Now in our ninth month of operation, I AM YOU has coordinated over 300 volunteers in the refugee crisis in Greece so far. The first six months were spent responding to the emergency crisis of refugees arriving to Lesvos island, requiring blankets, clothes and shelter. Since then, we have moved into long-term assistance for displaced people who are stuck in limbo in camps in Greece until their asylum applications are processed. In this new area, we are specializing in a field that makes us unique. We focus on bringing dignity and respect back to the individuals affected by displacement due to war, conflict and disaster. We want to restore a sense of normality through our programs to encourage learning and arts, and combat the symptoms of boredom.
Being forced to leave your home, belongings and in many cases friends and family members behind, it breaks you as a human being. When you’re a teenager, once full of dreams, and are suddenly stuck in a basic refugee camp with absolutely nothing to do each day, it creates frustration. When you’re a child of war, deprived of education, proper guidance and the simple right of a childhood, you easily turn to violence instead of play. Without material possessions, a house and loved ones, you are left only with your own personality, knowledge, talents, emotions and determination. This is the situation for over 50.000 sons, daughters, mothers and fathers stuck in Greece, and we believe it is vital that these inherent human traits are nurtured. With knowledge, talent, determination and the ability to have fun, you are not left with nothing. With help to strengthen these things, you have the opportunity to move forward, and succeed in life.
I AM YOU have developed four humanitarian aid programs that are aimed to help displaced people drive their ambition, hobbies, talents and skills. During the spring and summer, these programs have been set up in Ritsona and Inofyta refugee camps, an hour north of Athens (1,000+ residents combined). We have had up to 80 activities per week, such as language lessons, paint classes, timber workshops, football games, youth clubs and children’s games - all with the purpose of restoring dignity and providing an outlet for expression.
Education Support Program
A full school curriculum has now been developed providing non-formal education for children and teenagers from 9.30am-2.30pm each day, and language lessons for adults from 3pm. During May and June, we invested in the construction of a Learning Centre with several classrooms/tents and a proper infrastructure in Ritsona. The teachers consist of members of the community, volunteers and members of the Greek Teachers Association. The curriculum offers lessons in Greek, English, Arabic, German, Maths, Science, Arts and P.E. Organizations such as Mercy Corps and IOM have supported the project and a telegram from the Greek authorities was sent to the camp, complimenting the education program as one of the best in the country.
Youth Activities Program
This program provides creative learning activities and games for children, and entertainment facilities for teenagers and young adults. We’ve invested in an Arts and Crafts tent where children can learn to create their own unique works of art, as well as a Children’s library where storytelling sessions and activities are held (Ritsona). Other activities such as face painting, games and interactive play are arranged everyday in both camps, coordinating with other organizations and local volunteers. In Inofyta camp, our children’s activities were specifically requested due to our success and collaborative nature. The program was recently expanded to include a new division; “The Youth Club”, which focuses on teenagers and young adults and provides safe spaces where they can hang out, listen and dance to music, watch films or football matches, play games and be creative. There are also dedicated times for young women to come together and enjoy various activities.
Arts & Recreation Program
We remodelled an abandoned military building that was being used as a toilet, and turned it into a blooming creative workspace in Ritsona. “The Creative Workspace” regularly holds timber workshops where residents can create their own furniture, teach each other the craft and build items for those who are unable to do so for themselves, such as the single mothers of the camp. The space has also been home to several successful art and painting classes. We have also invested in a Music and Cinema tent in Ritsona where musicians from the camp have weekly concerts, and we have setup a recording studio twice so far, recording the residents music and poetry. During July, we have arranged recreational beach trips for all 563 people from Ritsona camp, where they get a chance to get out of the camp and enjoy the beautiful nature of Greece for a day. The trips have been overwhelmingly appreciated and we hope to extend these trips throughout the summer.
Camp Services Program
We provide critical medical transportation for all 563 residents of Ritsona refugee camp. The “Hospital Runs” project is a unique partnership with the Red Cross that operates the onsite emergency medical clinic. Our transportation service ensures residents can attend medical appointments that could prevent life-threatening emergencies taking place. The hospital runs require several vehicles daily, each equipped with a Greek speaker and an Arabic translator. This is a life and death service that has been described as the “most efficient hospital service” in Greece by the authorities. We also provide translators for various tasks throughout the camp, such as providing asylum updates from UNHCR and collecting comprehensive data on all of the residents, including ages, vaccinations, trades, family sizes and much more.
Advocacy and Awareness work
During May and June, world-renowned director Phil Griffin, famous for his work with Prince, Madonna, Amy Winehouse, Paul McCartney, Jay Z, Adele and Rihanna, visited the I AM YOU operations in Ritsona refugee camp, Greece. Phil and his team spent time with the families living in the tents, as well as the volunteers working at the site. A mini-documentary/short film was released on June 15 depicting daily life in the camp and the programs I AM YOU run there. It has had over 200 000 views on Facebook and thousands of shares so far.
In a new, extended partnership with Phil Griffin, I AM YOU is building a unique web platform with the sole purpose of spreading mass awareness, through engaging individuals with the power to impact public opinion using high-end film, photography and art in storytelling that will provide a voice to displaced people. The site will utilise the hours of beautiful film material and interviews collected by Phil using new web technology and interactive storytelling. The site will target young adults that have the power to impact public opinion through social media. The group who will impact the target audience for this includes world-renowned singers, actors and actresses, entrepreneurs and other artists that are already in I AM YOU’s network.