Yesterday on my flight out of Athens, I was asked what was I doing there. I had a chance to tell this local expat about the work Philemon and the StreetLights team is doing serving refugees. She was surprised to hear that refugees were being cared for by locals! Once again, I found that there is a huge misconception between reality and perception.
With regular reports on the negative refugee experiences, it’s no wonder people only know of the bad news. There is no doubt that 65 million refugees represent the one of the most significant challenges the global community faces today. Yet, they also represent new possibilities. For example, the elderly who are often alone can be served by properly trained newcomers who mostly come from cultures where their grandparents are treated with veneration and great care.
The Streetlights team has been serving in Kypseli, the largest refugee community in Athens. They have gained the support of the local community as they watch them teach the refugees Greek and also English. They have encouraged their own kids to join the many games they play in the square.
Instead of fear of hijabs and burkas, of new faces and languages, of competitors and potential enemies, everyone feels relaxed and content. Something very special is happening here.
Philemon’s passion to welcome and help integrate these newcomers has inspired a number of young people to come and work alongside him. During this short visit, I got to know Spiri, a woman on fire to get things done and get them done well. She manages hundreds of details necessary to meet needs and motivate workers to do their best. Her capacity to motivate others is remarkable.
I also spent time with Stefan Vass, 17, who came as a 5 year old to Greece from Romania and Aris Nemir, 16, who was born and raised right in Kypseli. Both are high school seniors, rugby players and they do it all with speed and joy! These kids humbled me with their compassion and love for the new kids. All the action takes place at night when the temperatures dip from the 35°C we had during the day.
As we walked around, I met locals who warmly greeted Philemon offering encouragement and practical ways they wanted to contribute.
Two days before I left, the skies over Athens grew brown. Strong winds just 20 miles away had spread fires, burning 1000 homes and causing the loss of at least 80 with hundreds injured. The speed with which the flames grew and spread left everyone astonished.
Philemon and his team went immediately into action contacting authorities offering their services to the kids affected. They now await confirmation to help kids in an orphanage near the devastated area among several possibilities.
I made a commitment to help them raise funds to mobilize people and equipment to the affected area. Will you join us and encourage StreetLights to continue to help make a dent into the mega need refugees represent now?