contribute to making it better by painting, decorating and tiding their room, helping to rebuild the common spaces, undertaking important and responsible roles such as the „Arab lessons class“, organizing WELCOMMON events (evenings with music, theater, cinema, art exhibitions) and actively participating in other activities outside WELCOMMON (solidarity concerts, „boats of hope“ etc.).
- We host on a daily basis 160-180 people in separate rooms. In total, from the start of WELCOMMON’s operation to the present day we have accommodated about 500 refugees. More than 50% were children and under 18 years old. At WELCOMMON they stay for a few weeks to a few months, having not only bed and food but also comprehensive socio-psychological and medical support as well as support for social inclusion.
- We host a few pregnant women and also babies born during the time that their refugee parents came to our place. Babies who, although refugees start their lives in a welcoming and safe environment, such as WELCOMMON, not in a tent or in mud. From its inception to the present day we have taken care of (and continue to take care of) the aim of protecting the health of our guests as well as public health in general:
-31 newborn babies (0-9 months) together with their mothers, who either were born while their mothers were housed in WELCOMMON or the family moved to the center just after their birth.
We also host:
-9 people with special needs.
-55 people with severe health problems.
-17 people with psychiatric problems.
- We have already vaccinated 114 children. Although 95% of the refugees we hosted at the beginning of our project originally came from Syria and spoke mainly Arabic, today our guests come from 15-17 countries and speak 11 different languages. We make sure we have interpreters and social mediators for everyone.
- Our temporary guests tend now to be recognized refugees who will stay in our country. They are selected and sent to us by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and are the most vulnerable of the refugees (women with babies or pregnant ones, single-parent families often with many children, victims of torture, rape and trafficking, disabled by war or torture, people with medical and pharmaceutical support needs, such as cancer patients and others).
- At WELCOMMON today are working about 32 people, many of them long-term unemployed Greeks and some refugees / migrants living in Greece for many years.
- From the stage of preparation of the center until today, over 150 volunteers from different countries have supported us from 2 weeks to 6 months. It is also for them an important experience and an opportunity to acquire know-how (much more if they have relevant knowledge or work professionally in relevant fields).
WELCOMMON itself in terms of objectives and operation includes many elements of innovation. This is one reason why we are receiving many visits every day from actors from every corner of the globe to see our work closely.
Also, WELCOMMON was honored on June 8, 2017 with the „Special Mention“ award of the REVES Excellence Award 2017, among many applications from 7 different countries, as an achievement of cooperation between the social cooperative company „Wind of Renewal“ and the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (ADDMA), fully responding to the spirit of the REVES Excellence Award, which aims to strengthen synergies between local / regional authorities and social economy actors, and to highlight the achievements of such cooperation. The evaluation committee consisted of representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Parliament, the Regional Committee and Social Economy Europe.
Given the great need of primary care and health security of both guests and public health in general, as part of our policy of a standard reception, temporary hospitality and (social, job) refugee integration, we have set up a set of services and health-reception, so as WELCOMMON can operate safely, to the benefit of both refugees and local community.
There are 3 levels of health services we offer within WELCOMMON in our own space, having appropriately configured a „social clinic“:
- Promoting good health of the guests, screening their health status, maintaining their medical records (confidential) file with all relevant information, daily information / counseling about any health problems of those attending the social clinic, references to health structures according to the seriousness of each case, childhood vaccination planning and Mantoux tests, health monitoring in case of serious problems, hygiene and cleanliness training, how to breastfeed and take care of infants or children seminars, support for the disabled and elderly and more. The nursing service on a daily basis accepts in the „social clinic“ the guests who face respiratory infections, skin diseases and possible injuries, organizes visits to the rooms for formal checks, many emergency medical evacuations, scheduled or not visits to maternity hospitals, escorts for outpatient appointments in clinics or hospitals for examinations of various kinds.
The nursing service also checks daily for drug deficiencies and has many other responsibilities that come up continuously.
- Mantoux tests for all guests regardless of age.
