In the summer of 2016 I worked in a closed UNHCR run camp for Yazidi communities in Epirus, Greece.
I collaborated with a group of seamstresses on a textile and clothes making project. I found and prepared Polystyrene boxes from the fish market which we used as substitute printing blocks. I fundraised for a sewing machine and resourced the project.
In Greece there was a ban on refugees being able to work. Being stripped of economic independence and disconnected from their creative identity was disempowering and alienating. This project aimed to counteract this by empowering skilled women to create what they wanted.
Community lead project
The project attracted the attention of the UNHCR and an application for a funded community lead project was underway when we discovered the women involved were being moved to Germany and Holland.
Connection beyond borders
We had a lot of creative time drawing, listening to music and making things together. I am still in touch with some of the women I worked with. We share stories and news on creative projects. Recently one friend contacted me to ask me to paint her and her cat.
Finding ways to connect to everyone
I was aware that there were older women who were engaged in full time childcare inside the tents. They did not access any classes or sessions as a result of their care giving responsibilities and were underserved by the very support that just a few NGO’s offered.
By creating opportunities to work with the older women (who have diverse creative skills) and children together the intergenerational learning that occurred also helped the women to learn some new language skills in a very relaxed environment.
working with the men
At Faneromeni I also co-hosted an English conversation session for adult men in the camp with another volunteer. My input was to make the sessions engaging and fun and accessible.
I set up daft scenarios that would spark banter and laughter and temporarily relieve some of the immense pressure imposed on them by the bigger context.
Weaving skills together
I made various weaving projects with the women and children. The weaving project introduced some English words and built fine motor skills, coordination and developed concentration (which PTSD negatively affects).
All the materials are recycled and made with the children, which instils and communicates the need to look after resources, recycle, create and problem solve.
Making is talking
He was very surprised and thrilled that I asked him to make the example piece. He invested a lot of time and care to complete it independently.
Although seemingly simple, this kind of project is intentionally replicable, sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Sometimes drawing or making is another form of talking and a very emotionally insightful way to connect.
Documentation and representation
Ethically engaged and negotiated documentation is a key part of the work in relation to creating empowering and progressive representation.
Some of the photographs visible here were taken by residents I collaborated with and some were taken by me.
I chose to draw certain events (such as the commemoration) and people asked me to draw them. All images were created with consent.