On Friday the 12th of January 2018, YMCA Thessaloniki is farewell the 15-member group of students from the University of YMCA Hong Kong, all social workers for refugees and immigrants who were guests of the YMCA Thessaloniki eight days. The purpose of their visit was to gain knowledge and experience about the refugee crisis and the contribution of YMCA Thessaloniki to this issue. The students had planned a well-organized program of activities appealing to the needs of refugee children living in refugee camps. The group of our visitors was accompanied by a team of YMCA Thessaloniki volunteers.
This trip has been very fruitful. We organized different art, science, sport and handicraft programs for the kids in the Diavata refugee camp in order to develop their interests in different areas and promote their learning motivation. Through these programs, we can see the real situation of the refugee camp which is generally not covered on media in HK. On the news, we know there are different voices towards refugees. For example, some may not welcome refugees into their country and refuse to offer help, and the living environment in the refugee camp may be very chaotic. But once we arrived at Diavata refugee camp, we realized the camp is more organized and hygienic than expected. Every family has individual containers with sufficient privacy. There are even facilities in the camp for the children and adults to have lessons and do sports. We can see that different parties and government in Greece are really working very hard to improve the life of refugees, help them integrate and show them respect.
Univeristy of YMCA HKU
Team Leader, Volunteer
It’s Saturday 2 o’clock in the afternoon and the bus is ready to leave for Edomeni.
With a small delay we arrived with the escort of a policeman in the demilitarized area. A few months before, thousands of refugees were living there. At this empty space, the only remains of the refugees who waited to continue their journey to find a new homeland were some clothes, shoes and other everyday objects. Vasilis Tsartsanis, who edited the exhibition entitled “Small room with 101 windows”, walked us around and shared his experience of the refugees.
After our short visit, we went to his shelter in Polykastro. We were more than welcomed by the residents. They danced Pontiac dances and they treated us tsipouro. Then, we started guided tour of the exhibition. All the team was so surprised. After the end of the tour inside the house, we went out to the yard to see the installation they prepared for us. It was shaped in such a way that through photos and real stories, that combining the night sky it created the illusion that you are in the Edomeni Camp. After this magical tour we all gathered in the living room and listened to the experiences of local guests who contributed to each one in their own unique way.
Listening to so many different stories, I was looking around and try to figure out what the others team members think. I saw the faces of students from Hong Kong. Steady faces with even more steady eyes that did not even want to glimpse in order not to lose anything of what they were listening to. The goal of our trip to Edomeni was to gain experience of the refugee issue in Edomeni and the way local reacted and it was more than achieved. On our way back to our houses, all i could think about was the words that a friend told me at the beginning of summer: “at this moment we are the ones who make the story, because we are contributing in our own way to it.”
YMCA of Thessaloniki Volunteer
In this trip, we are very glad to meet with Mr. Vasilis Tsartanis, who brought us to visit the site of an evacuated refugee camp in Idomeni. Vasilis explained much in detail about the history of the migrants, smugglers and refugee problem. I could imagine the situation at that time. It was really tough and unhygienic. We also visited his exhibition “Small Room with 101 windows” about the life of refugees at Eidomeni and heard the locals’ experience who offered help to refugees when the situation was really tough. Their sharing really touched us, as we learnt how they altruistically helped them out of humanity.
Univeristy of YMCA HKU
Vice Team Leader, Volunteer
After a tour in the place, it was time to act in order to achieve our main goal for the day; play with the children. Meanwhile, we were trying to gather all the children at the playground, where we met Dian, an 11 years old girl full of happiness, doing rollers. We explained to her – at first in English and after we realized she was familiar with Greek language, in Greek – what we wanted to do, and she offered to help us. It was Dian who was translating the instructions – rules for several games to the rest of the children in their native language.
We played games like “Pop Corn”, “Hoky Poki”, “Dragon” etc with more than 50 children. Body language, positive energy our young interpreter, were the only essentials to spend some fulfilling hours with them until 17:00. “Surviving” in a daily routine where obligations constantly run around us – or even after us – , “mixed” with children who are smiling and wondering for just a hug or one more game, are the ingredients to create a new range of feelings.
I had so much time to feel. It was something new for me. Something I discovered myself; how easy is it sometimes to create happiness only with a simple act? But I want to mention a scene that was captured in my mind. A 40-year-old couple came while we were playing with the children. The man played traditional music, with his mobile phone, and started dancing. He called us to dance with him. And so we did. We all danced together.
After this day and all that we have been through, I came up to this conclusion; we all need a little bit of fun and music.. Or even just one more game..
YMCA of Thessaloniki Volunteer