SajeImpact Director, Sarah has returned from a week in Greece, working predominantly alongside refugees and Roma gypsy children and to see the the range of support Hellenic Ministries offers to vulnerable groups in and around Athens. Sarah reports on her week in Athens:
It was hard to know what to expect; Greece was familiar to me from previous holidays, the refugee crisis was familiar via the tv screen but combining the two seemed impossible to visualise.
The week started at the Patalouda ("butterfly") Centre working with the Roma children in the outskirts of Athens. It is led by a Christian anthropologist who is sensitively working to develop their educational, emotional, spiritual, and health needs with an aim of integrating the children into Greek mainstream school, and work.
Their childhood is short lived with them typically being married off when they become teenagers. We were told (and saw) that the children's highlight of the day is being able to come and brush their teeth with their own toothbrushes! However, it was clear that it was the care and attention that the children craved. From the second we arrived we were mobbed by overly-excited (and over-friendly!) children. Games, singing, stories and structured play were lapped up with an enthusiasm untypical for their age.
The effects of their work with the children is expanding and helping the whole community to live side by side with respect for what they are doing and hope for the future.
Greece has born the brunt of the recent refugee crisis with people fleeing from civil uprisings, violence, famine, and hunger. They come predominantly from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and northern Africa. Some visibly carry the scars of why they were fleeing to sanctuary but most seemed very unremarkable until you heard what they have had to endure either to reach refuge. They were typical of the horrendous stories that we regularly hear on our news bulletins but meeting these people face to face brought it to a new dimension with a more acute sense of urgency.
We saw how Hellenic Ministries provide medical, gynaecological, and dental help to refugees and a safe house (Hope Centre) to support women who have been sexually exploited. We helped to re-house a young woman and her two young boys and 4 day old baby (the result of a rape) into a UN small, one bed house. Their worldly contents easily fitted into our Peugeout 205. The room boasted a bed, a shelf and privacy. It wasn't much but was a vast improvement on the squat we had moved them out of and it was humbling to see her joy and gratitude with her new safe space.
Another highlight was visiting a centre where they provide showers, laundry services, clothing, meals, and general health care services for the refugee and homeless population of Athens. They are currently serving around 350 meals a day! Even with a large hall, this takes two sittings and is a military operation relying on a core team of workers and a constant supply of willing volunteers. I would love to know how many different nationalities were sat around, sharing spaghetti bolognese together against the backdrop of the Acropolis!
It was impressive to see how holistic and well connected all the different ministries were in Athens. It's sad that there is still such need for the help that organisations such as Hellenic Ministries provide, but as long there is conflict and greed there will be poverty and need.
It has never struck me how much of a privilege and luxury it is to be back home alongside my full family before. It is something many that I left behind can only dream of.
We only saw the tip of the iceberg of work whilst in Athens. Hellenic Ministries is a Christian organisation. You can find out more about their work here.