- Vaccination planning required by Greek legislation, as long as there is no evidence that they have actually been done (we have a special form based on the WHO guidelines with the vaccines and the date they have been made).
We also arrange appointments of hosted refugees in hospitals, maternity hospitals, health facilities, and escorts if they cannot go on their own. In any case, we provide doctors with all the necessary medical information from their medical records file and we have interpreters to help doctors and nurses in public structures facilitate their work.
Today, the staff working at WELCOMMON includes one (1) nurse and one (1) midwife.
Given the various existing needs and the services we offer, we have developed systematic collaborations with other health service providers (doctors of ADDMA, Doctors Without Borders, public health system, social clinics) outside of WELCOMMON and we often host Arabic volunteer doctors in cooperation with Syria-Greece Union.
On July 20, Wind of Renewal and the Spanish Red Cross (SRC) signed a cooperation agreement within the #WELCOMMON hosting and refugee integration program. It has duration up to 31.12.2017 and according to the agreement Wind of Renewal will host at WELCOMMON, 2 or 3 times per week, a RED CROSS MEDICAL MOBILE UNIT team of the Spanish Red Cross, staffed by a general practitioner, nurse and Arabic interpreter in order to strengthen the health services we offer to the hosted refugees. Our cooperation with the Spanish Red Cross is in line with the 7 basic principles governing the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC): Humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and ecumenism.
So far, many medical issues have been addressed successfully and in good time, always with the assistance of the interpreters as well as with the collaboration of the social service. Without our early intervention, it may have been a fatal outcome for some cases.
The operation of the „social clinic“ within WELCOMMON is not only for refugees, we are dealing with it as a proposal for social innovation to provide primary health care and to develop a „community health“ model suitable for neighborhoods, villages and small towns. The aim is both to prevent and provide primary care that can improve health of citizens and reduce pressure on hospitals, which often undertake to provide primary care services at a very high cost. We are willing to transfer our experience to others as long as there is purpose and willingness to use such initiatives for promoting social changes that will help the country and society to emerge from crisis.
The hosting of refugees in qualitative conditions and the provision of good quality food is not enough. Everyone has gone through many difficult situations that led him/her to refugee as well as during his/her attempt to reach a safe place. Appropriate and systematic socio-psychological support, as well as enhanced social inclusion is therefore needed. Children often have a lot of „wounds“, they have stayed out of any context and they are „children of war“, of camps, of streets.
Social integration – socialization
A series of activities we are organizing aim to social and cultural integration of refugees and to familiarize them with another culture, with which there are both common and different elements.
Visiting Museums and Galleries
As part of the process of social inclusion and cultural / environmental awareness of the refugees we host at WELCOMMON, we organize visits to museums, art venues, parks and public spaces: Acropolis, National Garden, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Acropolis Museum, Natural History Museum, Archaeological Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Cycladic Art, Pedion Areos Park, Municipal Art Gallery and several painting exhibitions.
During our first visits, we had groups of mostly Syrian children, but now people hosted in Welcommon come from 15-17 countries and speak 11 different languages. The support of the volunteers is very important for such visits. We want to thank the Catalonian volunteers that live in WELCOMMON for the whole summer 2017, helping us in many activities with their positive mood and expertise.
Moreover, recently we visited -once again- the Natural History Museum. Whenever we have gone to this museum, with different groups of children and older ones, everyone is excited about it. We thank Mrs. Siambu for her exciting, informative and loving tour, as well as -again- our volunteers for their valuable help to accompany us on such visits.
Since almost every one of our guests speaks different language, we emphasize in art because it works therapeutically and can unite people. We want refugee children (but also all children) to get familiarized with art in their everyday lives. We put great emphasis both on organized visits to museums and exhibitions, as well as on artistic activities in our own WELCOMMON hosting and integration center, created by „Wind of Renewal“ in collaboration with ADDMA and with the support of the UNHCR.
For us the return of a refugee child to a „normal“ everyday life goes also from the path of art.
