“These girls need some laughter and happiness in their life”. That’s what Sofia Kouvelaki, Executive Director at The Home Project, told me. “They have been through so much trauma and hardships and I would like you to write and photograph them in a happy, therapeutic context. After all, they are kids, mostly teenagers and, despite their great stresses, they are also dealing with some very typical “teenage questions”… like, how to do their own make up! ”
So, this was my incentive to reach out and organize “The Home Project – Beauty Day”, sponsored by Smashbox cosmetics. With the kind help of Smashbox cosmetics, a team of five make-up artists came to one of the Home Project’s shelter for girls, and showed them how to do their own make up; they also provided them with a Smashbox beauty make-up kit bag to have. It was a day of joy in a therapeutic environment, it may have not changed the world, but it made fifteen girls very happy. We often forget that small actions do have an impact, and we all can find ways to help. People should help other people in need, as feelings have a universal language, they do matter and will always matter…
The Home Project is an NGO of such great significance, providing not only a shelter, but also a Home to lone refugee children, who find themselves unprotected and exposed to all sorts of dangers the organization recently received one million donation from the IKEA Foundation, enabling them to scale their operations to 10 shelters and to provide support to 200 children. I’m proud to know Sofia and I admire her extraordinary work and commitment; she has truly made a change and brought a smile to many kids so far!
Here, she speaks about The Home Project. Read and learn the story and goals of this very important organization:
The Home Project
The Home Project is a very targeted intervention. Since March 2016, the EU Turkey Agreement and the closure of the borders, children that arrive in Greece and in Europe, all alone, are trapped here and all relevant accommodation facilities are in full capacity. The official data, says that since the beginning of 2016, there have been more than 10,300 unaccompanied children – officially registered – that travelled and arrived all alone in Greece and Europe; around 2,300 of them are currently homeless.They are left“out” of any protection system, they are in the streets, in camps, in detention centers. This problem becomes more acute, as children arrivals keep happening at an increasing rate.
I was in Lesvos a few weeks agoago. Where the situation regarding child protection is very urgent. More than 200 lone children have arrived only in the last 20 days/ This year, the number of unaccompanied minor arrivals is 5 times larger than the corresponding period a year ago. There is an increasing phenomenon of kids travelling and arriving in Europe all alone. According to the latest UNHCR data around 70% of refugee children arrived in Europe in the last quarter of 2017. Our mission, at The Home Project, is to provide support, protection, education and social intervention services to any child that arrives alone in Greece.
We implement a model that is based on three axes. 1. We operate shelters, in collaboration with local and grass roots NGOs (the shelter I visited, was operated by their on the ground partner Medical Intervention NGO). The reason we do that is because we didn’t want to be another organization that takes funding away from the already existing civil society; on the contrary, we want to support, empower, train and conduct capacity building to our partners and thus create a community of support in each and every one of our homes. In each shelter, the kids receive a holistic network of services that covers their basic needs – food, shelter of course, material provision, medical support, psychological and psychiatric supervision. In addition, we provide legal support for family verification and asylum applications, as well as education; all of our kids go to school, they attend public intercultural schools and then, when they return home, we begin another series of activities, like art therapy, music therapy, language support, coding and digital skills. Through our partnership with the municipality of Athens, we have access to and can make use of all the open schools culture events and sports facilities. We also have a collaboration with ACS, the American Community School, a “Youth to Youth Program”, which is very close to our hearts. Our kids go to theACS Campus every weekendthey “buddy up “with a student from ACS whileand do Art, Music, Sports, English and Greek lessons Now, we are including our girls, as well, and tomorrow is going to be their first day. Last year, it was a huge success. its a great program that breaks cultural barriers
The second element of our work is that is that 50% of our staff comes from the refugee community. We wanted to create jobs both for the adults and our kids, who will soon turn 18. There is another 50% of our staff consisting of Greek young people, aiming to help the issue of youth unemployment. The third element, aiming to support the Greek economy, is that we find buildings, that have been unrented or abandoned – victims of the financial crisis – and we renovate them adding value to the real estate property. This is done at a minimum cost, as we want most of our resources to go to the kids; we pay the property tax, and the rent to the owners, so that we create a win-win situation for everyone: the Greeks, the refugees and the kids. And we see that by doing that, we can fight xenophobia, racism and violent local reactions.
People seem to be reluctant or afraid in the beginning, which is normal, and that’s why we constantly need to engage all relevant stake holders, in order to create a community. Our neighbors here were quite skeptical at the beginning, but as soon as we invited them in, as soon as we showed them what we do and introduced them to the kids, they started wishing to help in every way. The challenge of our work, but also its beauty, is to create partnerships and a sustainable community of support around the children that will act as a family. In order to do that, we need to involve all relevant actors; NGOs, private donors, corporations, media, volunteers, individuals who want to help, the state, local authorities. Everyone needs to be engaged and that is the only sustainable way to do it!
So, at the moment, we have ten (10) shelters, nine operating and one in the making, a total of 200 children. We try to keep all shelters small, 16-18 children in each, in order to maintain good supervision and be able to provide individual care and support, as well as creating the feeling of “a home”. We are taking kids out of the street and so, there is, of course, a sense of urgency in our work. What we are trying to say is that, if we can accommodate 200 kids in 10 months and there are 2.300 currently homeless, this is not an unmanageable number, the problem could be solved!
We are grateful to each and every one of our donors who have enabled us to move very fast from inception, to set up and from set up to impactful operations. We’ve had more than 400.000 euros in kind donations, which is huge in such a small period of time: Toys, clothes, chocolates, laptops, equipment. An inspiring giving community is being created, which is very nice to see!
This is what motivates us to continue. There is still an imminent need when we have another 2.300 children homeless. There are child prostitution and all kinds of illegal networks that continue to develop, while the number of children arrivals continue to increase. We are really talking about desperate arrivals here, these children flee violence, atrocity, extremism and war.
We are very proud of The Home Project who just became one year old; Our goal is to raise support and awareness, engage as many people as possible and leave no child alone…
Photo Credit: Anna Tagalou