Athens | Αθηνα, Ελλαδα
On the Greek mainland, the situation for refugees is dire. Lack of services, overcrowding and desperate economic conditions mean that Athens doesn’t provide the light at the end of the tunnel many hoped for. Evictions from the UNHCR Accommodation programme, ESTIA, have left many without access to housing or cash cards, living hand-to-mouth on the streets of a European Capital. While shelters provide some respite for a small and lucky few, waiting lists stretch for months and hope dwindles as the weeks press on, as the years go by.
The Greek economic crisis and resulting austerity policies have left the welfare state emaciated, unemployment high and the service gap ever-widening - both for refugees and locals. The state struggles to provide educational, legal support, healthcare or psychological services to refugees and this service gap is partially filled by small grassroots NGOs working with locals, the community and international volunteers - like us.
The EU Turkey Deal (2016) and the closure of Greece’s Northern land border turned Athens into the final destination for many leaving the island hot-spots, with no hope of moving further into Europe. As a result, efforts on the ground have to combine provision for emergency and basic needs with integration projects, helping the refugee community settle into the language, culture and rhythm of life in Greece. Responsibility for addressing these increasing demands for services are left up to NGOs, nonprofits, and the refugees who are creating a self made path out of vulnerability.
The Halcyon Days Centre
Education, Livelihoods and Protection for Women and Girls
Gendered barriers to education are high in every society, but in the context of forced displacement, overcoming them alone is an impossibility for women on the run. In plain language: women cannot go to school because they must look after their children, they do not feel safe travelling in the city, and they do not feel safe or comfortable in spaces with men. As result, they either cannot attend or cannot be productive in Athens’ mainstream non-formal education centres.
To confront these gendered barriers to education, the Halcyon Days Project's bespoke non-formal education programme directly supports the needs of women from the refugee community in Athens. In the morning sessions, Action for Education volunteers provide childcare, so single mothers can attends English, Greek and Computer classes.
The physical security of the space is maintained all day through a single entry and multiple exit system and the grounds are open only to women, ensuring a relaxed and calm environment where participants feel safe and able to either focus on their studies or relax and unwind. Alongside us, our partners - Action for Women - provide a Mental Health and PsychoSocial Support programme, alongside Legal Aid clinics, to support participants through the asylum process and help them with the peace of mind required for learning and development.
Together we break down the physical, social and emotional barriers to women’s education in Athens and provide a basis for skills acquisition which develop confidence, autonomy and capacity, enabling women to exercise their own agency and take responsibility for their own future. We support women refugees to become the best and brightest they can be, and provide a space where they can safely recover and grow.
The Halcyon Days Project is small but intense. Its located in an area of the city with a high population of refugees. From 09:00 to 17:00, six days a week, women swish in and out, the end-threads of scarves - the click of high heels - disappearing through the shaded doorway 150 times a day.
Our approach to education is holistic, because we believe that learning is an organic process taking place on multiple levels and requiring varied methods. Acting on this belief, we integrate varied skills-based workshops into our programme of structured language lessons to support our students acquisition of hard skills, such as language and digital literacy, with soft skills like resilience, confidence and teamwork. Experienced ESL teachers deliver English language classes at 5 different levels, ranging from complete beginner to B-1 Advanced, catering to a wide range of educational backgrounds and ambitions. Our Greek language classes are delivered by dedicated local volunteers, committed to enriching the lives of our participants and bringing them closer to Greek language and culture.
We aim to develop participants’ capacity to autonomously navigate Greece and its hardships by providing guidance, support and encouragement to the women joining our society and, as a diverse team, we work together to build on the strength and skills of every woman who comes to our door, so that we might share our knowledge and experience and work together towards a brighter future.