Opening Celebration at Our New Shelters

Spring was in the air for the opening celebration of HOME Project’s two new shelters, on Sunday, March 26th in Athens. So was music, laughter, hope for a brighter future, and gratitude to all who have made it possible.

By Volunteer Beverly Crowl

The HOME Project was founded in response to the global refugee crisis and aims to provide security, dignity and decent living conditions for the most vulnerable - unaccompanied minors. More than half of the refugee populations are children and teenagers, ripped from their homelands and families through violence and war and without basic resources most people take for granted.  They are alone, at risk, and fending for themselves in refugee camps, detention centers and on the streets.  HOME Project staff are actively setting up homes and admitting these children to the security of protected shelters, where they will receive care and attention and move from despair to hope and from fear to safety.

Operated by Medin, in collaboration with Generation 2.0, the two new shelters will eventually house 32 children.  They will attend school, receive language tutoring, get involved in sports and community activities, and be free to come and go as long as they adhere to the rules and schedule of the house.

For the opening celebration, 17 boys aged 12-18 years, had already settled in their new home and welcomed visitors with snacks and lively music.  Quite a diverse group, their home countries are Afghanistan, Algeria, Guinea, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan and Syria.

A staff of 11 persons will support each shelter, and several were present for the celebration.

A Kenyan named Bernard will be Chef for the home and was busy preparing lunch for the residents even as guests toured through the kitchen.  Bernard has lived in Greece for 25 years and has 11 years’ experience as a chef.  He said, “It’s a new experience to try to cook each day for so many different tastes and ethnic backgrounds, but I am quickly learning each person’s favorites.” 

Telemachos Tsolis will serve as Supervisor for the new shelters, and Amanda Laskari as one of the Social Workers. They discussed some of the challenges facing them with this new endeavor.

Telemachos said, “As supervisor, I must coordinate the needs of the staff and children, our relationship with other NGO’s, the children’s lawyers, and members of our community, our projects, our strategic goals, and to see that all goes smoothly.”

Amanda agreed, “There is a lot happening.  Another challenge is the language barrier.  I have realized that I must be more emotional and communicate more with my face and body language. You must really mean what you say with your face!  I feel challenged with this, but I also am enjoying it and learning from the experience.”

Children at HOME Project shelters are benefiting from the cooperation of other agencies, and the new homes are no exception.  Telemachos said, “For example, we have volunteers from Atenistas here today painting beautiful murals on the walls. Caritas Hellas’ volunteer teachers help with Greek lessons, as well as Equal Society. We are cooperating with the Municipality of Athens to utilize the gym, where among other activities we also have a few kids going to Jiu Jitsu martial arts program. ARSIS teenage section helps with lawyers. Kiatha supports us with clothing.  Parativas Medical Institute with healthcare.”

For anyone wishing to help meet the needs of these special children and teens, Amanda said, “They really need shoes and clothes, or school supplies including bags, language books, and notebooks. And, of course sports equipment such as footballs. We also would like to arrange visits to museums and theaters, which would be a worthwhile donation from someone who wanted to offer something.”

Some folks prefer to offer their time. A 17 year old high school student, Filippos, was at the opening celebration.  He said, “I learned about this project through a family friend who was involved.  I’ve volunteered before, but this is the first time with refugees. I like helping people.  It’s a good experience to see something outside of your ordinary life.  It opens your eyes.  You perceive the world differently when you meet different people from different backgrounds. I will help in any way I possibly can - maybe painting the walls or teaching Greek or English.”

Such commitment was evident all around for the exciting opening ceremony of the HOME Project Shelters. Also evident was unity amongst diversity. Telemachos passionately stated, “Solidarity! Without solidarity, we’re nothing!  We must always act as one. That is my wish.”

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