Visiting Athens Observatory
The educational visit to the Observatory, which was attended by over 60 people, began with a walk through the old town under Acropolis and a debate on the concept of democracy. It continued with „climbing“ the hill of the Visitors Center, enjoying the sunset from the top of the hill, watching with ecstasy Acropolis emerging illuminated against us and came up with a guide to the world of stars by young scholars of the Center. The dome opened and the telescope turned to the sky to see the new moon and also some stars.
Many of us know that most star and constellation names are Greek, but few know that there are Arab or Persian names of stars. Arab astronomers called Cepheus Al Multahab, the Flaming One. For nomadic cameleers, Al Aghnam was the Sheep. The polar region of the sky was for them a whole lair, with shepherds and sheepdogs. Orion, is Al-Jabar (the Giant) for the Arabs. The brightest star of Orion is Betelgeuse and the brightest star of Leon is Sharru that means king. The alpha Canis Minoris, known as Procyon to the ancient Greeks, is called Al Shira al Shamiyyah by the Arabs, that means „The Brilliant of Syria“. What a surprise for Syrian refugee children to see the bright Al Shira al Shamiyyah, „The Brilliant of Syria“, in the sky of Attica!
Participation of young refugees in an international young people’s meeting on ceramics.
Three young refugees we host at #WELCOMMON (from Syria and Iraq) together with a Brazilian volunteer and social work student at the German University of Darmstand, participated in the international youth meeting, which was recently organized by the „Solidarity Pathways“ in Lefkada Greek island on the topic: „Together we play, together we shape the clay”. Youngsters from 6 different countries (but coming from many more different backgrounds and cultures) had the opportunity to get to know each other, to exchange views, to work altogether with clay, to cooperate to build an „eco-friendly clay house“ but also to talk about the history of ceramics in different countries. In fact, the soiled clay and its history became the means of social inclusion.
Given that we host many families with children, it makes sense to be very interested in the protection and inclusion of children. The whole effort requires innovation that is useful for school and education in general so as to meet the demands of a changing world, not only because of refugee crisis.
While children can be easily involved in non-formal education such as games, paintings and excursions, full integration into the formal educational curriculum is not self-evident and automatic, even for families that eventually stay in our country. It is needed language and psycho-social preparation, especially for children that have been outside of an organized framework and an educational program for many years.
Refugee children need to return to the educational curriculum as soon as possible. Syrian refugees may be out of school for between 1 and 5 years. Many international organizations have highlighted the need to ensure that there is no lost generation of refugees and that there are no refugee children who do not go to school.
Therefore, in WELCOMMON, we are concerned not only about the quality of accommodation, nutrition and socio-psychological support of refugees of all ages (so there is no relation to WELCOMMON conditions with those in many hotspots) but also for formal and non-formal education of children and also for adults needing it.
Despite the difficulties and the lack of sufficient resources, we are gradually developing and implementing an integrated strategy for education, training and culture according to the needs of the different groups.
- Public schools enrollment of refugee children according to their age (kindergarten, elementary school, high school). Before starting school, all necessary medical examinations and vaccinations are made, in accordance with Greek law. We believe that attendance is very important, not only for acquiring knowledge and skills, but also for smooth integration of children into our society.
- Despite our limited resources, we are able to involve children in non-formal education and skill development activities, both within the WELCOMMON, with the help of our volunteers and outside, in cooperation with other organizations.
- Empowering parents (who are often alone) to be able to take full care of their children, offering them gradual rehabilitation as well as social and psychological support. This process takes time and more human and financial resources are needed.
It is natural that each of the 6 groups:
(A) children, (b) adolescents, and (c) adults who will be relocated to another country,
(D) children (e) adolescents and (f) adults who will stay in our country, has different needs and an appropriate education and inclusion model needs to be developed.
We are interested in collaborating with organizations outside Welcommon (e.g. language courses in various institutions, visits and collaborations with museums, developing collaborations with European institutions) or in hosting activities in our center (e.g. English courses by ADDMA with British Council volunteers). Of course, the first priority is to include, the ones who want it, in the public education system (schools) or in certified training structures.
