#ToTheFuture: Volunteering with AFE

I first started working with AFE in September 2019 in the centre based in Samos where I stayed approximately 2 months. I returned this September to volunteer in Chios. I had no teaching experience or social degree to work in the sensitive context of the refugee crisis. Like me, most AFE volunteers have no formal qualifications to work in this field.Through the extensive training I received by the team on the ground, I was prepared and well-equipped to take on my responsibilities. I think this demonstrates how concerning this crisis is: the team is composed of motivated people, who are eager to learn and ready to do their best to help others in need.

AFE provides more than just a learning space for the participants. This organisation is all about creating a safe, positive environment for everyone -regardless of nationality, culture, genderwhere judgment has no place. The organization’s main goal is to bring people together. Participants come to know that when they are in our centres, they are safe: Safe to learn; safe to call friends and family; safe to be on their own and do nothing; safe enough to let their guard down for a moment. This is a place where our participants can have a break from the unimaginable conditions they are exposed to day after day. Here, they have the opportunity to express themselves through the different activities we provide: art, sport, dance, yoga, language lessons, IT lessons, sewing etc.

AFE is about giving the same opportunities to every asylum seeker and refugee coming to our centres. It’s about equality but, even more importantly, about equity. Thus, there are sessions that are reserved for the most vulnerable refugees only – women and unaccompanied minors. The focus on creating safe spaces for these groups is fundamental to the organisation’s mission.

What AFE is doing on the ground is essential. We are showing the world what is truly going on in the camps by exposing the shocking conditions of life: the lack of access to medical care and basic necessities as well as the total absence of respect for the Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. This is happening right here in Europe.

I have learnt so much this past few months working with AFE, not only about my abilities to teach, but also about being part of an organisation where human beings are at the very heart of its mission. Being able to witness those moments of listening, sharing and solidarity between our participants, is deeply rewarding.

As 2020 is about to bow out, I'm taking the time to analyze and reflect upon this year: the scars it may have left; the fear it has engendered; the indecision it has created throughout the world. This is especially pertinent to the camps of Vial in Chios and Vathy in Samos. Here, the insecurity, the fear, the indecision and the scars were already part of the fabric of daily life. They have been multiplied for this community of asylum seekers for whom everyday life is already a challenge to overcome. As I am conducting this analysis, I say to myself that we can do so much more, that they deserve so much better.

We need to improve our services to be able to reach out to more participants, and have a better understanding of their needs. To be able to do that, we need you. We need your help. We need your support. We couldn’t have made it this far without you, so I appeal one more time to your kindness and generosity to help us maintain and improve these safe spaces for our participants. Doing so will change lives and will be a cause for hope at a time when it is sorely needed.

Thank you. Naomie Perrot

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