WELCOMMON is an innovative, model community center for accommodation to refugees, especially to people in need of long term care, promoting social inclusion and job integration of vulnerable groups of refugees (victims of torture, rape, trafficking, pregnant women, families with newborns, people with disabilities, with serious medical conditions such as tuberculosis, Hep B, high risk pregnancy, HIV positive, epilepsy, Parkinson, serious cardiological and pulmonary conditions, diabetes, child diabetes, child epilepsy, various types of cancer and serious psychiatric disorders such as depressive, post traumatic, borderline disorders, child psychosis, substance abuse, suicidal ideation. It is a structure not only for refugees but with refugees for the benefit of the local community as well.
At the same time WELCOMMON is an excellent example of coexistence and cooperation between:
– 160-180 refugees from 18 different countries/nationalities, (a total of 531 since the opening of the center in October 2016),
– until now, 150 volunteers from 4 different continents (Europe, Africa, Asia and America) who participate in many activities for and with the refugees, gaining experiences and feelings, having the opportunity to understand better and respect the different cultures. It is also an important experience for them and an opportunity to acquire know-how (much more if they have relevant knowledge or work professionally in relevant fields).
– 32 employees, some of them long-term unemployed Greeks, some enthusiastic -but with no experience in job- youngsters, a number of migrants living in Greece for many years and 2 new comers- refugees.
WELCOMMON is implemented by the social enterprise Wind of Renewal (“Anemos Ananeosis”) (WoR). It is in cooperation with Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (ADDMA), and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). It is funded partially (hosting and functional costs) by the European Union until the end of 2017. Nikos Chrysogelos, president of WoR is the project manager of WELCOMMON.
In order to shape our project, we cooperated with migrant and refugee communities and the organizations representing them in our country (Greek Migrants Forum, Greek Refugee Forum, Syria-Greece Union, while we studied the existing (good and bad) examples of similar projects. Our plan differs from most others, because it aims in an integrated way in reception and housing (in decent conditions) of refugees in need of long term care but also in supporting their social and job integration.
– Dignified and safe housing, feeding and meeting basic needs. We meet the nutritional needs of the guests, as accurately as possible, depending on age, health status or cultural perceptions. Guests can wash their clothes in the washing machines and tumblers that exist in the center, or use sewing machines to repair them.
– Psychosocial support. 3 social workers and 1 psychologist are working in the center. We support systematically and on many levels the preparation, intercultural education and social inclusion of our guests in cooperation with organizations and services based in Greece or in the countries of resettlement.
– Primary medical care and systematic support (medical records file, interpreting, escort) for secondary care, if necessary, respecting the cultural and religious sensibilities of the guests, especially since the populations we host now are among the most vulnerable ones and with multiple needs, with the support of a nurse and a midwife in our personnel, the cooperation with Red Cross Spain and arab-speaking volunteers doctors
– Non-formal education of children as well as adults, such as: continuous and innovative language courses (Greek, Arabic, English, German and more), painting, music, photography, creative activities for adults and children. We are preparing children who have been left out of school for many years to be able to return to school soon. We are very proud for our “arabic class” as well as for the tutoring lessons (language lessons and help with the lessons in school) for children participating in the formal Greek educational system now.
To local community
– New innovative services and new organizational models that help address social issues in a way that enhances social cohesion and benefits both vulnerable social groups and society as a whole. To provide services to refugees in a way that empowers and enables them to re-organize their lives, is something that could be applied to other vulnerable groups, such as long-term unemployed, socially excluded people with socio-psychological difficulties and people with special needs.
– New jobs creation in WELCOMMON, directly for about 32 people today, that upgrade their knowledge, experiences and skills so as to be able to respond to new realities with their profession (e.g. teachers, social workers, psychologists etc.). In fact, we offer a kind of continuous practice and vocational training through working at WELCOMMON (both for employees and for volunteers from Greece and around the world). We offer work opportunities in a complex and multicultural-multilingual environment, with refugees from 18 different countries and volunteers from many different countries, with a multitude of different skills and abilities, with different cognitive and cultural backgrounds. We seek systematic cooperation with other institutions (universities, international organizations, social organizations, municipalities, professional bodies) from Greece and abroad, while we host seminars and exchanges in fields such as social services, psychological support, education, accommodation of refugees and other vulnerable groups, thus strongly contributing to professionals’ expertise.
– Stimulating the local economy and market
We insist on the original WELCOMMON concept, that means WELCOME but IN COMMON, and we are not disappointed. We are very happy when we find that many refugees are involved in this project and not only keep their premises in good shape, but also contribute to making it better by painting, decorating and tiding their room, helping to rebuild the common spaces, undertaking important and responsible roles
We make sure we have interpreters and social mediators for everyone.
WELCOMMON itself in terms of objectives and operation includes many elements of innovation. This is one reason why we are receiving many visits every day from actors from every corner of the globe to see our work closely. It was honored on June 8, 2017 with the “Special Mention” award of the REVES Excellence Award 2017, which aims to strengthen synergies between local / regional authorities and social economy actors, and to highlight the achievements of such cooperation. The evaluation committee consisted of representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Parliament, the Regional Committee and Social Economy Europe.
Social integration – socialization
As part of the process of social inclusion and cultural / environmental awareness of the refugees we host at WELCOMMON, we organize visits to museums, art venues, parks and public spaces.
Since almost every one of our guests speaks different language, we emphasize in art because it works therapeutically and can unite people. We want refugee children (but also all children) to get familiarized with art in their everyday lives. We put great emphasis both on organized visits to museums and exhibitions, as well as on artistic activities in our own center.