Playtime in Idomeni provides respite for families

Publicado: 3 mayo 2016 15:14 CET

By Caroline Haga, IFRC

Tania Karagianni, 53, makes the men around her laugh. “No drawings, no shade,” she says under a marquee near the Red Cross medical clinic and a couple sit down at the table and obediently pick up pencils. “Sometimes it’s good to break the ice,” she says.

This is the camp at Idomeni, where Hellenic Red Cross volunteers are currently setting up a space for children to draw and play, providing a fleeting distraction from the dire situation on Greece’s northern border. But the activities are not just for youngsters.

“It’s our secret weapon,” team leader Sotiris Mouroudelis says. “If the children are happily smiling and laughing, their parents feel better too.”

Playtime for thousands of children

These activities are vital. Children are engrossed in drawing bright pictures full of hearts and flowers. Some are playing board games with a volunteer, others sing songs together. Their parents proudly watch, admiring drawings and taking photos. Four young men have even started a Peppa Pig jigsaw puzzle and are completely absorbed.

The Hellenic Red Cross has set up child-friendly spaces across Greece where more than 18,000 children have taken part in activities.

Tania is among the 5,500 volunteers who are working with the Red Cross to provide a range of services including psychosocial support, which encompasses the activities with children. Her fluent English means she is in demand as a translator, but it’s working with children she enjoys the most “To see their faces light up even for a short time is wonderful,” she says.

Working in Idomeni, where 11,000 people have been stranded in appalling conditions for more than two months, has been tough but Tania says examples of human endurance are evident across the camp.

“I remember one lady who wanted to wash her family’s clothes, but didn’t have anywhere to do it in. So she dug a hole in the ground, lined it with a plastic sheet and poured some water in it,” she says. “I think everyone should spend a day here in Idomeni to better appreciate their own lives and understand what people here are going through.”

Legacy of lifelong volunteering

Tania was volunteering long before she joined the Hellenic Red Cross last summer, prompted by the migration crisis.

“My family and I lived in America and Germany before Greece,” she says. “I used to help out in hospitals, hospices, libraries and deliver food to people who needed it. I also have a therapy dog I used to take around to cheer people up. Me and my husband, who sadly passed away five years ago, used to be foster parents in Germany too. I am proud that my daughter continues in our footsteps by volunteering during her studies in Chicago.”