A few days ago, my friends and I participated in the “Invisible Tours“, a social project run by the Greek street paper “Shedia”. It is a social tours program, based in the capital of Greece, Athens, in which homeless people become tour guides in a very different kind of a city walk… We had the privilege to be walked around by Maria, our tour guide, an incredibly poised person, polite, kind and always to the point. Maria gave us all the information needed of all the important social and solidarity institutions we visited, in a very eloquent and detailed way, and answered all our questions. Even more, she bravely shared her own story and let us in her current life and daily routine. She explained how some theatre lessons she took, organized and run by the Municipality of Athens, helped her improve her speech skills and ways of expression, only in a matter of 2-3 months, which in turn helped her become a tour guide for the “Invisible Tours“. In her own words Maria said:
“Having contact with people is the greatest gift. I have become much more sociable. I have always been a shy person. Today, I have gained a little more courage. It helps me to hear such good reviews. It encourages me to go ahead and try harder. I’m optimistic!
The Invisible Tours helped me gain self-confidence, stand in front of people, look at them in the eyes and speak about my life. At first, I thought I could not make it. But now, I see that every day I smile more and become better, not only in the tours, but also as a person.”
The tour with Maria, her living experiences and stories, stirred my thoughts… Mostly about the fact that we are people, who live in the same city, under the same sky, yet most of us – including myself – don’t really know the realities and challenges other people, living in the exact same city, face on a daily basis. I will not pretend I have the answers, neither the solutions, nor that I’m able to fully grasp their realities and comprehend them in depth. And Yes, I don’t believe I have actively and socially helped as much as I could have, or even taken on my social responsibility to the extent I should have. But for a start, to try and change this, I will write about what I’ve seen and learned, share the information given and, of course, suggest the “Invisible Tours” as your next city walk.
About the “Invisible Tours”
“Invisible Tours” is a tour that does not take people to the Acropolis and the archaeological treasures of the city, but leads them through the backstreets of central Athens. As is the case with other social tours, organized by street papers all over the world (Hamburg, Basel, London, Munich etc), the tour introduces visitors to many important social and solidarity institutions of the Greek capital (soup kitchens, day centers, drug rehabilitation centers, homeless shelters etc). The guides provide information on the types of services offered by each institution, as well as how they themselves have experienced or are still experiencing homelessness.
They share information on the changing face of homelessness and social exclusion, the challenges faced by the institutions that strive to cope with the demand for more social services, as well as the profile of the people behind solidarity organizations that are at the forefront of the battle against poverty and social exclusion, as they try to safeguard individual and collective dignity. And this is the most striking element of “Invisible Tours”: the personal narrative; in other words, communicating one’s personal experience from life on the streets. All of the tour guides are “Shedia” street paper vendors.
The goal of these social tours is to activate the person leading the tour. The tours also aim at creating new ways for him/her to support himself/herself, providing new training and educational opportunities and moving a step closer to social (re)integration. From the visitor’s perspective, it is a unique opportunity to get acquainted with and listen to a very personal, human story that for many will sound familiar, too close to home. The visitor will also get an insight into the social challenges that the Greek society is faced with nowadays, as well as with the solidarity movements fighting poverty and social exclusion. It is a lesson about life.
• Participation fee is 8€* (5€ for students)
• For group bookings (over 5 people) different days and times may be organized.
* As is the case with the street paper, part of the participation fee (3€) goes straight to the guide, thus providing him/her with an opportunity to earn an income in a dignified way. The remaining amount is used to pay for operating expenses, training, communication and taxes (VAT etc), as well as to support another Shedia social initiative”: the Greek national homeless football team.
• “Invisible Tours” are in the Greek language. Tours are also available in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian.
Photo Credits: theFMartini