Nea Kavala camp

The Nea Kavala ‘relocation’ camp is located near Polykastro, a small town 20 km away from the Macedonian border, and it is here that We Are Here started its activity, back in May 2016. At Nea Kavala we worked alongside the people in the camp to establish a collaborative community centre, with a range of educational, creative and social activities for adults and children.

When our project begun there, the camp had a population of approximately 3,000 Arab, Kurdish and Yazidi refugees from Iraq and Syria, living in army tents in a shadeless field with very little infrastructure. Since then, Nea Kavala camp has seen many changes. The population decreased slowly over that first year, as people moved on to other camps or made their way through the relocation program. During Winter 2016 containers replaced the tents and and other infrastructure also improved, including our own community centre, which was rebuilt in January after a fire at the end of the year.

Now, the original population have all finally moved on – for the most part to one of the European countries which accepted refugees as in the relocation program. The camp currently accommodates approximately 400 refugees – brought over to the mainland from the overcrowded islands where people are still arriving. For these people, who arrived after the EU-Turkey deal and who are not part of the European relocation program, their future is even more uncertain, and We Are Here continue to provide grassroots solidarity through education, recreation and creativity.

Non-formal Education

For a many months, We Are Here – collaborating with teachers from the camp – provided the only access to education for the children of Nea Kavala. Nowadays,  with Nea Kavala established as a long-term camp, the larger NGOs and the Greek government have caught up and the provisions for education have improved. This has allowed us to put more energy into addressing the other gaps, such as adult education and social activities, but we continue to support the other actors and the educational needs of the children in the camp when and where it is needed.

For adult education, our biggest focus is on providing regular English language lessons, to help people prepare for the next step, whatever that may be. We offer structured lessons from basic literacy to intermediate level, and also run daily conversation classes.

Alongside this, we encourage and work on supporting people in self-study, something which is especially important for the young adults in the camp who were forced to stop higher education part way through.

 

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Children’s Activities

Over the months in the camp, we have run all kinds of creative activities with the children in the camp – drawing and painting, music and movement, science experiments, theatre, design and construction, treasure hunts and imagination games.

Currently, we have three main focuses for children’s activities.

  • SatARTdays are a time to roll up sleeves, and often combine creativity, paint and glue with learning a skill or offering some kind of community service.
  • A daily child-friendly space for little ones under 4
  • The beautiful children’s corner of our library, where children know that, during opening hours, they can find quiet time and a book.

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Women’s space

In such difficult and uncertain living conditions, and with oftentimes men dominating the communal areas, it is important that women have access to a space to relax and socialise away from chores, children, husbands and cramped family life.

A women’s space was requested by women of all ages and ethnicities in the camp, and they have been vocal about the form they would like it to take and the services they would like to see. Born from collaborative planning and built in July 2016, the space is a comfortable and welcoming safe space where We Are Here facilitate a range of activities and materials specifically for women : yoga, knitting, English literacy classes, cinema, food-sharing, music, beauty sessions, art, dance…

 

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Creativity and Recreation

In this frustratingly stagnant environment – and with all the reports and evidence clearly showing the negative psychological impact that this period of limbo is inflicting on those blocked in Greece and in the dark about their future –  it is important not to forget the simple, in-the-moment activities that help people forget their problems for a while. Our centre organises community social events in the camp, such as bingo, film screenings, art workshops, music nights, theatre productions and sports events.

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Tools and skills to share

Much of the construction work for things that are needed in our centre – benches, boxes, shades, cupboards – are made with materials donated or bought from a local store and built for us or with us by people from the camp, who share their skills. One recent example is the renovation or the Women’s space, carried out entirely by men from the camp to whom we simply supplied the material. Our community centre also puts some useful tools into general use, for people in the camp to either come to the centre and use, or to borrow. When the containers were first brought to the camp in late Autumn, people were able to borrow drills saws and hammers and come to collect handfuls of screws and nails from our centre, to enable them to reuse the wooden flooring from their tent to add dividers, porches and furniture to the empty metal boxes.

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Garden

Gardening is well known to be a therapeutic activity, and the barren, treeless airfield which houses Nea Kavala is badly in need of some green. In our original space, a small garden was dug and planted under the supervision of one of our first volunteers and was carefully tended to by people from the camp. Sunflowers, courgettes, aubergines and tomatoes bloomed. This spring, with our main centre in a different location, we hope to make use of the old space to create a bigger communal garden area…

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