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A Drop in the Ocean: A student's experience of the Athens Refugee Project

In October of his final year, Daniel Proctor was lucky enough to be selected with nine others law students to take part in Brunel’s fourth Athens Refugee project.

(Below is a summary video of of the trip)

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During our time in Athens, as a group, we were afforded the opportunity to work with a number of NGOs; Faros, Melissa Network and The Network for the Rights of the Child, each with a different focus. 

Throughout the week I was fortunate enough to work with The Network for the Rights of the Child. Their focus was on providing refugee children with access to education and support throughout their time in Greece. 

My first day with The Network mainly consisted of introductions to the people running the NGO and to their partner organisations. However, I was very quickly thrown in the deep end and found myself playing basketball with refugee children aged between 7-16.

Students playing basketball with refugees in Athens

My second day with The Network was perhaps the most inspiring - I was working with a group, headed by a man named Stefanos, at the movable library (pictured below). When we arrived, the library was already plotted up in the middle of a square. It had numerous books in numerous languages so as to cater for all refugee children. They also had a number of interpreters so the children could easily communicate with staff whilst playing and reading.

Stefanos then took one other student and I to go to a distribution centre to raise awareness that the library was in the area. In doing so, he explained to me how the refugees and their children will cross the square to go to the centre to collect their daily chocolate allowance. Once they have received their allowance, the adults may bring their children to the library for five or ten minutes to read and play.

Drawing of a Martin Luther King quote from the Athens Refugee Project

Stefanos then said something that was quite hard-hitting, it made me seriously put things into perspective. He said, “if the children learn one or two words of English during their time with us, great! But for me, it’s about giving them some time to escape the reality of their life. One or two minutes of happiness, that’s all it takes to make a child’s day”.

Escapism from the harsh realities that some of these children face was something I took for granted. Many of the refugee children are unaccompanied, their parents may have forced them and their siblings to leave their country of origin. Or, perhaps, their parents even passed away whilst travelling to Greece. One minute of happiness, therefore, is certainly not too much to ask.

The movable library for refugees in Athens where students volunteered

During our time with The Network we also worked with the partner youth centre. Our goal was to determine some of their long-term needs.

During a meeting with the staff at the youth centre we were made aware that there was a significant waiting list for both piano and guitar lessons. At the time of the meeting, it was only possible to hold one lesson for one individual per week. We were fortunate enough to stay around later in the evening and see one of these lessons. One boy. One teacher. One guitar.

It was plainly obvious how much this lesson meant to him. We couldn’t help but think of all the other students so willing to learn but unable to due to a lack of resources. Two other law students, who were working with The Network and I decided that some of the money we raised should be put towards expanding musical education in the youth centre. In the end, we bought two keyboards and one guitar to donate.

We hoped that through this donation the youth centre would be able to provide more lessons to the children that want them. 

Brunel student carrying musical equipment to donate to a youth centre in Athens

With no one day being the same, there was plenty of room for a varied experience. I also had the opportunity to expand my legal understanding of the refugee crisis. Through a number of meetings with The Greek Ombudsman, The Greek Council for Refugees and lawyers from The Network, I was able to understand the situation in Greece in significantly more detail than I ever would have previously. 

In my first year at Brunel I had no idea that I would spend the final few months of my degree surrounded by such inspiring people in such a terrible situation. When I applied for this experience I did not know what I was letting myself in for. But eight (extremely long) days later, not only am I more aware of the crisis, I find myself often reflecting on my experience thinking what more could be done.

Student from Brunel Law School carrying a small boy at the Athens Refugee Centre