Katsikas, Greece

27/04/17

We created a shopping arcade inside an empty hanger on the camp in preparation for the arrival of up to 500 refugees in May 2017. It had a mini-market with themed clothes boutiques. Refugees finally arrived in December 2017. Since then, the camp has grown to over 1,100 refugees waiting for their asylum applications to be processed and there are plans for it to get even bigger.

In that time, we have made a lot of changes to the hanger we manage and to the activities we run on the camp. Everything you see here has been created by volunteers and special mention has to go to Co-ordinator Dan Ransom who has been there since March 2018 and is the incredible powerhouse behind this unique and pioneering service.

Preparation

Invited to set up in March 2017, we were offered a long hanger that had been used in the previous year for sorting and distribution. With no refugees on camp there was an opportunity to completely start again with a custom-made arcade which we did with the support of Help Refugees and the Timber Project. This is what it looked like when we started:

And this is what it looked like when we were ready to open with each of those rooms beautifully designed:

We constructed themed rooms along a ‘market street’ with separate clothes boutiques  for men, women, kids and shoes.


At the start of 2019 we stopped distributing clothes and have converted these rooms for more important, useful activities.

The mini-market – a free shop

The heart of our operation has always been the mini-market. Open Monday to Friday at the same times – and without fail – friendly volunteers distribute fresh fruit and vegetables and essential food that we know people want, gives them a taste of home and helps with food security.

Everyone on the camp receives tokens that they can use in the mini-market to choose what they want. It really puts dignity and normality first. We record what they buy so that we can track distribution and manage the stock.

Our mini-market has served everyone at the camp, without fail, since we arrived in December 2017. When an additional 500 people arrived over the weekend from the islands in October 2018, we got them immediately into our mini-market system and at the same time continued to support all current residents.

We’re convinced that this consistency, normality and respect for everyone has helped to defuse conflict, particularly at moments of tension on the camp.

Changes in the use of the boutiques

We distributed clothes though themed boutiques throughout 2018 but there is no longer a need for clothes. Distributing used clothing is also highly labour intensive, wasteful and often undignified for the men who rarely get a choice.

Camps should be temporary places but in Greece generally and in Katsikas specifically they are becoming more permanent homes. Needs are changing so from May 2019 we have converted the rooms into services that are now being run by people on the camps. The government should be doing more but in that absence people need to organise themselves. That is not easy on a camp with over 30 nationalities so it is a testament to their resourcefulness that these are up and running.

Here is the kid’s classroom for learning English, Greek and Arabic. Some of the children go to local schools but all are missing out on a good education.

Adults have been left in camps with few services to help them rebuild their lives. If they are to leave the camp and get jobs in Greece, and many will have to, they will need to learn English and Greek. They are getting some lessons in this room:

Volunteers are still very much involved in running activities with the children on the camp and we also have this lovingly decorated child friendly space for them to play in.

Our most recent renovation in June 2019 was to convert one room into a cinema with cushions, good speakers, a powerful projector and a good selection of films in a variety of languages. But all kids love a Pixar movie in any language:

We still manage the mini-market and also recently moved that so that it could benefit from a facelift:


Community garden

None of us want to create something on the camp that makes people feel like it has become their permanent new home but we also need to do and offer things that nourish the soul. The community garden started in spring 2019 with the help of many on the camp is now well established growing flowers and herbs. Here it is getting off to a good start:

A welcoming environment

The camp environment is crowded and impersonal and so we have worked hard to create a welcoming and attractive space for people to feel valued and have somewhere they can call theirs to gather.

We have a cafeteria and our brilliant volunteers spend a lot of time cleaning, painting, fixing and playing so that life can be as good as it possibly can.

The camp provides people with a place that they can sleep but the conditions are harsh. It should only be a temporary place before they move on. Our services are there to help them get back on their feet, restore some dignity and rebuild their lives.

  • Population: 1,100 refugees from 30 different nations
  • Services: mini-market, facilitating learning, kids’ activities
  • Volunteers: about 6-10 working Monday to Friday (with some weekend working days off as needed) from 9:30am-5 or 6pm
  • Volunteer accommodation: nearby Ioannina is a popular tourist and student location with many airbnb, hotels and restaurants