Over the course of 10 days, I traveled to my grandmother’s home on the outskirts of Athens, Greece, where I worked with a non-profit organization called the HOME Project. The HOME Project works actively to provide shelter, support, and integration services for unaccompanied refugee and migrant children who have arrived in Greece without their parents or guardians. In talking with some of the guardians at the shelters, I learned that the separation between parents and their children is a very difficult and complicated process for all. Most of the families are forced to flee their homes in the Middle East due to conflict, persecution, and other forms of violence, and they are often met with hostility when they seek refuge on the islands of Greece. To avoid the risks of being turned away at the Greek border, many families will smuggle their children with experienced travelers in hopes that they will one day reunite or to at least provide their children with more opportunities in Europe.
The HOME Project provides safe living conditions for children who would otherwise be at risk of homelessness, exploitation, and various other dangers. These shelters are designed to offer a holistic care model, ensuring the kids get not just a place to live but a real sense of belonging and security. Alongside meeting their immediate needs, The HOME Project aims to help children integrate into Greek society. This includes offering educational support and opportunities to learn new skills. Furthermore, the organization provides therapeutic and counseling services for the children as many of them have experienced severe trauma in their lives, both in their home countries and during their journeys to Greece.
In my time spent working with the HOME Project and in Greece, I learned how important sports like soccer are to kids who have experienced so much pain and have lost so much. It serves as a support system for many as they search for a better future in Greece and Europe. Inspired by my previous experience working with the kids where we played soccer together, their energy and passion for the game made me think of ways to support this activity. With help from the CSGC, I have transported soccer cleats and athletic clothes left behind on Deerfield’s campus to many of the HOME Project shelters. Though, unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to play due to the extreme heat of over 110 degrees, I had the opportunity to hang out and talk with some of the kids staying in a shelter in the center of Athens. We talked about our favorite movies, video games, and sports. I learned about their obsession with superheroes like Spiderman and Superman, as well as Grace’s fascination with the entire Barbie world. I became close with them, and we managed to relate to many things despite our dramatically contrasting life experiences. Their overwhelming spirit and positive attitude to life are contagious, and I was able to learn a few things from them about how to live a happier life. I had a fantastic time learning about their experiences and enjoying the company of their personalities. I am excited to return in a few month’s time, where I will take on a more involved role in the shelters and hopefully make some more friends too!