The Greek Youth Movement APEIRON

APEIRON was founded last February, at a moment, when the number of refugees arriving at the shores of Greece had reached a critical scale. The greek youth movement stands up for all citizens’ rights, solidarity and dignity and it regards education as something that must be accessible to all people. Their main goal is for refugee children to have access to knowledge and creativity.

von Sevi Sareidaki

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A painting of a refugee child lettered with persian handwriting. Greece 2016. Photo: Apeiron

Apeiron (τὸ ἄπειρον), which means infinity in Greek, is a youth movement, which was founded last February. It is defined by the continuous effort for solidarity and is opposed to discrimination of any kind. For us, solidarity is of great significance and should never be left aside. APEIRON stands up for all citizens’ rights and dignity and it regards education as something that must be accessible to all people. We believe that values should blend into actions, we intend to encourage people to take action and deal with current issues, as society needs to promote collaboration, sympathy and the spirit of solidarity.

Irini Gougougianni and I founded APEIRON in Febuary of 2016, we have been friends since our early days at university (Faculty of Pre-school Education) in 2005. From the beginning we were brought together by our common love for children, it is this love that evolved into the creation of Apeiron which was a dream of many years that finally came to fruition in the peak of the recent refugee crisis. Our main goal is for all children to have access to knowledge and creativity through one of the most important mediums available: games! Our goal is smiling and happy faces!

APEIRON was created at a time when neither Greece nor the EU leadership was capable or willing to properly deal with the inhumane situation these people were in. The APEIRON-team, as well as the people we work with, all of whom are volunteers, have various backgrounds and professions – whether it be animators or educators working directly with the children, or lawyers and translators who deal with administrative issues. But we also rely very much on refugees and migrants who have already integrated into Greek society to help with the cultural adaptation of these children.

Our initial action was the creation of art workshops for refugee children staying in the random settlements in the port of Pireaus and then we moved on to the children who spend their time in Athens city centre (Victoria square). Our goal is to see those children smiling again and to give them the feeling that they are welcome here in Greece. We wish to help them see their future with optimism.

At first, we were anxious about the reactions to our actions by the Greek community, not knowing if we would have their support. We were surprised though by how many people helped us with donations, participation and presence. In return, all our volunteers kept telling us, after the end of every workshop, that the love they receive from the children is the most valuable gift of all.

Throughout our journey, we are glad to have met a lot of people and volunteers both from Greece and other countries, as well as NGO‘s who believe in solidarity and in its importance. We also had the opportunity to get to know one other NGO, Metadrasi, one of the biggest organisations in Greece with a major action in migration and development. Metadrasi had already created the Guardianship Network for Unaccompanied Minors, so we had the chance to exchange know-how, experiences and ideas about the current situation concerning refugee children, whether accompanied or unaccompanied.

It is estimated that approximately 4,000 unaccompanied refugee children enter Greece annually. A majority of these children are not covered by the national child welfare sevice, and this shows us the necessity for these kind of networks. The guardian’s objective is to ensure the protection of the unaccompanied minors’ rights, their access to social welfare structures, legal processes and their social integration into Greek society, in order to offer them personal care during their childhood, an asset that will affect the rest of their lives.

One of our main goals for the near future is to organise and provide educational programmes in public schools that would adress the issues of racism and diversity for both the educators and the local children in order for there to be a healthy enviroment in our schools for all of our children, wherever they are from, especially with such a large influx of refugee children into the public education system. Also we want to guarantee refugee children their proper and constructive integration in the school environment. In order to accomplish this we rely on the partciciption of more and new volunteers and of course on finding financing.

To conclude, it is important to point out the solidarity that we have been seeing all these months for our actions. We have met and discussed with numerous people who feel ready to help in all possible ways for the sake of the people who need us. The coexistence between Greek people and the refugees has also been very inspiring. One can wander in the streets of central Athens and, if lucky, may have the experience of participating in one of the feasts that refugees often do, listening to their music and trying trying traditional ethnic dishes. The future is unknown and the situation is difficult indeed. But for all of us, solidarity is both the answer and the point.

Sevi Sareidaki from Athens, Greece graduated from the Faculty of Pre-school Education of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens, in 2005. In 2012 she completed a Masters Degree at the University of Mirail in Toulouse, France on the subject of Social Representations of the Teachers of the Gypsy Students. For the last six years, she has been has been working and volunteering with children from socially vulnerable groups. In Febuary 2016 together with Irini Gougougianni, also a pre-school educator with many years of experience working with vulnerable social groups, she co-founded the APEIRON Organisation.