Oct 31, 2019

Welcome to the Echo Hub Athens !

It’s been a busy few months on the Aegean islands: Since September alone, over 18,000 people have arrived by boat from Turkey, 1026 of these on the island of Leros. Many more have been stopped by the Turkish coast guards, but still the numbers are rising and the islands are struggling to meet the needs of so many new arrivals. On Leros there are now c. 2,400 people, of which more than 1,000 are homeless or sleeping in flimsy camping tents around the hotspot camp, that is beyond capacity to accommodate them. The refugee populations now make nearly 30% of the island’s inhabitancies.

In light of this situation, tensions are unfortunately on the rise, and our Echo Hub Leros is needed more than ever; it provides a safe place and offers educational and recreational activities, that contribute substantially to the mental wellbeing of the camp residents. In the last two months, we have registered another 137 new students and attendance has been at an all-time high of about 1,000 students a week joining various classes and activities.

For some the wait on the island has reached the one-year mark, which means that finally their geographical restriction will be lifted. Eager to escape the camp and island life many move to Athens in search of new beginnings and a possibility to find work. In this period of uncertainty and unease we are happy and proud to be able to say we can now provide a new safe and welcoming space in the capital: The Echo Hub Athens!

Welcome to the Echo Hub Athens! A community and education centre, that opened on the 5th September in Kypseli, Athens. To date we have already registered over 450 students. The focus and aim of the Athens-Hub is on making sure that our students are provided with the necessary skills to integrate into Greece society and the job market.  

We decided to have a second location in Athens as we saw the influx of people heading to the city from Leros and other islands. We believed there was more that could be done help the community of refugees that had received asylum in Greece and wanted help with integration and develop their next steps. This included many of our students from Leros that had reached out to us asking for us for places where they could continue their studies, find a community of friends, or practice their skills.

In the new Athens Hub we offer six levels of English, totalling to 33 lessons per week, 3 levels of Greek taught three times a week, with the possibility of obtaining an internationally recognised certificate in the higher levels. As well as many extracurriculars; computer classes, mind and body – using meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and comedy therapy to help feel centred and project to the future, Poetry & Theatre class and CV & career goals workshop.

We collaborate with other organisations to make the Echo Hub a one stop shop in order to meet a variety of refugees needs; through “The Language Project” we have found our language teachers, through “Social Hackers”we are able to provide computer literacy classes, a must for most jobs, and our collaboration with “Human Rights 360” means that three days of the week there are lawyers, social workers on hand to help with everything from obtaining tax numbers, to finding a job, to sorting legal and psychological issues. We are continuing to work on future possible relationships with other organisations to help achieve our goals and continue to offer our students the skills, peace of mind and knowledge to enter into Greek society and have access to employment opportunities.

Our future goals for the very new Echo Hub include; wanting to help arriving refugees with whatever is needed, we try to stay flexible in our response, but with a main focus on education, hopefully also vocational training with time. Psychosocial support, on the personal one to one level, as well as support and training groups for interpreters. We have found that a lot of our students here and in Leros have found work in this field and are often not given the correct support or training. This can lead to severe cases of PTSD and other issues. We want to help Greece or rather the local communities to deal with the very difficult situation and we hope to bridge some of the gaps and mediate between the arriving and the receiving communities. And the list goes on, and on and on…

Oct 23, 2019

WELCOME BACK - Returning Volunteers!

Echo100Plus would be nothing without the help of our, to date, over 800 volunteers. They come from all over the world, of all ages, with different work and life experiences that enrich our daily activities at the ECHO Hubs. Volunteer are the face of the organisation, they work hard and are very determined. We are truly grateful to them.  

We often find that many of our volunteers either extend their stays with us, or try to come back. We’ve had over 150 returning volunteers. One of which is Caterina Verde, an artist from New York City. She volunteered with us at the Leros Hub in January 2019 and at the Athens Hub in October. We asked Caterina a couple of questions on her experiences and why she decided to return to volunteer with us…

 

How did you hear about Echo100Plus and what drew you to volunteer with us?

I obtained information from a friend who was interested in volunteering in Greece. With her I travelled together to Ritsona Refugee Camp outside of Athens, where we volunteered for a week or so. This inspired me to volunteer again. I was very moved by the people that I met in Ritsona, particularly by their courage and spirit in the face of all the difficulties that they had encountered and what still lay ahead. It’s here that I met some of the volunteers from Echo100Plus, that at that time, were active in the camp. I was attracted by their style of work and ethos and was put in contact with one of their founders. Apart from a connection (with Catharina) to due to our backgrounds in Art and Art History, I felt that I wanted to see for myself what things were like for refugees arriving on the Greek Islands (after reading so much about it) as well as how and if my presence was helpful. I was also interested in knowing more about how Echo100Plus defined its role within the context of this multinational crisis.

What was your first experience like? 

In Leros, it was intense.  It was January -- the weather was horrible -- storms, wind, rain, and cold.  But it was wonderful too.  The other volunteers and managers maintained their good spirits, explaining over and over again the same things to the new volunteers.  It was very different from Ritsona where we wore working inside the camp.  On Leros, we were driving shifts all day long (we worked in 12-hour shifts) from the camp to get people to the school as well as provide activities, skills and language courses to the students coming from the camp.  But it was also very gratifying getting to know everyone in such an expeditious way.  I was also photographing and I taught a couple of classes: an art/photography class with a fellow volunteer and tai chi.

I also felt that the founders of Echo100Plus were working in a good direction with careful consideration of the needs at the moment. It's a very difficult task to keep things in balance when you are relying almost entirely on a volunteer staff and one that is constantly changing.

