The Athena Centre for Women opened in Chios in July 2016; it is the first female-only facility for the refugee population of the Greek island of Chios. On opening day, the women who arrived told us they immediately felt a sense of safety, comfort, and excitement when they stepped through the door. As they removed their hijabs and settled into ‘the chill room’, there was a sense of ease and relaxation in the air. The Athena Centre for Women offers refugee women a haven for several hours each day.
Everything within the center is focused on improving the mental and physical well-being of female refugees. It offers meaningful educational programs and activities – like language courses, crafts, yoga, and meditation. In addition, sessions on feminine hygiene, female health issues and contraception are held with the aim to build and increase the women’s knowledge and skills to empower them with information and promote their participation in decisions that affect their lives. By providing a safe space, the center is also able to offer emotional care and support, as well as specific and tailored provision for those who have been a victim of sexual gender-based violence.
Volunteers from all over the world, including female refugees from the camps, run the center. We have a Syrian English teacher, whose career ended due to the war, who has teamed up with a young French woman to give language classes to a community of Syrian and Afghan women. A Sri Lankan-New Zealander in Switzerland ensures that a steady stream of donations reaches the center, which was the brainchild of a Singaporean. A Canadian, a Greek and a Brit run social media, while a Swiss manages the volunteers.
So how does a small team that spans five continents work so effectively? It’s because we don’t think in terms of borders, we simply consider ourselves to be citizens of the world. And in just three months, we have supported over 150 women at the center, and will continue to expand our best practices throughout other refugee hotspots in Greece.
For more information, please see www.actionfromswitzerland.ch