SAFE & HAPPY: Keeping displaced young people that way is what we fight for
Refugee Youth Service & Velos Youth are grassroots organisations providing since 2015 safe sanctuaries and opportunities for wellbeing and growth to young people on the move, in Calais, France, and Athens, Greece.
Refugee Youth Service & Velos Youth are places for first – arrivals and second chances, serving the really marginalised ones with persistent attention, aid and hope.
Today, you can be the one to help our cause to restore humanity and hope for a population full of potential but also burdened by all sorts of barriers. Your partnership in this campaign will provide the critical resources needed to support vulnerable unaccompanied minors and young people across Europe, keeping them away from traffickers and exploitative persons, and into new lives and towards brighter futures.
Here’s how you can get involved:
Share! Send texts, emails, messages, WhatsApp blasts and more to your contacts to let them know we are having a campaign and need their support.
Give! Whether it’s £18, £180 or £1,800, your gift creates a powerful impact in the lives of vulnerable unaccompanied minors and youth across Europe.
This was a great opportunity for Velos Youth service users to have some first hands-on experience with electronics related materials and skills that Athens ReMakers’s project are the local community experts on. The workshop happened on a relaxed September Friday afternoon and was met with enthusiasm. More to follow!
Radio You project, run by three volunteers, Elle, Emma and Jake from the UK, was a great project – it took place during July 2018 and is bound to resume on September 2018. This project allowed the young people to be the host of their own radio show, deciding the topics they were interested in exploring, picking the music and interviewing other community members. In preparation, the young people learnt about radio, the equipment and programs used to record and edit. They also participated in exercises, for example, recording messages to their future selves and to people in 30 years’ time. Through this project, which was based in the space and at the Help Refugee’s office, some young people got to visit and interview outside of Velos. Other young people went to the Mayor’s office and interviewed the Deputy Mayor and some other employees, they talked about how to improve Athens for young people. They also visited Olypiacos F.C. training ground, where they also got to interview people. One talented young person had the opportunity to produce and create two music tracks, one rap with another young person and one RnB track with vocals from a volunteer. The project empowered young people to be creative, take decisions, learn new skills and take pride in what they created. At the end of the month long project, we had a showcase where the radio shows were presented and certificates were given to the participants.
That morning K., an 18 year old asylum seeker from Afghanistan was rude to M., a 21 year old Syrian refugee who volunteers for Velos. M. was surprised because this was by no means typical of K. and sat with him. He soon sensed that M. was very stressed because he had just turned 18 and was afraid that many of the provisions he enjoyed as a minor would be soon taken away from him for becoming an adult. Instead of anything else, M. suggested to K. that they should prepare a CV for him, since they had already discussed that a job would be what he would need soon. K. agreed but he was afraid that he had nothing really to write on the page in terms of skills, degrees acquired etc. M. insisted that they still should do it, and maybe write more about what he would like to accomplish in the future, what he aspires to be, what he really likes and is of interest for him, instead of what he has already done and completed. He somehow insisted that they create together a CV more about the future than the past or the present. A very nice looking one, for sure, like an infographic, and with a nice photo. And that is what they did.
K. was really happy about the result.
Was this a fake CV?
In what sense is the present of a disenfranchised young person more real than his/her future?
Are barriers, unequal opportunities, being spoken-down to, ignored, more real than a future, better positioned, self?
Skills sharing and learning from each other at Velos is very much geared towards aspiration and anticipation. It is the planting of some seeds, about what one can do to improve his/her skills, and navigate an adverse social environment; but it also always touches upon what one wants to become and be in the future, not just the immediacy of situations. Or rather, the immediacy of situations and experience is linked in the heads of young people with much future-oriented thinking, much more than one – not so young anymore, or in a different situation – would assume.
Again: is this misguided?Does this approach amounts to the harnessing of unrealistic expectations? Is it advisable that a young asylum seeker gets to know something elementary about, for instance, digital careers from a peer, even if the possibility and the barriers and effort involved of accessing such an employment area are disheartening?
This is a question that seems out of place in a contexts like Velos Youth.
Velos accentuates awareness, doesn’t compromise it.
