A group of Montreal students travelled to Greece to help educate young refugees
A group of Montreal students, including one from Concordia, travelled to Greece over the summer with a goal to educate and help young adults from refugee camps in the Northern part of the country. Concordia student Joelle Assaf and three of her friends felt personally affected by the current refugee crisis. “We knew we wanted to do something to help out, but we were not sure exactly how to approach it,” said Assaf.
The group initially wanted to work in a Lebanese refugee camp, due to their personal attachment to the country, as three of them are Lebanese. However, this proved to be too dangerous due to constant war attacks occurring in Syria, she said. After doing their research, they chose work at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Greece, very close to the Serbian border.
In order to pay for the trip and supplies, the group started crowdfunding. They received approximately 3000 euros. “We didn’t know exactly what to do with this money, and so working with the NGO really helped us see what these camps had and what they needed,” said Assaf.
They visited several refugee camps, including Idomeni, the largest in Greece. They spent about a week distributing food, clothes and various other necessities.
They eventually ended up in a refugee camp called Echo. “We saw all of their very interesting projects going on, for example there’s a group of volunteers that were working in the [Echo] kitchen so all the refugees could eat,” Assaf said.
She also worked on building a shower for babies at the camp. “The hygiene was very bad, with eight plastic bathrooms for a thousand people,” Assaf said. “It’s not easy to shower, especially if you have a baby.”
The group also noticed there was a lack of focus on education, Assaf said. “Teenagers and adults were not doing anything. They started university but had to stop because of the war,” she said. This is what gave the team the idea to build a library close to Echo, at Vasilika refugee camp, home to 2000 Syrian, Iraqi and Kurdish people.
“By building one, it would help young people figure out what they want to do for their life,” Assaf said.
The library aims to provide a reading space, access to online courses, learning tools and tutoring, according to the library’s website.
The process of building the library was not easy, though. All of the projects in the refugee camps must be approved by the Greek government. To avoid such issues for now, volunteers decided to rent land very close to Echo and use it to run projects independent of the Greek government. Once they get approval from the government, they will build a library in the Echo camp.
Now that Assaf is in Montreal, she is looking for Arabic-English dictionaries to bring back to the library so that refugees coming to North America know enough of the language to communicate effectively.
The group is currently back in Montreal, organizing different fundraisers to raise money for more books. The group already has an active Facebook page and a website. They hope to start recruiting more volunteers as the project progresses.
For more information, visit their website.