December 03, 2020

Helping young refugees find a new life in Greece

Fatima and Shaheem are refugees who have been trained and hired by RTI in Greece

Photo credit: Refugee Trauma Initiative

A youth empowerment and early childhood development project run by Refugee Trauma Initiative and funded by Theirworld gives hope and opportunity to migrants.  

When young refugees arrive in a foreign country, they need food, shelter and security. But their long-term recovery relies on psychological help, hope and the opportunity of a better life through education and work.

In Greece, refugees who fled from conflict and violence face many hurdles as they look for employment and a way to integrate in their new homeland. The Covid-19 pandemic has only piled extra pressures on their mental health.

To help young people overcome this, the organisation Refugee Trauma Initiative (RTI) - supported by Theirworld - is hiring and training migrants to ensure their communities in northern Greece have access to early childhood support.

One of them is Fatima, a 20-year-old Syrian who arrived in Greece two years ago. She has been trained in early childhood development and is now the lead facilitator of RTI’s community-led children’s space at Polikastro in Central Macedonia.

“I started working with children to open the door to opportunities that I didn't have as a child,” said Fatima. "The smile of children is the key to a new life."

Movement training is one of the methods used by the organisation

Photo credit: Refugee Trauma Initiative

Her duties include delivering psychosocial and healing activities for children, caregivers and families, including play, relaxation, storytelling and arts and crafts. Fatima added: “This project is important for the families because parents do not have time to do activities with the kids and we are giving the space for this.”

Another beneficiary of RTI’s youth empowerment programme is Shaheem Rahimi. Also 20, he travelled to Greece from Afghanistan with his family in 2017. He speaks Farsi and Pashtu and is learning English and Greek. He worked as a volunteer interpreter in refugee camps and helped to provide food and clothes to homeless migrants. 

Shaheem, who wants to be a journalist, said: “I really love working with people my age because as refugees we share the same concerns. The only thing that can come in your way is you. If you think you can, you will do it. If you think you can't, you are probably right too.”

He said the biggest challenges for young people arriving in Greece include lack of accommodation and educational opportunities.

RTI has provided training and emotional support to hundreds of young people, as well as psychological support to more than 4,000 refugees and training for over 1,000 humanitarians working in the Greek refugee crisis.

Young children are helped to learn and heal through activities such as play, relaxation, storytelling and arts and crafts

Photo credit: Refugee Trauma Initiative

It says employment is the key to unlocking many areas of integration, such as access to housing, family reunification, language, health care and the asylum process. But stereotypical views about refugees - together with missed years of education - can prevent them from finding work. 

The organisation has developed an approach that involves training mental health professionals to help them support refugees. RTI also develops partnerships to help improve the social, economic and mental wellbeing of refugees. You can learn more about its programmes here.

Natalia Kyrkopoulou, RTI’s Head of Operations, said: “We need to support job opportunities for refugees and it starts with us - NGOs and funders. We need to advocate and provide quality employment and training as psychosocial workers. It puts the power back to the community.”

Theirworld’s work with RTI is funded thanks to the players of the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Theirworld also supports education projects for refugee children in the Greek Aegean Islands. Again with the support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, we are working with the Education Cannot Wait fund to provide education to thousands of out-of-school children and youth and invest in innovative pilot programmes to bring additional support to the refugee children.

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