The Land of the Heart
As the counting had, on previous day just revealed the next American President, voted and lawfully elected to guide many millions of the inhabitants of this Earth… In a tiny little spot of this planet, on the other side of the globe, in Greece… Athens, in a section of the “Ellinikos” old airport – to be exact – live 300 refugee children, from Afghanistan, aged 1 to 18.
Their shelter is an abandoned building, the former arrivals terminal, now unused and left to fall apart for more than a decade. In July 2016 there were 2000 people living in this building, of which around 900 were children. Many have left since, having found better shelters for themselves, some really lucky ones might have crossed borders, been awarded asylum in other European countries. Yet the ones that remain, live in tents for an year now, on the upper floor of this building. An external rusted metallic staircase takes them down to what once was the parking lot of the airport… broken glass, cement, rubbish, and a full-speed highway is what the surrounding view provides, among other things.
This is just one of the small official camps created in Greece, run by the Government, to shelter the thousands of refugees of WAR that since 2015 kept arriving on Greek shores, to save themselves from bombs and terror.
I am grateful to the government of this country, for the choice to protect these fellow human beings from deportation, even though Greece wasn’t prepared nor had the funds or expertise to take care of such a crisis. Most of the Government’ employees and NGOs involved and allowed to work on behalf of the government, don’t know how to take proper care of the traumas of people that experienced extreme violence, lost their homes to bombings, were threatened, saw relatives being tortured and executed before their eyes and so much more. They try though, to cover basic needs, such as nutrition, hygiene, asylum procedures, security and legal issues… And this is already a large engagement, considering the massive economic problems Greece is facing… this country is broke… Bankrupt… basically.
Yet, the arrival of these people in the country I live in, in my opinion, IS AN HONOR!
Refugees give us a vivid and clear message: “BETTER RISK EVERYTHING, EVEN DROWNING IN FOREIGN SEAS, THEN BE DEAD BY BOMBS AND HATRED IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY”.
Refugees from all over the World have been the Currier of and insist delivering this “NO MORE WAR – NO MORE VIOLENCE” message for ages to people of the West. To US who don’t live similar realities anymore, and that maybe have forgotten to actually study our own country’s history, at school, for something more than scoring “A’s” on mnemonic tests.
Remembering the year and exact day of a naval battle, isn’t what a student should be attending a history lecture for. If we ask our grandparents about their experiences, and the experiences of their ancestors, what they tell us, is more about the actual feelings and the spirit with which they managed to survive World Wars and other events. Real history is about those who, having managed to survive, can tell us what happened… is about people and their feelings and stories about how they managed to protect themselves and one the other, to SAVE one the other… Rather than headlines such as “the winners-the losers-the battles-the kings-the queens-the army-the weapons”…
History lectures, on the contrary, mostly concentrate on the “technicalities”… Who won, Who lost, When did the fight happen, What countries were involved, what were the interests at stake, was it a racial issue, a religious one… An economic one? In all this encyclopedic learning we miss to learn about the people, the children, the emotions flowing in the populations we think we are studying. We aren’t studying them, in fact, because we neglect the actual images of their past, the heart of the events. We have been trained to remember headlines, names, numbers, dates… not emotions, so it becomes hard to understand a message, to feel it, experience it’s wisdom and finally respect the source that brought it to your doorstep, even when it is blatantly shouted in your face!
I started volunteering as an Art/play therapy teacher in another camp, at the Piraeus Port. Was there with the children every Wednesday, from beginning of March to late July this year, when it was cleared. The Piraeus Port camp was an unofficial site sheltering about 5000 people, from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, e.t.c. In the camp I met other volunteers, one was Belle, she had come from California, she built a platform for volunteers to connect and join, brought in a container for us to store our materials, created an on-line tutorial for “Trauma informed care” as of her field of study, created Code of Conduct and finally, called the project: The Schoolbox Project.
Independent volunteers from all over the World, including me, joined the Schoolbox Project, to offer children a school environment, a shelter, a safe-play area, with a stable timetable and a flexible program of activities depending on availability of teachers and field of knowledge, given the fact all volunteers came on leave from work, or on vacation times, to help with the situation here, all at our own expenses (I need to also mention here the great support of private personal donations made to us with trust and love at heart).
