Individuals from all parts of the world are building bridges and creating avenues of expression within Greek refugee camps. Refugees waiting in the camps are given food, shelter and toiletries- the necessities. The next step is creating avenues for expression and ways to pass the time for the residents.
Volunteers are traveling from all parts of the world to offer their knowledge and time to do just that.
Refugees in camps are left in limbo awaiting their verdict. The process to receive asylum is long and sometimes fruitless, resulting in rejection and ending in deportation. Even if deemed an appropriate candidate for asylum, refugees can wait months, even years, for relocation to another country.
Until then, residents are simply left to wait for an answer within the camps.
“The process is too slow,” said Stathis Boularakis, a legal advisor for Doctors of the World Greece. “People can be waiting over a year.”
While providing the necessities for the refugees are of utmost importance during their stay, providing activities and creative outlets are growing more important as the waiting period extends.
Besides a slow-paced process and temporary placement within the camps, refugees have experienced and survived traumatic experiences- bombings, shootings, sexual crime and other atrocities.
“We have seen rising mental health issues,” Boularakis said. “Self-inflicted wounds, suicide attempts and panic attacks.”
As these issues become more prominent, it has become increasingly important to provide activities for residents. Music and sports are becoming the forefront of this movement.
“For some people that really like to play football or really like to play music, we’re giving them something to do during the day that they enjoy,” said Jason Steinberg, the director of The International Sports and Music Project and guitar teacher at Ritsona refugee camp. “It’s an expressive outlet for people.”
These activities are providing emotional support and an avenue for expression, as well as helping on the mental health front.
“There are too many people with psychological problems and they pick learning music because it fills the time and they start making new communities with guitars,” said Annita Matzourani, a local representative of Connect by Music and guitar teacher at Kara Tepe refugee camp. “They learn with each other, smile with each other and they get friendly with each other which is very important.”
These programs and classes are not just bringing activities to a once stagnant environment, but they are building communities within the camps.
“It’s like a big family here,” Matzourani said. “All of us, we are a big family.”
This connection is not exclusive to residents within the camps. Universal activities like sports and music are bridging the gap between citizens and refugees as well.
“I think sometimes, especially with media and people coming in, sometimes the boundaries between people get propped up,” Steinberg said. “That’s not at all what sports and music are. We’re trying to be in the business of breaking down boundaries.”
While their work is far from over, these teachers and volunteers are continuing their work to create a more creative and pleasant experience for individuals that have already lost so much.
“This is the most beautiful part of my life that I am living and I am very blessed,” Matzourani said. “If you give them love and you transfer love, you can take back what you transfer.”