Overview of our Refugee workshop in Athens, Greece: Creative Empowerment Workshop
Prelude (by Melissa DiCocco)
We initially decided to do a workshop with young refugees because it’s a global issue that is all over the news right now and effecting millions of people. We are currently witnessing record numbers of displacement around the world.
When I was first asked to be a part of the workshop I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I wanted to help. I wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to try to make a difference even if it was small. The thought of being able to bring hope and inspire just one person felt hugely important to me.
The centre provides refugee youth with food, friendship, advice, counseling, it’s a safe haven where they can go and be who they are because despite the hurdles and hardships they currently face, at the end of the day they are teenagers who like to joke around, listen to music, skateboard, play board games and dream of a better future outside of Athens.
These youngsters between the ages of 16 and 20 have been though the worst of it, they’ve seen things unimaginable. They’ve been separated from their families, most don’t even know where they’re families are. They’re lonely, and some don’t have a bed or a home to go to at night.
When meeting and interacting with the refugees, I was intimidated and scared of saying the wrong thing. The possibility of triggering something emotional and negative from them was terrifying and the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted this experience to be a positive exchange between all of us. Some of them were skeptical of why we were there and our motivations. The idea that two young women would travel and take the time to be with them seemed ridiculous. By the end of the workshop, those who seemed to challenge us the most in the beginning came around. On our last day, at the very end of the session all of the participants showed up and they spoke about how the workshop made an impact. It was incredibly moving. We had done something pretty amazing in those 3 days, we had made a connection.
A refugee youth center based in Athens serves as a place for youth ages 16-20 years old to seek basic needs and life skills support. Registration is not required. A mix of languages and cultures are represented. Many of the youth are homeless and have migrated from their home country and live without basic needs and often times separated from family. The overall objective of the Creative Empowerment Workshop that we wanted to develop was to connect with youth and empower them to propel their creativity in a path to find future successes.
We worked together with the Center’s team to develop and finalize a plan for the workshop. Initially, our theme for the workshop was storytelling, however after our several communications, it was clear that it could be too sensitive. We decided to build a 3-day workshop around the idea of creative empowerment and using creative thinking to develop aspirations for the future. We put together a proposal which included our overall objective for the workshop, to connect with the youth and help empower them to harness their creativity in a path to find their reflect on their goals and how to achieve them. We communicated with the team in Athens mostly via email and as the date of the workshop approached we had a final Skype call with them for the purpose of having a final walk through of the workshop and going over any last-minute details.
Along with our plan, we used some guiding principles and observed the following:
Plan: We had a comprehensive plan but remained flexible to allow for breaks and pauses, when needed, and general flexibility on start and end times. Participants also dropped in and out of sessions, which was not anticipated by me, but worked out perfectly for them. The fluidity and laid-back atmosphere raised the comfort level. All rigidity was out the window (as I would argue, should be for most workshop facilitation).
Trust: As the key to engagement with this group, we allocated time to build trust, and took cues from the group to adjust our activities accordingly as to respect the mood. By day three it felt like we had built solid trust which led to smoother discussion and opening up. It is important to build this into the workshop, especially in the begin, and also due to the sensitivities surrounding this group.
Sharing: As facilitators, we prepared to share our experiences throughout the workshop as well as snacks. This was a great ways to break the ice and create a comfortable and safe atmosphere. We noticed that when we shared, the participants opened up and were able to relate to us.
On the first day we arrived early and had a pre-meeting with the team who indicated the participants were all male and Farsi and Urdu were the dominant languages spoken this week. Fortunately, translators for each language were present and also participated in the activities, when possible. This created a very dynamic setting. We aimed to make it inclusive as possible, and due to the multi-translation under way, we had to allocate enough time for back and forth translation. Many participants were grateful for this as Farsi-speakers were engaging more profoundly with the Urdu-speaking participants in the context of a joint project, which was brought them together, when prior engagement had been largely separate. Closing the gap on the language barrier allowed for meaningful exchange among them, and us of course.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Throughout the workshop we counted heavily on staff to guide us on specific issues. We were not stringent here, it was mainly to notice what was working and what wasn’t. The case workers who also observed and participated in specific sessions would indicate red flag areas on topics discussed and sensitive behavior of the participants that helped adjust planning and approach as we facilitated in the workshop.