In November 2018, myself and 12 other undergraduate Brunel Law students spent 9 days in Athens to provide aid and support to refugees, funded by Brunel University London. The project started in October 2015 and is still going strong. Every year, there is a group of students that volunteer on the project and fortify their knowledge of the brutal reality refugees and unaccompanied minors face. We are still humbled that the children still play with the table football that previous Brunel students offered to them and that our funding has helped them live better lives.
We worked with Faros, our partner NGO focusing on unaccompanied children, and with the Network for the Rights of the Child, to offer help to refugee families and children. Faros' vision strives to protect every child's fundamental right to a childhood and equip them with skills to face the future. This is something we kept in mind whilst interacting with the young children and tried to keep their spirits up. We learnt a lot about what Faros does to help refugees and unaccompanied minors and the various services they provide for them.
This year, we were given access to the shelter where the unaccompanied minors stayed. We all bonded with them and they shared their heart-breaking stories of how they came to be refugees in Athens. Students had the chance to interact with the children in many ways, through arts, playing games, teaching and through sports. At the Faros Family Centre, some of the students did henna on the children whilst the mothers spoke to lawyers at the centre.
We visited the Greek Ombudsman and learned about various difficulties refugees and migrants face and how they were being marginalised from society. Their integration into society is so much more complex than people think and is an ongoing issue.
For me, one of the most gut-wrenching moments was when I was teaching English in the Faros Horizon (educational) centre. I went up to a young boy who did not speak English and could not even write. It was so difficult and frustrating for him but we persevered and his friends helped to translate, and he was finally able to write out the alphabet and words to accompany each letter. It made me realise that one of the many challenges is how they don't have a normal childhood or education and that they really face a struggle to integrate with society.
Towards the end of our time in Athens, we held a cinema night for the children and had loads of food, games and chats. We presented them with a projector, printer and smart TV and loads of jumpers for all the children in the shelter. One of the most important life lessons I learnt on this trip was that these children sometimes don't believe they have worth and I was inspired to make them feel important and to keep their faces smiling.
On the last day, emotions were high between the children and the students as we had to say goodbye. We departed and gifted them with a hand mural and messages, which was quite a poignant moment. We thanked them for letting us into their lives and assured them that we would always remember them and their stories.