In early 2016, Global Volunteers Crete teams were called upon by local authorities to help meet the needs of the sudden large influx of Syrian refugees to Greece. Volunteers worked packaging and sorting donated clothing and preparing boxes for shipping to Athens. Since then, more than a million refugees and migrants have traveled across Greece. Today, Greece hosts approximately 50,000 refugees, most of whom wish to remain in the country. And thanks to small NGOs like our newest community partner, Thalassa of Solidarity, refugees learn firsthand about their rights and can obtain job training, language lessons, and psychosocial support to help rebuild their lives. Read on for Greece Country Manager Samantha Pinakoulaki’s report on Global Volunteers’ newest community project in Crete.
What is Thalassa of Solidarity?
Founded in May 2019, Thalassa of Solidarity (Sea of Solidarity) is an NGO based in Heraklion, with the objective of addressing the social, educational, and professional needs of refugees in Greece. Specifically, their website sites “the empowerment of refugee, migrant, nomadic, and other vulnerable populations, social groups, and individuals without any discrimination based on religion, origin, nationality, administrative status, gender, sexual preference, or age.” Help is provided through sewing workshops, computer lessons, and English and Greek language lessons to cultivate skills and aid in the integration and socialization of the labor market.
Thalassa of Solidarity also accompanies and counsels more than 30 families in legal asylum and administrative issues, and helps refugees access health care by offering empowerment seminars on Greek reality and human rights. All courses and workshops are free and based on solidarity actions and voluntary participation.
“Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.”
Khaled Hosseini, Afghan-American novelist, UNHCR goodwill ambassador
“Our main goal is to create and develop relationships that will help our society evolve into a society of solidarity, mutual education, respect for diversity, creative coexistence, and hope for the future.”
~ Thalassa of Solidarity
How does Global Volunteers contribute to these projects?
My April, 2022 visit to Thalassa of Solidarity was insightful. From the moment I set foot in their workshop, a “vibe” assured me this would be a rewarding experience for future teams and, if nothing else, provide strength and support to this wonderful organization. After all, it’s an everyday struggle for many small NGOs to stay alive in Greece. Very few receive little (if any) support from the government or other relief organizations. So, what better way to celebrate the resumption of the Global Volunteers’ service programs in Greece than to introduce a new part-time project and community partner – Thalassa of Solidarity?
In May, the volunteer team began working alongside the refugee women, offering psychosocial support and playing with their pre-school kids. It may seem like a simple assignment for some, but for the refugee mothers, it was a “ray of hope!” They beamed from ear to ear, and were genuinely grateful to the volunteers. Many mentioned how difficult it had been (until now) for them to fully engage in their sewing or language lessons, because they had to simultaneously entertain their toddlers and babies while trying hard to concentrate on their studies. Moving forward, volunteers will help with English language lessons, and those with sewing experience/skills will teach sewing techniques, while others can play with kids and offer support to moms and their babes in other ways.
In June 2022, the local volunteers who serve Thalassa of Solidarity in Heraklion, Crete, organized a graduation ceremony for the students who followed their courses in Sewing, Greek and English language, and Basic Computer literacy. More than 40 students – the majority refugees – were present with family and friends to receive their certificates. It was a night of hugs, emotions, hopes, and ambitions for the future – evident in their proud smiles and tears of happiness!
“We live, we learn, we work, we dream together!”
~ Thalassa of Solidarity
“It’s been a very rewarding experience, but also a little sad knowing what these people are going through. The work is important, and its impact on the refugees cannot be overstated.”
~ Linn Joanis (Global Volunteers alumna working on the refugee project in Crete, May 2016)