Young people here primarily get to know that accessing resources is about not giving up, but, also, that this can be quite hard. The not-giving up part does not come from encouraging false hopes or wild dreams, but from expanding one’s field of social perception. The empowering message of skills sharing workshops goes like this: yes, there are so many things involved in actually pursuing an educational, vocational, professional pathway, so many details to attend to, so much effort and so many barriers to overcome. But these pathways do exist and many more, actually, and it can all start from small things and individual aspiration.
Through such processes and incidents in Velso Youth, like skills sharing, what young people really at the margins learn is to be young people; probably not much more than that in terms of assets or skills, but also nothing less.
A workshop starts in Velos. Two UK volunteers fill the place with colourful crochet threads and young people get really busy with knitting. As I follow them repeating crochet movements and patterns, I catch myself almost getting mesmerised – and my thoughts start drifting.
In ancient Greece Moires or Moirai, often known in English as the Fates (Clotho the spinner, Lachesis the allotter, and Atropos the ‘unturnable) – were the incarnations of destiny. They were the ones weaving the thread, the thread of life, and decided the fate of every human’s life. They had power over the future.
I caught myself wondering: what are the “Moirai” of today for a refugee? Are Moirai the Eurogroup summits, bilateral agreements, laws and regulations the ones that define, on a daily even basis, an increasingly stringent field of movement and action for refugees, to a point where it seems impossible for the latter to choose the shape of their future.
As I follow the movements of the needles, it is impossible not to think of how places like Velos, at least symbolically, point towards this desire, that one should be allowed to create one’s own future. It is a place where, with whatever resources available, at least thought and hope of a better future, are woven together.
Georgia Lambovitiadi, Political Scientist, Velos Volunteer
Velos Youth is a Non-Profit that provides a safer space and a youth service for displaced and disenfranchised young people (aged 16-21).
The service operates as community-minded, grassroots layers of attention to vulnerable youth, which facilitate access to state-run and other established services including protection, asylum, accommodation and education.
Within our space a varied program of activities, centred around wellbeing, social development and learning is offered, fostering feelings of belonging, self-worth and a sense of community.
Both the service and the center are designed as holistic and participatory. Hence, Velos Youth’s mission cannot be reduced to tokens of services and provisions. Velos Youth’s mission coincides with Velos Youth’s experience for the people involved – see below the relevant section.
Our Approach – What We Do
Velos Youth As A Formula
Velos Youth as a project delivers outcomes in the following areas of intervention:
As already implied, a formula in the case of Velos Youth, would only convey that much with regard to what we do. Velos Youth is a place where the overall experience is equally important as are the different pieces, interactions etc. that take place in its framework.
Experience is hard to describe in definite terms – though it is very tangible and concrete to service users, team, visitors and partners. Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that Velos Youth is a “liminal” space: set together in the context of a dual crisis – “Greek” and “Refugee” – addressing people, places, regimes of human life which undergo constantly and swiftly transition. A place of changes, where perplexity and creativity alternate. Yet, we could attempt pointing some aspects of this experience, which will at the same convey more on our apporach:
(a) Structure is discovered, not imposed. Structure, roles, routines, boundaries, organisational markers and symbols are much less prominent and defining the space/service than is perhaps or rather the case in similar projects; the formal aspects of Velos Youth are not imposed to the young person but left for him/her to discover, comprehend, negotiate and eventually respect as a relational affair rather than as an issue of rule compliance. We will take much time in explaining why rules are in place. We also put much effort in counterbalancing this aspect of our service design by practicing rigorous self-monitoring, holding daily evaluation sessions – so that to update the ways our rules and behavior can have an effect on young people, making stringent a priori rules less needed.
(b) A critical distance / a fortuitous proximity. As an effect of (a) as well as our practices of induction and case work, young people perceive Velos Youth as a service at a distance from state and “offiicialdom”, though they are aware we are operating both within institutional, legal etc. boundaries and are in contact with authorities and established actors . Service users in most cases feel safe to express their opinion, their frustration – including frustration towards Velos Youth – and deliberate thoughts, aspirations, plans, both the serious and significant ones, but also the ones they would be otherwise or elsewhere be hesitant to share. it can even be a daydream. It can be a risky plan. We value those moments, and have built a reputation of genuine help that young people reach out for in a time of need.
