Dark blue nails and a white top adorned with flowers: Andrely is wearing the Cyclades and a genuine smile.
First things first, we learned about her favorite hobby: "Sleeping!" she said in an amused tone. Later, Andrely told us that she works in the night shift, five days a week. "I work at a HOME Project girls’ shelter from 10pm to 6am. The girls are minors, including young mothers with babies." Her tasks include "supervising, laundry, giving medicine, and helping with anything that the girls or babies need." A demanding job with strong responsibilities, for which Andrely seems more than qualified.
The young woman has been part of The HOME Project for 5 years now. She was welcomed in it at 16 years old. "I first arrived in Samos. From there, they sent me to Thessaloniki, and then to a small village, Pentalofos in the north of Greece." Arriving to Athens brought her some peace. "In Pentalofos, there are no shops where you can get your hair braided", we joked - but it is more important than it sounds. Above all, the capital offered Andrely all the necessary tools for a fresh start.
In this city, The HOME Project incarnated the first building block of her new life. It became her home, from where she was able to grow roots. She finally had stability and a solid base which allowed her to attend high school. "Every day, I would use public transportation from the center to Elliniko." With perseverance, Andrely obtained her high school diploma, and also learned English. We were surprised: "What? I thought you were a native speaker!" English, which Andrely did not speak a word of before arriving, is now her greatest tool. "It is important, we use English to communicate among us. I speak English at work, with the girls."
This new home gave her a family. "Everyone knows everyone at the shelters. The HOME Project, it’s all we’ve got." And she now gives back the care, affection, and love that she received. "I love taking care of the girls at the shelter." Everything has come full circle.
Andrely currently leads an independent life in one of the HOME Project’s 18+ shelters. "I usually cook for myself, because I like dishes from back home. Although, sometimes, I still crave a makaronia me kima."
Needless to say, Andrely stands strong on her feet. "I usually prefer to rest, because I work long hours. But, from time to time, I still go out with my friends." Strong on her feet, except when dancing, according to her: "I have two left feet", she confided. And although she sometimes likes to treat herself with a kinder bueno ice cream, or to go shopping in Ermou, Andrely seems to first think about others. In addition to her full-time job, the young woman helps other NGOs with interpreting in French and Lingala.
An Athenian life where African shops and kafeneia meet. In this city, Andrely has met Greeks and Somalis, Ivorians and Congolese. Her words are testament to an open-minded spirit, cultivated by this multicultural environment: "You are more than your nationality, it does not define you".
Like many Athenians, last year Andrely had the chance to escape from the summer heat for a week to Zakynthos. This summer, she has even bigger plans."I received my papers ten days ago. My lawyer managed to move my asylum interview to a few months earlier. And the answer was positive. For a long time, all my friends had received the papers, but not me. It was hard." The pedestrians around us keep walking, unaware of the sea change that just transformed Andrely’s life. "Before, when people asked me what I wanted to do in life, I did not know what to answer. How can you project yourself into the future if you don’t know whether you will stay here? Now, I finally feel free."
Plans for the future have returned, and Andrely has solid ambitions. "I am applying for a scholarship at Deree, the American College of Athens. I want to study international relations, because I want to help people like me." Five years of uncertainty, now Andrely’s eyes are glimmering with resilience. "I know it is going to be hard. But when I achieve this, I will be proud of myself."
This summer, Andrely is traveling to Paris to visit a friend. But she will come back to the Athenian life that she has built for herself. "I want to stay here in Greece. I like Athens, I want to live here. And I want to learn how to speak good Greek."
On this summer evening, Andrely breathes warm air and hope.
Andrely's story was recorded by our volunteers, Nephelie Chantzis and Charline Wasserberg.