However, since solutions are not easy and available when needed for all cases, we are trying to offer innovative educational opportunities also inside Welcommon, on fields that are gaps that cannot be covered by other agencies. Besides, we have enough room for that.
A set of activities is organized for all children based on this objective: language learning, socialization, creative activities, team building, organized framework, environmental awareness, social behavior, hygiene and cleanliness and more.
Every day we improve the non-formal education structure at WELCOMMON so as to empower both children and adults that we host and organize many important activities and courses:
-Arabic, English, Mathematics and Science courses with Arabic-speaking volunteer refugees,
– Greek courses for women and facilitation of adults and teenagers to learn Greek in other structures,
– German courses for beginners by German volunteers,
– Enhanced teaching by Arabic-speaking volunteers for children,
– Computer language learning using video and image,
– Painting and photography lessons with volunteers,
– Creative activities for children,
– Visits to art exhibitions, museums, parks and green spaces in Attica,
– Acquaintance with Athens, its history and culture,
– Participation in actions organized by other institutions (e.g. art therapy, advanced language learning) and many others.
Our effort related to children that are waiting for relocation, is focused on preparation for inclusion in the society of destination country and its educational program. Since for many families their stay in Greece was in the process of moving to another destination country, there is a greater difficulty in joining a school program both in terms of linguistic or other preparation and of their psychological support for the time they remain in Greece.
For children who will stay Greece – which is now the majority – the effort is double. It includes organization of many school preparation activities at WELCOMMON in relation with the outside community (language and reinforcement lessons, cooperation with parents, familiarization with formal education, visits of children from various schools, activities in the courtyard of our neighboring school, the 35th Primary School of Athens, preparation of vaccinations and general examinations). Extroverted activities include co-operation with other bodies, visits to schools and joint activities with them.
In the context of our educational program, we have addressed schools that are interested in organizing joint actions. So, Greek school pupils are visiting WELCOMMON and working with the refugee children and the young people we host. We organize together games, musical activities, creative constructions, theater plays and painting.
Until now, we have hosted 4 schools, Ilion Music High School, 165th Elementary School of Athens, 135th Primary School of Athens and Standard Gymnasium of the Evangelical School of Smyrna. We have also begun visiting schools, at their invitation of course, such as Standard Gymnasium of the Evangelical School of Smyrna, as part of their program „I Change … I Change the World“. Our activity is not only about mutual understanding so as to break stereotypes, but also about the preparation of refugee children and their parents to join the formal school program.
Such collaborations are very useful since children become familiar with today’s reality. For example, many children of our elementary schools, are not only young refugees arriving recently in Greece but also second-generation children of refugees and migrants who know Greek well and, to a certain extent, can also use their mother’s and/or father’s language. Often, therefore, our „interpreters“ in such meetings are the children themselves from these two groups. It is a very interesting encounter of two worlds that have too much in common, but they have to get to know each other in order to realize it. For us, it is very important to connect refugee children with students in schools that have the same color or speak the same language with them and they rejoice in going to school daily.
All of us at WELCOMMON are happy, when we see a child taking the rewards paper for attending one class lessons. But more steps need to be done so as to support all children to participate in Greek education and culture.
Regular participation in lessons (whether they are going to leave for another country or choose to stay in Greece), and overall progress in all subjects (language, mathematics, etc.) is not a simple matter for refugee children.
Children who are about to migrate or join the rest of their family in another country, do not want to go for a while to a school where they don’t understand the language and „cuts off their playing time“.
But even the children, who will stay in Greece, need targeted help and support so as to be prepared during the summer for the new school year, which will start in September. They have been away from school environment for many years, they were for a long time on the road or better case in a camp and now they have to deal with a different cultural environment than they were used to (for example, parents often do not want girls to go to school because they have to take care of their brothers). And of course they have experienced war and violence with what this entails for their psychological and mental balance, the way they face everything.
