We are different: WELCOMMON=welcome in common
We wanted to present an alternative to big camps and hosting refugees to shelters of very low quality. We wanted to offer to the refugees the chance to find their way, not just to “protect” them or just to give them clothes, bed and food. We can recognize that all the refugees are human beings but at the same time have different capacities and we must help them to regain or improve. And the idea of WELCOMMON was born…
The reality and the lack of such integrated solutions obliged us to plan and function such an holistic project. If you are hosting 160-180 persons, and 50% of them are children – of – the war and they are many years out of any school and educational program, you have to find solutions of their education (non formal and formal), to help them regain their childhood, to learn how they can work together and coexist with children from 18 different countries and many different cultures and religions in a peaceful community. If you are hosting 15 new babies (of a total of 32 since the beginning of the “project”) and many pregnant women, you have to hire at least one midwife, although the program is about housing and not about social services. If you are hosting more than 55-70 persons with serious health problems, a social clinic and a nurse is the minimum for securing the safe function of the community and offering services more that basic. If you are persuaded that the refugees have needs but also skills and capacities necessary for our society, then combining housing with social inclusion and job integration is for the benefit of the Greek society too.
Many difficulties in the setting up and sustaining of this project. Solutions we have found
The biggest difficulty was the acceptance and support of such an integrated and holistic project. The foundations and the societies can understand more easily simplified projects: housing, food, offering clothes. We have experienced many “negative” answers when we tried in October 2015 to present our proposal and find support for it. In that period, all were thinking that all the refugees will continue their trip and leave the country. Nobody was thinking about the day after. Many they told us, “the priority is food and bed” why to support such an integrated project, why to support such a complicated and “utopian” project. Even at the European level, our idea was not selected between the 30 most innovative social projects for refugees.
Only in April 2016, after an open call, we were invited by the UNHCR to present our project. It seems now that UNHCR appreciates very much our project and would like to continue the cooperation, even after the end of funding. But how we can continue without funding for the basic?
We have the pleasure to see in WELCOMMON visitors from all over the world, institutions, organizations, local authorities, universities and NGOs which want to see what we are doing and how we manage to do it with so limited resources. A key for finding solutions for the many problems is the cooperation with many-many volunteers, organizations like “Respect from Greece” (germany), mSocial and ACSAR (Cataluna), Universities, active citizens they offer to us in kind donations but also small amounts.
We are based on such a cooperation even for the funding and sustainability of WELCOMMON long term.
WELCOMMON, the building hosting the refugees is a former clinic, located in the center of Athens, and easy to reach with public transportation. It was very important for us to include this center in the life of the city.
We wanted to bring together citizens and refugees and give them the opportunity to get to know each other. When in a country suddenly tens of thousands of people are coming not as visitors or tourist but as people in need, there is the possibility of xenophobia increasement. The only way to avoid xenophobia is the smooth daily contact and interaction. Welcommon is in the center of the city so it is easy for the refugees to move but also to everybody to visit us, to see what we do, how is our daily life, to take part in our parties and events, to work as a volunteer. We have an organized program for cooperation with Greek schools, they visit us and we organize together workshops on music, painting, pantomime, icebreaking games, etc. We have also started visiting schools with the participation of children in order to be more familiar with the school environment. The easy access to public transport helps a lot.