This post was written by Lisa Campbell, my friend and Executive Director of Do Your Part, the nonprofit I volunteer for at the Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece. Her words are better than mine would be.
Hello to all of our friends and supporters,
Fall has arrived and has brought many more changes to the camp and for the residents of Oinofyta. Last week the Ministry of Migration announced that the camp WILL be closing this year, and Friday it was confirmed that they plan to close it in November - next month.
This has come as a huge disappointment to us, but we have been anticipating this inevitable decision for a few months. We have a come up with a plan, and with your continued support and financial assistance, we will be able to continue to provide services to our former residents. These services will be much more targeted towards integration for them into the Greek society. This is necessary because migration to other countries is, in most cases, no longer available, so integration is essential.
As with everything else we have done here, we have consulted with the residents to find out their needs, and they have asked us to create a Community Center here in Oinofyta. We have found a large building to rent which will provide space for a Community Center where we will still be able to offer Greek lessons, English lessons, Computer classes, a women’s space and some distribution. It will also allow us to move the Oinofyta Wares shop into the space.
Oinofyta Wares began as a social enterprise with the generous donations of several sewing machines and supplies from LDS Charities, and now employs 19 residents. These residents work 5 days a week making products from recycled tents, clothing and other items from the old factory. We are in the process of incorporating it as a Greek business and already have two contracts for bulk orders! The business is run and managed by the residents themselves. Some of them were trained as tailors back in their home countries and one of them is a clothing designer. Others have learned to sew here in the camp. This business will eventually give those who work there the ability to support themselves and become contributing members of Greek society.
We have been in contact with the Mayor’s office in Schimitari and he is very supportive of our plan. We will be working with them to provide us assistance in the Community Center with teaching the residents how to navigate the Greek medical and social assistance systems as well as helping them find work.
In the past few months, we have been providing more integration activities and programs for the residents. We hired a teacher to give conversational Greek lessons to the adults. This will be essential to them as they move out into the communities. We have also been purchasing monthly train passes for the residents who are going to Athens to attend classes there. We have residents taking Greek, English and German classes as well as many who are taking computer classes. We are currently providing 57 train passes at a cost of 70 euros each. We are still looking for sponsors for this program. Once the residents are resettled in other locations, these train passes will be invaluable for them to be able to continue to get their education from wherever they are living. Two of our residents have been able to secure employment because they were able to take classes to improve their English enough to become translators.
We have been told that those who do not get offered housing will be transferred to other camps. The residents who are working in the Oinofyta Wares shop will be looking for housing here in the area. We are asking for sponsors to assist these families with their rent so that they can become established here in the area and continue to work. Housing prices here in the Tanagra municipality are much less expensive than Athens. For a family of 6 or less, rent can be as little as €250 per month. If you are interested in sponsoring a family for rent, please let us know, and we will give you information on family size and needs.
Much of what we have in Oinofyta as far as supplies and infrastructure will be able to be moved into the new Community Center. Our warehouse will be boxed up and the majority of its contents will be sent to the Pampiraiki warehouse in Athens so that we will still be assisting the refugee and homeless population in Greece. We will utilize some of the items to help supply the homes of the Oinofyta Wares team. We have been given access to a piece of land to place our containers until we can find another organization to donate them to, or sell them to be able to offset the cost of moving everything from the camp.
We will still need volunteers to run the Community Center and we will still need the financial support that we have had in the past so that we can continue to help those who have come here to escape the war and persecution in their own country.
For those of you who follow our activities here, you know that this is a bittersweet time for us. Many of the families have been moved into housing in Athens and there are still more to follow. What we have learned from those who have gone to Athens is, there is no support system in place to help them integrate. They are dropped off at their housing and left to fend for themselves. This is why a Community Center is so vital to them. It will give them support and assistance to learn how to live here in Greece.
We are very grateful for all of those who have supported our work here in the past and look forward to continuing to be able to offer dignity and hope to our residents through your generosity as they make this transition to life in a new country. If you are interested in helping us continue our work and need any further information, please email me at DYPLisa@gmail.com.
As always, please feel free to share this update with those you feel would be interested.
I know many of these families. Their faces are in my head even when I'm home. They are good people. I'm reminded of the saying: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." I believe we - the volunteers and the financial sponsors - are doing just that.
You can find out more about Oinofyta Wares on their Facebook page or at www.oinofytawares.com.
If you'd like to help these families by sponsoring them for train tickets or for rent, let Lisa know. If you have any questions, let me know in a comment to this post.