Helping migrants adjust to a new life in Greece

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The story of a “stone soup” helps children open their hearts and accept their differences.

Sunday morning: A cafeteria in the center of Ioannina - in the north-western region of Greece - is open and the tables are already set in a circle in the yard. The first people to arrive are a storyteller – with a suitcase full of materials, colors, and stories - an Arabic speaking cultural mediator, and some ARSIS staff.

Who is ARSIS? And why the storyteller?

ARSIS, is one of Oxfam’s partners working with refugees and migrants in Epirus. We provide safe spaces for men, women and children, as well as psychosocial activities.

Over the past several months ARSIS has expanded its programs to focus on the engagement between the different migrant communities and the local communities, including through activities for children. These activities are aimed at empowering both communities, cultivating autonomy and socialization, as well as building familiarity for migrants with the societies they live in.

Although migrants face many challenges, such as the language barrier or the different cultural background, feedback that ARSIS and Oxfam receive is that these activities have a positive impact on both the migrant and local Greek community. On the one hand, refugees and migrants are keen on participating and sometimes they even propose different activities and, on the other hand, local people tend to be open-minded and curious to meet and interact with different people. Of course, our experience with children of different nationalities shows that in childhood, using different kinds of communication (e.g. body language) is best-suited.

A 'soup' of stones

Back to the cafeteria…

Time goes by, the sun is brighter and everybody stops talking and starts getting together to listen to children laughing. More time goes by and the yard is full of children and adults, including parents and caregivers, and of course a lot of smiles!`

The storyteller starts narrating with a warm and theatrical voice. Although she is Greek, the narration is not only in Greek, but also in Arabic and English, as the listeners are Greek, Syrian, Kurdish, Spanish and English. The fairytale gets livelier and the storyteller asks the audience for help and all of them – independent of their nationality - are more than eager to help.

First, the story indicates that the audience has to make a “soup of stones” so people really try to find stones! Then, the story indicates that the soup needs vegetables. Everyone tries to remember the different kinds of vegetables that exist and find suitable vegetables for the soup.  They then put the imaginary ingredients in the pot, independently of how they call it, for example “carrot”, ” جزر“ or “καρότο” etc. And after that, the story indicates that everyone has to help in stirring, as the pot is big and full of imaginary soup! And everyone stirs!

Accepting our differences

When the soup is ready, the participants call everyone to “taste” it. The story now indicates that everyone is able to open their heart and accept differences, just like the soup “accepted” every ingredient, every stir and everyone’s help.

On that day, before the yard got empty again, the children got colors and drew on stones, which they offered to each other. Observing the whole procedure, the interaction process was the best part. The image of children of different nationalities interacting with each other, using words in English or Greek or even body language, was the most valuable experience of the day, teaching us that language is not a barrier if you do not allow it to be.

The image of children drawing all together, expressing themselves and exchanging their art was a reminder that playing is a right of every child, independently of their characteristics and background. And of course, the confirmation of a successful day, filled with loads of creativity and fun, was the children’s smiley faces on their way out! Oh, those big smiles!

Oxfam’s program in Epirus is funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).

This entry contributed on 5 June 2017, by:

  • Eleftheria Mitrogiorgou, Educator/CFS facilitator, ARSIS-Association for the Social Support of Youth
  • Panoraia Grimpavioti, Educator/CFS facilitator, ARSIS-Association for the Social Support of Youth
  • Vassilis Ladias, Educator/CFS facilitator, ARSIS-Association for the Social Support of Youth

Photos:

  • Storytelling helps migrants adjust to a new life in Greece. Credit: ARSIS/Oxfam
  • The "soup of stones" story. Credit: ARSIS/Oxfam

Read more:

More on Oxfam's humanitarian response in Greece

More blogs on migrants and refugees

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