The project “Time to be welcome” is a collaborative partnership between Scouting Ireland, British Red Cross, WOSM, EFIL (European Federation for Intercultural Learning), YEU (Youth for Exchange and Understanding) international, SINGA France, The Icelandic Scout Association, Scout association of Macedonia,, and Chapelle-aux-Champs. The project will run until November 2018 and will involve volunteers from several different countries, volunteering for various durations of time (2 months, 6 months or 12 months).
The project aims at encouraging young volunteers and youth organisations in Europe to support the welcoming of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and their integration process through the use of non-formal education and youth work, while encouraging Public opinion in Europe to be more respectful and more open towards migrants.
Volunteers will be empowered to take action in contributing to welcome refugees and newly arrived migrants in to refugee camps and other hosting structures and local communities. They will also facilitate the interaction between refugees and the local community members in order to set a strong foundation for their future cooperation and mutual understanding.
The project is funded by the European Commission through the Erasmus + program. The following is a insight into the project from one of the volunteers on the project.
My first months in Athens have been shaped by a continuous reflection on how my actions, attitudes and thoughts influence the value of my work as a volunteer. The will to volunteer is always rooted in good intentions and wishes. However, it is important to have a critical approach regarding our impact, interactions or aspirations. In this article I want to share a few of these reflections that I find essential for a responsible and committed volunteering.
I have been involved in volunteering since the age of 15, when I realised I could be part of that “change I wanted to see in the world”. (That was before the quote was trivialised through commercialisation and mass production.) Since then, volunteering has been present in my life along with my other commitments of studies or work, and varying in the degrees of priority I gave to each. Besides, my engagement has mostly been related to diversity and intercultural awareness. Then, when I went back to my hometown in January 2017, I decided I would get more involved in social projects and hence started teaching Spanish to refugees in the Red Cross. I also collaborated in a campaign of the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR) that targeted the spread of rumours around migrants. This experience led me to decide I would follow up this engagement in Greece, where most of the refugees were being blocked and not allowed to move freely across borders due to EU Dublin Regulation on asylum seeking.
At that point, I had been following how the Greek civil society and foreign volunteers had created an admirable solidarity movement with refugees and migrants whose needs were not being covered by governmental and international organizations. I was very interested in the way they were giving an efficient, or at least real, response to the arrival and continued presence of refugees in Greece. ‘Continued presence’, or, better said, the forced presence of refugees in Greek islands and mainland, as a result of policies aimed at retaining them in the first countries of arrival in Europe. A great part of the movement had been led by anti-racist and anti-fascist groups that have for a very long time been politically involved in fighting inequalities. At the same time, young Europeans who had been volunteering in the islands and camps since summer 2015, started some NGOs and other projects mostly in the Greek cities.
So, my main ideas when I arrived in Athens were about helping in very material or practical tasks such as kitchen shifts, storages or giving info, and I started to volunteer in organizations that requested this kind of help. However, when I knew I could stay longer and thus my work would have a continuity and longer impact, I got involved in language teaching. I very much appreciate helping others to get the communication skills they need to live in society and feel part of it. I also find it essential how being able to communicate ultimately allows the claim of rights, especially by those who are being silenced. In short, learning languages is a very tangible way of empowerment and gaining autonomy.
Then, I got to know about Time to Be Welcome programme. As they were recruiting some volunteers, I applied to join them for 6 months and started on the 21st of November. Since then, I have continued with language classes in Jafra Foundation and have been preparing mid-term projects such as a farm retreat with unaccompanied minors, a photography workshop or a Youth Club that explores thoughts about social life and interactions. We have also started doing yoga and dancing with women and it is very nice to share an activity that I myself enjoy a lot! I also believe that these activities allow the participants to feel a bit more free and able. Additionally, we try to make the activities as less/least dependent on the facilitators as possible?, leaving space for the participants to take ownership and be independent also from us.
Understandably, all these experiences are contributing to shape my conception of volunteering. For me, volunteering is a way of collectively responding to certain situations of injustice. This understanding is based on a non-conformist vision of reality nd an ambitious aspiration to tackle the very structural causes that bring about those injustices. In that sense, volunteering is about taking direct action on a specific need in the community and serving as an example of contributing to change. In regard to refugees, it is clear how they are being continuously exposed and harmed by an endless chain of systemic injustices. I see volunteers as people who commit some of their time to ease that situation of oppression.
Besides, I believe it is crucial to not limit ourselves to individual actions. It is true that what we do has an impact on our immediate environment and together we can build a chain of good practices that spans widely. Yet, I consider very important to keep an eye on those producing big harm in the societies, those taking the policies that are producing inequality, struggles and systemic violence. Although it might not always be shared, I conceive volunteering inevitably interrelated with activism because as we said, it is socially oriented and inspired by the rejection of a negative aspect of reality. I believe that in the essence of the volunteer there is a seed for change, and just as volunteering is a good channel for it to grow, together with activism and awareness rising, they give more chances to have actual results.
Finally, I’d say I see the volunteering community in Athens as a nice space where young adults from different parts of Europe gather to share practices and build projects where, along with migrants from out of Europe, can bet and work for better societies, living together in diversity and heterogeneity. Being part of these networks in Athens is giving me proofs on how communities become stronger if they support each other in their struggle against overwhelming injustices and inequalities. Yet this truth is not limited to Athens. It is time to identify what aspects of our local societies need to be changed and how we can collectively and coherently contribute to it.
The Rover team would like to thank Maite for writing this insightful article. We’re also interesting in hear from people willing to contribute to Aimless Wandering. If you have an idea for a article you’d like to write, drop us a line on Roverscouts@scouts.ie with “Aimless Wandering” in the subject bar.