I have been in the volunteering sphere for 12 years – this time period has been enough for me to make an account. At the same time, I’ve been in the education field, occupying various positions of teaching and direction. This is why the combination of volunteering and education is something that has interested me deeply, and in the last few years has become a key part of my life.
I began in 2009 as a founding member of the collective “Village for all”, which dealt with the particularly hightened migrant crisis at the time. We helped people who slept in parks, on sidewalks, outside the public theatre, in garages (the list goes on). Later on, I was one of the first members of PIPKA, after the then mayor’s grant. For many years I was in the direction and we worked with a great team, composed also of volunteers, for the best possibe circumstances. In 2016, I took the decision to go back to Moria, where the situation was particularly challenging with thousands of individuals in degrading conditions. In 2017, Stand by me Lesvos (SBML), came to be. An NGO composed of locals with the goal of helping vulnerable and displaced individuals. In Moria, I organised the “Academia” project – a school that had 650 students daily until, until the fire destroyed the structure.
Along with the self-organised groups of independent migrants are innovating and ground-breaking – meeting certain criteria such as willingness to volunteer and renunciation of violence and misconduct; The MCAT (Moria Corona Awareness Team), MWH (Moria White Helmet) and recently MA(Mobile Academia) came to replace older training groups.
StandByMeLesvos was a challenge for me as I faced a humanitarian crisis not on another continent, but two kilometres away from my home, and we weren’t able to turn a blind eye at the situation. We were met with people who spoke different tongues, with different religions, customs – and all together way of life – coming to Europe expecting for their issues to be solved. We had to help these individuals learn how to communicate in European languages, but also assimilate them to our way of life. I strongly believe that multifaceted issues, such as the migrant crisis, are solved via education, despite being a demanding and time-consuming endeavor. I am motivated by the sense of fulfillment I get every time I see a student progressing in life – be it a finding a job, or moving to a place with more opportunities.
Another problem I faced in my journey was that of helping individuals that felt stuck and helpless in the asylum procedure.
My experience occupying positions of educational direction helped me to aid these individuals to productively use their time in a creative and educational setting. This was in an effort, not only to provide them with practical tools but better their mental health, too.
As such, in the educational field those who were prior students became teachers. We employed the same asylum seekers as teachers in their own languages. The model of peer-mentoring was one which we developed via European programmes such as Erasmus ( of which we were the only to put in place). This helped many find a creative outlet and sense of purpose, during their time on the island. Aside from languages, we had drawing classes, music classes, and even some computer-use and manual-work workshops.
Along with educational courses, we were able to provide large amounts of clothing and food, which we shared constantly amongst the asylum seekers. Furthermore, we found sponsors who allowed us to give coupons to asylum seekers to buy items from shops for free.
Today, where a relatively small number of NGOs and asylum seekers are left on the island, we continue to support and organize even better educational programmes. This is not easy since the media focus on the island has declined, however we will succeed as our policy is to maintain costs as low as possible, relying on our volunteers, who with moving devotion do their best to help. We have many plans, such as the transferring of knowledge (computer-use and languages) by independent bodies and technical training for vocational rehabilitation.