I am also a member of another organization, a Greek NGO, Center for Research and Action for Peace, whose responsible, Fotini, is a dear friend of mine, a teacher and counselor to me. In June, when threats of camp closure in Piraeus started becoming imminent, made contact with both Fotini and Belle and agreed to apply together, for permission to move our little school to an official camp: Ellinikos, where kids had absolutely no school project running since November 2015, when their camp opened. Applications in official camps take ages to be processed by the Ministry and dealt with, but we still tried.
And… WE MADE IT! We were granted permission to take care of these children, finally, in October 2016 (after much bureaucracy, waiting, hoping and praying).
So, now I can return to this one week, its the 2nd week of lessons at the Schoolbox in the premises, the new American President gets elected, on the 8th and 9th the counting of the votes shows results on all TV channels and radio stations, there is nothing else to speak about. On the 10th everyone I know is like frozen, shocked, worried… about what this man will do… Frozen and scared for the possible Wars that might follow, for racist episodes and violence likelihood to rise… the shock is global, because the matter doesn’t only concern American citizens, but the whole of the World’s social balance and political scene.
It’s the 10th of November, on Thursdays I coordinate the school schedule, time is 10.00a.m., have a meeting with fellow volunteers to study and structure the day with the kids, we are to start lessons at 11.00 a.m. Have quite a big plan for the day’s activities and ask my colleagues to help me with it, and as a big portion of the population on Earth “freezes in shock” I realize my attempt is to accomplish the exact opposite… to warm up a tiny little group of fairly new to what we are doing, people, with one special power… the power of the Heart.
Our school is located in the old airport’ parking lot, facing the arrivals terminal, constituted of 2 office style containers, where one is used as a classroom and the other as storage space for now. These containers are positioned to form an “L” shape, and the asphalt surface in between, we dressed with a grass carpet, that’s our garden.
Further down the school, more asphalt, today I thought of using it for something special… at the 10.00 o’clock meeting a volunteer in the team tells us he is studying to become an engineer, he offers to help with a design on the floor, of a circular linear pattern. He did that for us, with colored chalks, during 1st indoor art lesson. Later kids and volunteers all joined the design, drawing another linear pattern departing from the circular shape and going all the way to our little artificial garden.
The sight isn’t anything grand, just some colored lines on gray asphalt, and yet it is enough, in reality we don’t even need those lines, but it makes it intriguing and playful, so we gather at the circular chalk shape, and tell a story: “This circle is our island, all around there is sea, we light a fire in the middle of the island and warm our hands… we dance, play, sleep, have good times here… but at some point, we start craving to see what is out there and decide to go for an exploration…” With the help of music, on a cellular phone and a small speaker, we dance following the pattern that takes us to the garden, making at least 30 turns around ourselves in dancing rhythm and getting pretty dizzy.
A volunteer from Poland, another 3 from Germany, one other from the Dominican Republic, one more from Kazakhstan, me from Italy, another Greek and the Afghan children, residents of the camp, reaching the garden, all lay down to relax on the grass. A minute later a 10 years old boy, says: “I want to go back to the Island now!” but I have plans for the garden, and reply: “We’l go back! But let’s take a breath first!” To which he replied: “I am not tired!” So I looked at him and said: “Ok! Shall we first thank the sky we reached the garden safely, and then go?” He agreed.
Music and “laying down dancing” happened outstretching arms and feet to the sky, sounds with tapping and fast rubbing of the artificial grass, screaming, and then dancing turns on the pattern that took us back… to the island. We sat, relaxed, closed our eyes, listening to music and clapping at its rhythm, we freely danced in the circle too, holding hands and smiling at each other, we made this happen TOGETHER!
This island I now want to reveal to you, represents the Heart, the Land of the Heart, a land that has space for everyone, Together, not apart! Warming us up, with little, close to nothing, and the help of the Sun.
I welcome whoever is now frozen, scared of what is to come, to draw or even simply visualize this circle, gather one of his own, with people known or unknown, all holding hands, even in public parks… Because truly, if there is anything that can save us all, it is the combination of our hearts, the Land of the Heart… filling with warmth, every worried sick, frozen corner of our minds.
This is the Truth, a truth that lives within us already, and our job is to bring it outside and keep it pumping energy, keep it alive, also in between us, not only within us! Every single person can do this job, in his own unique way, from wherever, with whoever. Each way is perfect, for as long as it is given with Love, shared with others and made to happen!