(c) Emotional safety. Both (a) and (b) converge into an ethos of Velos Youth as a space which can accommodate various aspects of a disenfranchised young person’s life and identity. Yet, young people understand that Velos Youth can do only that much for them, due to its limited capacity and positioning in the grand scheme of services and resources available. Still, our experience bears witness to the somewhat paradoxical fact that service users, simply put, do not get angry or frustrated against Velos Youth or reject it for that reason. They understand that we try our best and that it is worthy trying, even if what one may achieve or aspire to in doing that with Velos Youth can be sometimes small or peripheral – that said, we do help a lot in crucial things! as described above. More to the point: this is a foundational learning process on how an individual relates and regulates his/her behavior in organised contexts and the people in them – an often neglected side of emotional development. Velos Youth in this and many others aspects of its functioning serves as a place of emotional safety, which is not in our case about a hygienic conception of emotions and a restraining order allowing “safe” emotions only. All emotions can be expressed safely in Velos Youth and appropriately responded by individuals and the collective. These are the reasons to which we attribute young people at Velos Youth eventually choose to share their “best selves”, their most bright, loving emotions, in non-tokenistic but authentic ways – and, crucially, why we have a negligible record on incidents of disrespectful behavior or conflict.
Such aspects of Velos Youth contribute to it being a deep learning/personal development experience – which ultimately aims at turning loneliness and exclusion to empowerement and conviviality.
What motivates our approach is our firm perception that from the perspective of young people at the margins – the perspective which is the most relevant and central to their own affairs – needs or rights are not boxes to be ticked but parts of an inseparable whole: their own selfhood developing within relations. See below the section on young
Young people’s needs are complex – this has consquences. Seemingly simple and straightforward conceptions of needs are for the most part imposed, serving other priorities. Only under conditions of deprivation, threat and constant suffering, needs can be meaningfully “prioritized” in simple hierarchies – “first secure/prevent x, then y, then z…). In development and humanitarian work, we do deal with such harsh conditions, hence “prioritising” is both inescapable but also something we have the obligation to reflect upon and challenge. Youth needs, beyond a rather trivial – and at the same time, as implied, often tragic and urgent – sense, are not steps on an hierarchy, but parts of a whole. All needs are significant. All needs belong to human wholes – ultimately, to the form of life we all humans share and give shape to. More to the point, human needs crucially are not about the consumption of resources but about the production of human potential – again, the fact that so often resources are wasted does not mean that human needs are per se the problem.
All needs are significant, and
Needs are productive.
Don’t these principles give away for Velos Youth some tendency to level down human situations, people’s urgencies etc., or (1) and (2) taken together unawareness of the ubiquitous lack of resources for the field, and of its own capacity limitations? Our response would be: how could that even be possible? For anyone with an even remote relation with the field the need for priorities (for instance, with criteria such as vulnerability or risk) or the scarcity of resources (read: funding) are self-evident. They are also for us, to some important extent shaping our praxis. But what comes after those, this is also an issue. Perhaps, the issue. Limitations (or boundaries or frameworks or guidelines) is one thing. What fits inside them is another. Inside the formal properties, that is, and constraints of our/any practice.
What principles like (1) or (2) do signal for us is a commitment to amazing human potential, to those dreams still remote and unaccomplished as the driving force of catering for those things urgent and right in front of us.
In this spirit, Velos Youth is an advocacy project, meant as a contribution to a critical paradigm for both development and youth work:
challenging with our example artificially compartmentalised areas of support
bringing together development/humanitarian aid and integration work
foregrounding relations rather than impersonal structures as the texture of services
fostering agency within community, participation and belonging as parts of a selfhood steering to independence.
persisting on an on-going participatory dialogue with the young people on most issues, fostering a high quality exchange of views, references and perspectives
adhering to high standards with regard to safeguarding and behavioural boundaries for doing no harm and operating according to young people’s best interests.
The overall outcome of our approach is attention: heightened, individual and collective attention to everything and anything that could contribute to young people’s safety, wellbeing and personal development. We are proud of our record with regard to these.
Velos supported a group of young people for participating in the Exarcheia Champions tournament (that took place during several Wednesdays in Spring). Communities, organisations, etc.) played against each other and created a lovely solidarity atmosphere. We even had two teams (with the inspired names Velos 1 and Velos 2)! Velos arranged some practice sessions for the teams to be ready and competitive!