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In the summer of 2016, a Spanish volunteer named Almu--a psychologist--started a women's self-expression group at Eleonas Refugee Camp in Athens, Greece. The founders of Room For Freedom all spent some amazing hours in the group. We women met in a huge tattered UNHCR tent, in an area separated off from the rest of the tent with flimsy plywood walls. We covered the doorway with a usually dirty grey UNHCR blanket, and spread more on the floor to sit on. Our blanket doorway didn't always keep the kids, or even the men, out of the area. Sometimes kids would come in under the tent walls, and one especially cold day a slew of rats decided to join us as we sat shivering on the floor, huddling together and pulling the blankets we sat on up around us to try to stay warm. We all jumped up when the rats came in though.

The rats weren't amazing, but the meetings were. The photo above is of a large cloth we spread on the floor and everybody drew on. It was one of the early meetings of the group and we were all just beginning to get to know each other. We drew and colored and painted many times. Often, especially in the early days, we danced. Once, when the group was almost a year old, we sang--songs from our home regions. A Pakistani woman was the first one brave enough to sing, and the Afghan women had to be laughingly pleaded with, but finally sang all together, the last song of the session. But mostly we talked. 

We volunteers would bring cookies and tea--sometimes strawberries or olives or even a cake, but always cookies and tea, and we'd all talk. No subject was taboo. From jobs to veiling, from make-up to gay sex, husbands, children, dreams and nightmares...we poured out our hearts. Some topics were always there. The oppression of women worldwide, and how it differs (or not) from here to there. War. Camp life and the future.

Less than a year after the group started, some of we volunteers who had returned to the camp several times realized we needed more than the tattered tent (which no longer has a separation area). We needed a room. We needed a place where women from all over Athens could meet. A place where women could take classes and learn the skills of self-sustainability for a new life in Europe. A place where they could actually learn from the classes knowing their toddlers were safe and cared for in a room down the hall instead of escaping under the tent walls or struggling in their mother's arms during lessons and discussions. A library. A refuge.

The women of Eleonas Refugee Camp agreed. When the women's self-expression group was still fairly new, we wanted to paint the schedule for women-centered activities on the wall of the separation area so women would know when different activities were available. After much conferring about an appropriate translation for "women's self-expression" group, we finally (duh) asked the women what they wanted to call it. The unanimous answer was "Freedom".

Now we are actualizing our mutual dream of a room for freedom. We hope to open our doors by January of 2018; we will open them with love.