Story by Patrick Amber | Photo by Robin at Khora, Athens
Over 50,000 people are stranded in Athens having fled their homes in Syria and Afghanistan, heading for northern Europe.
Last year my housemate Naomi returned from Athens having spent three months setting up internet in refugee centres and some of the squats. Naomi told me that the kids would appreciate my puppet making activities. I set up a crowdfunding page to raise £500 and posted it on
Facebook. In just 24 hours I’d reached half my target, in a month I’d raised £800. Friends encouraged, supported and enabled me to hop on a plane and spread some joy.
Three months later and I’m still in Athens, and what an experience it continues to be. I must admit, I didn’t really know what I was walking into. How could I, who only spoke English, be of any use making puppets with displaced children? Yes, they can run wild and language is often an
obstacle, but working with kids is wonderful.Shadow puppet making and painting projects are fantastic!
Creative activities cross the language barriers. Projects that cost nothing, wherever possible, are the way forward: collecting card from the street, using donated tester paints, combining resourceful imaginations and collective collaborations. In one squat we painted a fantastic Greek myth-themed mural with the children and made a dancing dog from cardboard boxes.
At Khora community centre for refugees, we made our own puppet screen and put on shows to busy audiences. City Plaza hotel now houses 400 refugees; Ellinko camp is home to 4000. Walking into these places with a sheet, a lamp, some scraps of card and a few pairs of scissors seems
ludicrous, but gather a few kids together and start drawing a bird or a horse and, before long, funny drawings appear, and children are happily engrossed and playing freely. The other volunteers working here are making an incredible difference to this overwhelming situation. I’ve teamed up with others which has made the work more manageable and efficient and fun.
There are loads of people in Sheffield self-organising, crowdfunding, putting their heads and hearts together and making a difference to people’s lives when they need it most. I encourage you to be one of those people. Be the change you want to see – but be ready also for profound life affirming experiences yourself!
To see more, please visit my blog at patrickamber.co.uk