From football coaches to hairdressers: Camp community uses skills to take on training for children

Published: 4 August 2016 12:24 CET

By Anita Dullard, IFRC

At Skaramagas camp in Greece, there are teachers, doctors, lawyers, translators, seamstresses, hairdressers, football coaches…you name it. People fleeing war and violence have left not only their homes behind, but also for the time being, their professions.

“All the answers are already in the community,” explains Helen Pardo Riikonen, a psychologist working with the Hellenic Red Cross in Greece.

“We don’t need to start from scratch because people living in the camps have a lot of skills and we work alongside them to get social activities up and running.”

Riikonen is part of the Red Cross’s psychosocial support team, working with people suffering from the effects of stress and trauma and aiming to improve the mental health and wellbeing of people stranded in Greece.

She says creating opportunities for people to utilize and adapt their skills and experiences is a fundamental way for them to become survivors rather than victims.

“It’s important that people feel useful to their community wherever they are,” she says.

“They want to get involved. Migrants themselves identified the needs and did the planning and managing of activities and training for kids and teenagers. We try to empower people so they can take the responsibility to manage activities and the camp space.”

This community-led approach has a wealth of psychological and social benefits for people living in camps.

Riikonen explains: “Our psychosocial activities provide a safe place for kids and adults who often have a lot of trauma from the violence they experienced and saw at home; and the frightening journey they made to escape.”

The European Commission’s department for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) is supporting the work of the Red Cross across Greece, including its psychological support programmes.

ECHO’s Marilena Chatziantoniou said: “Many  people are affected by multiple losses and are grieving for loved ones, places and a life left behind. There are also children who have no family with them or have lost their family on the way.

“This is why the European Commission supports Red Cross to provide psychosocial support in places like Skaramagas and others.”