I AM YOU offers non-formal education and engaging activities to community members of all ages living in Ritsona Refugee Camp. The aim of these programs is to engage with the residents, provide routine and regularity to those susceptible to fear or anxiety at the hands of circumstance.

Logistically speaking, building on language skills in a classroom setting is essential in helping our residents achieve their goals. Working on simple phrases and vocabulary to help with day-to-day life at Ritsona, before transitioning to more complex grammar and conversation with an ultimate goal of fluency to ensure their potential is unlimited by barriers of language.

However, I AM YOU also strives to promote personal dreams and foster individual talents. These are often overlooked in a setting riddled with spatial limitations and temporal uncertainty. A simple and effective way of countervailing these is through the power of reading. Literature fosters senses of empathy, creativity and belonging, engaging us as a form of both information and entertainment, improving vocabulary, memory and focus all while bringing us on journeys of world-, and self-discovery.

Pictured: Residents taking a look at what’s available.

Pictured: Residents taking a look at what’s available.

An important service operated by I AM YOU at Ritsona is our library. Weaving in crucial aspects of I AM YOU’s vision and values; safety and security, an emphasis on creativity, personal freedom, opportunities for socializing and integration, all with an underlying support given to those wishing to improve their literacy and communication skills, in a wide range of languages.

The library is an informal space that has been adapted over time, catering to the infinite skills and experiences of our residents that may affect their educational development. Originally established in September 2016, envisioned as a predominantly youth-orientated space, over time it has endured large-scale camp redesigns, countless refurbishments and even functioned as a make-shift emergency shelter.

 The library is also a testament to the power of collaboration between I AM YOU and numerous other NGO’s at Ritsona including Lighthouse Relief and Cross Cultural Solutions. Through these partnerships, materials were sourced and shelves were built, books and games were donated, paintings included the characteristic tree mural on the outside of the space, as well as the chessboard table inside (pictured). As with most of the progress in Ritsona, this was accomplished through collective action, the space was transformed and came alive.

Pictured: Volunteer English teacher Linda and volunteer resident English teacher Ahmad

Pictured: Volunteer English teacher Linda and volunteer resident English teacher Ahmad

In keeping with I AM YOU’s design, the project has extended past our purview and been taken on by the residents independently. Allowing carpenters, artists, students and socialites to take ownership of it and define for themselves it’s necessity as a space- whether academic or creative, serving logistics or reverie. Over a half-dozen residents have embraced the project, and it has remained community led.

It’s most recent makeover in March 2019 came about through the teamwork of Linda, an I AM YOU volunteer, and *John, a Ritsona resident. Their work has endured and been taken over by another dynamic duo - Alex, a recent addition to I AM YOU’s volunteer team, and *Thomas, a Ritsona resident.

 *Thomas has been working at the library for the past two months. He says he enjoys the work a lot, opening the library at the beginning of the day and helping to close it in the afternoons, finding the reading useful for improving language skills and keeping busy day to day.

He has had consistent attendance at I AM YOU’s Greek classes, with the library offering books in English, Arabic and Greek for whatever language skills he wishes to engage further. He maintains that the library is very important, not just for learning and building on skills learnt in class, but also combating boredom and stress that can be prevalent facing day-to-day challenges at Ritsona.

With the library having been passed down through numerous hands over the years, the space has continually transformed out of necessity but it is also a labor of love. It is seen as an opportunity for creativity and innovation, with enthusiastic volunteers coming to rejuvenate the space, excited at the possibility of a tangible project to occupy residents at Ritsona long after they have left. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for our little library!

*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals