New program helps Syrian and all refugee youth and families build confidence and skills

In March 2020, the YMCA of Thessaloniki launched a new program of its endless ways of adopting a healthy and inclusive for all lifestyle. The HELIOS Integration program, with full activities taking place at the YMCA central building, geared toward Arabic-Kurdish and Persian speaking newcomer youth who have been victims of undesirable situations back in their home countries, including and especially Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.


Greece has recently welcomed a large number of refugees, including many youth and families. Unfortunately, acclimating to new surroundings can be a tough experience, and some refugee youth are having trouble feeling completely at home. That’s why IOM (international Organization for Migration) an agency of the UN, implemented this new integration program called HELIOS, oriented to people that have already obtained their refugee status recognition. IOM vision was to launch a program in Greece where refugee youth could learn and work together to build self-confidence and develop their skills, talents, and passions to help them transition smoothly in their new communities.


There are a lot of programs focused on teaching refugees Greek, on teaching them about Greek culture and customs, on teaching them about what they need to know. These are all important elements of settling into Greece, but they all focus on what people are lacking. One of the best parts about the way the YMCA engages youth is that we focus on what they already do well


The new program fosters potential and helps Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani youth build strong bonds and connections, both within their new communities and with each other. YMCA decided to adopt the idea and since then has been participating in the HELIOS integration program. The title of the project is “Integration Courses for Beneficiaries of International Protection”. The implementation period is 13.5 months and the number of beneficiaries is increasing remarkably. The beneficiaries of the International protection meet here inside our central building facilities everyday to learn the language, important issues about the life skills and plan for job readiness. They are welcome to join different activities within the YMCA Centre and dedicate time at different local voluntary activities.


At each gathering, the program’s beneficiaries develop language and communication skills in a comfortable setting — something which helps them integrate more quickly into their new schools, job opportunities and bridge language and social gaps. This, goes a long way toward helping them manage the stress and uncertainty of escaping war and moving to a new country. It’s a program that gives refugee youth and families an opportunity to become Greek with confidence and pride in who they are.


Since 2015 YMCA Thessaloniki has welcomed refugees who are arriving in Thessaloniki. The YMCA of Thessaloniki has always played an important role in helping many of these new Greeks start their lives in this country.

Before we talk about how the YMCA is working to help refugees, I would like to take a moment to thank those who came forward and offered to volunteer their time to this wonderful example of community building.

In 2015 and 2016, a team of YMCA volunteers at the Eidomeni site and in Diavata refugee facilities organized and implemented creative, interactive programs for refugee children, In 2016, as part of the program REACT- ESTIA, funded by the European Union, the YMCA also began heading to refugees -among others those fleeing the war in Syria- who lived in reception and housing centers and families that were hosted in city apartments, all of this to provide support to asylum seekers.

From October 2018 to May 2020, the YMCA expanded its work with the refugee population through the child-center DIA-drasis, where it contributed as an active partner in the right to education and entry to school project for refugees.

YMCA has two other branches in Kalamaria and Asvestoxori and


organizes summer camps in Pelion, Halkidiki and Pindos where the purpose of camping programs is to bring nature closer to all ages and encourage experiences, discover skills, develop personality and create strong bonds of friendship.

The YMCA will continue to make its spaces inclusive for everyone, and of course refugees- friendly. It will also continue to support, welcome and encourage young and families from everywhere to become a healthy part of our growing communities.

This year, with Greece welcoming so many refugees, the theme was “HELIOS” with its beauty, light and warmth.  As this concept is expressed differently around the world, the refugee youth and families explored the many aspects of “HELIOS” from beyond simply saying “come in” to the behaviors that make them feel welcomed in their new environment.  Welcoming refugees goes beyond allowing them across our borders; it also means including them in our communities and our circles of friends.


Being welcomed is an important feeling. They felt homesick and didn’t belong when they came to a new place… being welcomed by someone friendly is a warm feeling; they now know and believe that they are not alone.