Systematic and multifaceted preparation is needed, in order to familiarize children with the new school environment (if they have a memory of something similar), the sitting on the desk for 30-40 minutes until the break, the concentration during the class and the continuous attendance to their classes without absences.
Often parents and children do not have a clear picture of what is really SCHOOL, what is booster teaching, what is a supportive program and what is a language lesson. They confuse them and sometimes they can quit school because they think it’s enough to go to some other … school that starts later, takes less hours and does less lessons. They combine SCHOOL with some programs offered by various institutions. Therefore, a continuous and significant effort is needed to clarify the differences of each program so that they do not suddenly break SCHOOL due to difficulties and confusion. We try to help them understand that when they have school they have to go there EVERYDAY and from the beginning of the lessons. It is part of the process of social inclusion, not always an easy matter.
We encourage children and parents to participate in language or support teaching programs also outside WELCOMMON.
Within WELCOMMON, we try to help children that will be relocated, with Arabic or other creative and social activities, with environmental awareness actions and to familiarize them with teamwork and acceptance of the „different“ (not always understood when we have children from 17 ethnicities, with different religions, color and language).
To that direction, we need more volunteers experienced in teaching. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in helping and supporting WELCOMMON.
The „Arab Class“ of WELCOMMON, has teachers that are refugees themselves.
Despite the fact that #WELCOMMON no longer hosts only Arabs like the first months of its operation until about the end of 2016 (today we host refugees from 15-17 countries that speak 11 different languages), it is important that we continue the „Arab class“ alongside with the other lessons we offer in our field (Greek, English, German with the support of many volunteers).
We want WELCOMMON not only to be a high standard reception, hospitality and refugee reception center. We want to be a venue where activities (such as non-formal education and socialization) are organized on the initiative and participation of the guests themselves.
The „Arab Class“ is one of the best examples on how our approach #withrefugees can be implemented through the emergence of the capacities of the refugees. Because we must always keep in mind that we host not only people in need of protection but also personalities with talents and skills that, in the right environment, can flourish and offer both for the benefit of their own community (refugees) and for the community that hosts them.
The „Arab class“ is mainly for children aged 5 to 12, but sometimes also older ones participate. There are language (2 hours daily), math, science and culture lessons. The aim is to develop a culture of coexistence, respect and social responsibility. „Arab class” complements successfully the actions we organize with the help of experienced staff and volunteers.
It started with the help of Ahmad (a student who, due to the war in Syria, was forced to stop his studies and leave) that was hosted at WELCOMMON and currently lives in Belgium. It was continued by Mohamed and Khalil. For a long time until now „teacher“ is Saeda. She does not have a teacher’s degree, but she has the needed culture and knowledge that really makes her a very good and lovely teacher in practice.
Saeda is a gentle woman, mother, poet, plays very good music (like many other Syrian women), and she can speak and write literary Arabic, that few hold well. But, along with the children, they are also preparing small theater plays that „go up“ in WELCOMMON’s venue-restaurant space. When we have events, she is always willing to prepare and present a poetic speech that everyone listens with respect, even people who do not understand Arabic.
She has been hosted for a long time at #WELCOMMON, with her three children, waiting to go to Germany where her husband and another child of her, are. Until she leaves, she offers her knowledge to the children.
And we find that – as is expected – the children, who participate daily in the #WELCOMMON Arab class, respect it and even more, they show their great love for their „teacher“ Saeda.
Language learning using computer and e-learning.
At #WELCOMMON, we’re trying to use innovative methods to educate and highlight the capacities and skills of hosted refugees. One of the key issues is fast and targeted language learning, whether they will be relocated to another country or they will stay in Greece. Depending on the final destination, however, different solutions are needed. If somebody is going to leave, he/she may not want to learn Greek, while those who are staying want to learn Greek and English quickly. We therefore propose, in cooperation with our social service, a „fan“ of solutions outside (in cooperation with various institutions) and within WELCOMMON.
Among other things, we offer the ability to learn languages using computers and e-learning methods. Through relevant programs and technology infrastructure, we encourage our hosts to use English, German or Greek language learning programs in their native language (e.g. Arabic, Somali or Urdu).