What drew you to come back to volunteer with Echo100Plus?  

I am particularly inspired to work with so many people from different countries and cultures who have had to leave their homes and livelihoods, under great stress, facing danger and upheavals in their lives - who try to start anew in places that are also uncertain as to how permanent they will turn out to be. Only the hope for a better life for their families keeps them going – it takes a lot of courage!  Echo100Plus is doing a great job of creating a centre for people to regroup, congregate, learn new language skills and prepare for the next steps as they may move to other countries within the EU. So many of the HUB’s students are immensely talented and highly skilled; they need opportunities to put their skills to work and develop new ones. It is my opinion that it's important for all of us to see what is going on in the world -- not just as an abstraction but to get to know people and understand what their challenges are. Echo100Plus does hands-on projects and offers the opportunity to everyone to participate and contribute to help with the refugee crisis in a meaningful way.

What did you find to be the major differences between your two experiences?

Leros and Athens are two different aspects of the spectrum. I was asked if this time I wanted to focus on an art project in Athens which, I said I did, of course. The Athens Hub is in its early life and already full! This proves the need for a second HUB is there. On Leros, refugees are in the first phase of arriving, still living in the camp and waiting for their papers.  This can take a long time, sometimes more than a year. Once in Athens, we are dealing with a different transitional phase, people have their papers but often still need language and skills support. They also need to find jobs, which can be very tough. The support system from the government doesn't last terribly long so it's imperative that they can make their way. The goal for the Athens Hub is that it also serves as a place for community, and necessary services. They can come as long as they want and need to. I've been teaching an art project class. My students are amazing. Most have little if any, art experience but their enthusiasm and willingness to try new things is heartening and in so doing they are making some wonderful work.  I hope that they will continue on to develop their skills.

Would you come back a third time and why?

Yes, I would definitely come back. I feel connected to the people at Echo100Plus and it gives me great joy to see some of the students who were on Leros now in Athens. There's a sense of continuity and I think I have something to offer. In fact, I hope that people who can help would consider this experience because the "hands-on" approach is often the best way to really learn what some of the issues are and develop a deeper understanding.

Aug 5, 2019

Football - The Beautiful Game

When you're on the pitch...life goes away.’ Maradona

 

Currently, there are 1,603 refugees on the island of Leros. The numbers keep rising as the warm and calm weather continues allowing refugee boats to attempt the dangerous crossing from Turkey. Now, more than ever, the Hub has become a vital part of the resident’s everyday life while they wait for their asylum case to be decided. The Hub continues to thrive, attendance to all classes remains at full capacity, and the success can be measured in the exams passed both in English and IT by our students. Greek lessons have continued to draw people in, the positive outcome daily visible in the streets of Leros, where our students are able to address members of the local community in the native language. With the arrival of so man people from different countries, diverse cultures and languages, it has been an opportunity more than ever to all to learn from each other at our Hub. This can be witnessed particularly during our Women’s Day, which is a haven of multicultural activities, new dances to diverse music and delicious dishes.

 

‘This team challenges you and I like that. Football is in my blood and I have to play. I’ll play with anyone, it doesn’t matter, but there are some very good players on this team.’ Hassan

 

Our team has taken full advantage of the warm weather and moved a lot of our extracurricular activities outside. From art classes under our newly constructed pergola to sports day in the garden, to swimming in the Aegean Sea, we are enjoying everything Leros has to offer. The most popular of all these activities remains football. Sport allows for clarity of mind, it provides our players with both a physical and mental release, which is of utmost importance, and that is why we continue to offer it in our weekly schedules.

 

‘On the football field, we all communicate with each other. Each player is a piece of the machine doing its job.’ Raed

 

We have seen a steady increase in attendance ever since the beginning of the year, with football teams often reaching full capacity. Due to the enthusiasm and commitment of the players, we started dividing playing time into two sessions. The first half consists of training, tactics, strength building, skill development, the other half is for playing a proper match. This is the time when players show what they have learnt in order to execute a healthy and competitive game. This new system ensures proper training and development of team-work, useful both on and off the field, as well as maximising the numbers of players, so no one gets left out.

 

‘I like the competition and the challenge. I am a competitive person!I like playing here because I can improve my skills.’ Ibrahim

 

It has been a very exciting time in terms of establishing football partnerships. We welcomed back Konrad from Buntkicktgut. Konrad focuses on participation, integration and identification, mirroring Echo’s philosophy that football is a common language that it is understood and accepted worldwide. His positive outlook is openly accepted and inspires our players to self-coach and support each other on and off the pitch. It has been a very exciting time in terms of establishing football partnerships. We welcomed back Konrad from Buntkicktgut.

  

‘Playing football here is better than staying at the Hotspot. It allows me to meet a lot of people from different countries and it brings us all together.’ Laith

 

This year we’ve also been lucky enough to join forces with ISMP (International Sports and Music Partnership) whose mission is to increase access to sports and music programming in shelters, refugee camps, orphanages, and vulnerable communities around the world as a means of bolstering positive mental health. Our partnership has brought in funds for new kits, boots and equipment for our players. This outside interest and support of our football team has released new energy, pride and belonging amongst the players, boosting morale and resulting in a 1-0 victory against the local team of Leros! It is true, football, like all sport, knows no barriers of culture or language and has worked wonders in furthering integration and acceptance of the refugee community on Leros.

 

‘I have fun playing with this team, even though some of the players are new to the game. I come to keep playing and because the members of the team treat me with respect. Thanks to this football team I have 10 close friends and we play together.’ Abdul

 

 

 
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