Building Community at the Heart of the Refugee Crisis

Gani Naylor with refugee youth at ELIX camp

PYE Facilitator Gani Naylor with refugee children and volunteers, at the pilot youth camp with ELIX in Athens, July 2016 (Photo credit: Eleni Gazi, President of ELIX)

This month in Athens, PYE worked with refugee communities for the first time. With partner ELIX, devoted to active promotion of voluntary service and civic engagement in Greece and beyond, PYE led a special practitioner training (see gallery below) followed by a pilot youth camp for refugee children, six to 12 years of age. The training prepared a passionate team of ELIX facilitators and volunteers who are now leading a summer-long series of youth camps, full of creative expression, arts empowerment activities, and precious opportunities for play.

Isabel Ferreira, an ELIX volunteer from Portugal says of the youth camps, which are taking place in an Athens school, “Five hours takes all your energy and transforms it into a fulfilled heart. This school serves the exact purpose of giving these children a free environment to be creative, explore, make friends, and learn.”

According to UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) data from July 2016, there have been almost 160,000 refugee arrivals in Greece so far this year and 38% of them are children. Isabel says, “I see miracles every single day here. Knowing that so many of the refugees are children, it increases even more my sense of urgency towards these people. The opportunity cost of having these refugees stuck here is too high to be human.”

Though the region’s challenges are incredibly complex, PYE and ELIX believe that creativity has a meaningful role to play in finding solutions and promoting healing and hope. Gwyn Wansbrough, Executive Director for PYE UK, explains, “As Europe experiences deep economic, social, and political shifts, there is important work to be done in building heart-centered communities and bridging differences.”

ELIX volunteers at PYE Training in Athens, preparing to lead camps for refugee youth

ELIX volunteers at PYE Training in Athens, preparing to lead camps for refugee youth

ELIX has 30 years of experience running work camps in Greece, bringing together volunteers from across Europe, but working with refugees is new for them as well. Following the PYE training and test camp earlier this month, they are now running youth camps throughout the summer and are set to reach approximately 200 children.

President of ELIX Eleni Gazi says it’s a hopeful start: “The children are really benefitting. There is a plan to carry on this work during the school year, in order to prepare the refugee children for integration into the Greek educational system. We are really pioneers with this project, and PYE is a part of it!”

PYE facilitators Ed Wade-Martin and Gani Naylor, who led the Athens training and test camp, say they have been truly inspired and moved by this experience. You can read Ed’s personal account here.

On behalf of the PYE team, Gwyn says, “There are caring compassionate people in Greece who want to find solutions and at ELIX we see incredible examples of this. We are proud to support them and moved to witness the very human side to the crisis: people caring for people.”

GALLERY: PYE Training with ELIX in Athens 

(Photo credit: Themis Gkion  –  www.flowathens.com)

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