Using video-YouTube is a good method if guests do not know how to write their native language (e.g. they may speak Arabic but they do not know how to write) or have a language that is not very common in Greece (e.g. Farsi, Urdu, Lingala, etc.). Thus, with the help of volunteers or by themselves, the guests can practice their knowledge in an innovative way every day in the computer room that is designed for this purpose.
Computer use is, as we have seen, an attractive way to practice their knowledge and language skills daily.
Art as a means of socialization, healing and returning to regularity.
Children express themselves artistically and creatively in our organized activities on many levels: visits to museums, galleries and exhibitions and also creative activities such as painting, collage, photography and film making workshops. All these activities are part of their familiarization with art and creativity, of the promotion of their talents and skills and the use of art for the treatment of their wounds (art therapy), but also for their social integration.
On their own they often express their artistic creativity not only on paper and cardboard but also on the many walls of the 8-storey building of WELCOMMON.
Wanting to make WELCOMMON more warm and artistic, we organize various paintings of large surfaces, always with the participation of the refugees hosted here.
In addition to the walls of some rooms, 6 large surfaces / walls have already been converted into works of art with the substantial participation of the WELCOMMON refugees: the room of Arab courses, the social clinic, the entrance to the classroom and the kindergarten, the wall outside the restaurant and the wall of the half-floor. In few months our space will be transformed into a large open art workshop.
On Thursday, April 13, 2017, we organized a night dedicated to refugees and art, presenting the exhibition „Refugees talk through art: the Prior, the Runaway, the Hope and Expectations“. Visitors, especially children and adolescents, presented their own paintings during their stay at WELCOMMON. Young people and women also, presented photos and videos from their life and home before the war, but also from their journey to hope, while showing their aspirations and dreams. It was a „first“ attempt from refugees themselves to guide us through art into the dual image of their lives, in the pain but also in their dreams, in runaway but also in hope… Now these reports will multiply and the next is planned for September.
Raising and supporting talents and skills.
We often organize musical evenings, where both guests and our hosts play music and dance. We also invite people who are street performers like Pepe Perperoni, or puppeteers that can show how to make dolls from scrap materials. Beyond laughter and fun, all these are opportunities for talents to arise. Laughter should not be deprived by any child and refugee children have already suffered a lot. We strive, with many activities, to help them regain their childhood and show off their talents.
This experience and the enthusiasm shown by our children reminded us of a relevant project that is implemented by the bilingual and multinational Berlin’s European School, Quentin Blake Europe School. We visited this school in May 2017, as part of the cooperation between Wind of Renewal (the social cooperative that is responsible for WELCOMMON) and the German citizens‘ initiative RESPECT for GREECE. At this school, for the last 10 years, the pupils of the 4th grade „live“ in the well-known Circus Cabuwazi, for a week aiming to their training and the emergence of new talents in the acrobatics, in juggling, in the seamstress and in the art of clown.
We also want to show similar talents among refugee children in WELCOMMON as well, in cooperation with our neighborhood school. From September, many of the children we host, as part of their integration into the education system, will start attending the lessons of this school.
Prospects for job integration.
Increasingly, the largest share of people temporarily housed in structures similar to WELCOMMON or in flats programs, are refugees that will stay in Greece. But this must be accompanied by an integrated policy and measures to fully prepare them to work legally, in a way that contributes to taxation and insurance system and not to push them to exploitation and working for cash.
As 25 organizations (Wind of Renewal is one of them) have repeatedly reported, there are already serious problems regarding cases of repeated violations of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees by the Greek administration. Particularly Administration, through CSCs, refuses to issue SSN and VAT numbers, which creates insurmountable obstacles to refugees’ social and professional integration, prompting many of them in illegal circuits and marginalization.
We also need human and financial resources to fully develop both the educational and the job integration program of those who will stay in our country, through joint efforts with unemployed Greeks.
