Empowering refugee women through skills-based learning and cross-cultural communication.

Early work with women.

In summer, 2016, a Spanish psychologist and volunteer started a women's self-expression group at Eleonas Refugee Camp in Athens, Greece. Many of us spent wonderful hours there meeting in a huge tattered tent, in an area separated off with flimsy plywood walls. We covered the doorway with a grey UNHCR blanket, and spread more on the floor to sit on. Our blanket doorway didn't always keep the kids or the men out. 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, huddled together amid the blankets. The rats were awful, but the meetings were amazing.   
The photo above is of a large cloth everybody drew on. 

It was one of the early meetings and we were all just beginning to get to know each other. We drew and colored and painted many times. 
Often we danced. Once we sang--songs from our home regions. A Pakistani woman was the first one brave enough, and the Afghan women 
had to be laughingly pleaded with, finally singing the last song of the session together. 

But mostly we talked. 

We volunteers always brought cookies and tea (except during Ramadan) and sometimes strawberries or olives or even a cake, and we'd all talk. From jobs to veiling, from make-up to 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. The future.

No subject was taboo.

Less than a year after the group started, we realized we needed more than the tattered tent. 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, knowing their toddlers were safe and cared for nearby 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.

While painting the schedule for women-centered events
on the wall of the separation area we spent much time conferring
about an appropriate translation for "women's self-expression".
We finally (duh) asked the women what they wanted to call it. 
The unanimous answer? 


When we open our doors we will open them with love.