WELCOMMON aims to:
- Offer opportunities for employment, utilizing the skills and expertise of the guests, through their participation in the organization’s operation and in cooperation with other organizations, bodies and preferably with other unemployed Greek citizens.
- Create a database of refugees‘ CVs – both for those living within the structure and outside as well– so as to facilitate their employment process in businesses looking for specific skills and abilities.
- Support the creation of social enterprises with the participation of Greeks and refugees / migrants in the following sectors:
-Repair and reuse of clothes and production of high quality clothes with artistic added value.
-Renting various items at reasonable prices, such as baby equipment (e.g. swings, baby prams), special equipment for people with disabilities and people with chronic diseases (oxygen appliances, special beds, wheelchairs etc.).
– Restaurants with food from different cultures.
We also seek to contribute to improving the skills and abilities of technicians or of people who can work in social care fields, given the lack of well-trained staff, on such fields, in many areas of the country.
We seek to contribute to the exchange of experiences, to reinforce new partnerships on such fields and to improve vocational training policies.
We are convinced that bridges of communication between different cultures, societies and actions can be formed, offering opportunities for the growth of economic and academic activities in similar fields.
Collaboration with volunteers, academics and social actors from all around the world.
Despite the fact that 32 people are currently working at WELCOMMON thus contributing to reducing unemployment for both young and long-term unemployed, we need the participation and support of many volunteers.
Volunteers’ role is very important in #WELCOMMON. They make a decisive contribution to constantly renewing the work of professionals but also expanding it to areas that are at the center of our planning and interest but we do not have the resources to fund them such as education, socialization, artistic creation, social inclusion and job integration.
Since 2016, Wind of Renewal, while designing this innovative community center for hosting and promoting social inclusion of refugees, chose to develop on organized basis cooperation with volunteers from different countries.
Among other things, we provided space for hosting a number of volunteers inside the building where WELCOMMON is housed.
We have also developed systematic cooperation with various organizations from Europe (RESPECT for GREECE – Germany, mSocial and ACSAR Fundacio – Catalonia), social cooperatives from Middle East (Humanity Crew-Palestine) and Egypt (Egypt Foundation for Youth and Development), universities from Europe and the US, so as to have volunteers with high skills and will to offer to society.
Since the inception of WELCOMMON we have hosted and collaborated – for 2 weeks up to 6 months – with over 140 volunteers from different countries. Our small community is expanding. We want to constantly improve cooperation with volunteers, taking into account their ideas, experiences and suggestions, so that there is continuity and benefit not only for our refugees and our staff but also for the volunteers who will come in the future. From autumn we will also have our volunteers’ online community.
You are more than Welcome to, in Common, support Wind of Renewal for the additional needs of WELCOMMON and social inclusion actions. For more information and addresses, please go to the bottom of the website.
Why do we need your support?
It is a fact that many of the urgent needs of refugee children and adults hosted in #WELCOMMON are not supposed to be covered or cannot be covered either by public services or by existing resources (these mainly concern hospitality, while most of our other actions are done either with the help of volunteers or with the support of micro-donations).
We often have to appeal to either civil society or directly to friends and acquaintances for finding immediate solutions. Such urgent needs are medications for people with serious health problems such as cancer, baby prams, products and adaptive equipment for persons with special needs such as hearing aids and others, which refugees do not have the possibility to get from a hospital, since SSN (social security number) sometimes is not issued to them by CSCs (Citizens Service Centers).
The situation is particularly difficult because refugees who are now arriving in mainland of Greece, following the agreement of European Union with Turkey, are only very vulnerable people (victims of torture, rape and trafficking, with multiple disabilities or serious health problems such as cancers and more). At #WELCOMMON, we already have overcome ourselves because sometimes we have, among other issues, to deal with the difficulties that arise, for example the blocking of the difficult process of issuing SSN (a relevant letter has been widely publicized by many organizations, including Wind of Renewal that runs #WELCOMMON).
As a result almost every day we have to struggle, under time pressure, to find a solution, such as providing medicines for a cancer patient who otherwise cannot begin his treatment.