Views from the Ground: Oinofyta, Part II
“The reality is, you’re going to be here a while… and that means you need to live, not just exist”
Lisa Campbell is speaking to Campfire Innovation in Do Your Part’s small Oinofyta office, where a handful of her 13-strong volunteer team squeeze in, ready to show us around their camp’s unique community.
If 13 seems a small number of volunteers for an organisation that oversees camp management, NFI, and food distribution, this is because it is deliberate. Rather than relying on volunteers, over half of the residents at Oinofyta are involved in providing the camp’s support services, with resident participation helping stabilise internal community relations and prepare refugees for their eventual integration into European society.
Oinofyta is a majority Afghani camp (population: 650+) that has experienced a major evolution within its relatively short 9-month lifespan. Having started with a “big family” structure, the site tripled in size within ten days following the closure of Piraeus camp and the relocation of its residents.
This introduction of new ethnic and cultural groups to a previously homogenous community indicated a natural upheaval. However, the response from Do Your Part, Armando Aid and others has seen the camp’s warehouses, gardens, kitchens and schools become a microcosm of the multicultural workplaces and neighbourhoods that await the residents in Europe.
Residents working side by side has helped nurture Oinofyta’s key philosophies of participation and self-determination, but slowly introduces cultural changes as well. In an overheard conversation, a Do Your Part volunteer explains the need for a mixed gender sewing workshop by saying “one day you will be working with women”, before the resident passes this message back to the community for discussion.
Life in Oinofyta
The roles available at Oinofyta range from food and clothing distribution to sewing, cooking, cleaning, hairdressing, security and tending the camp’s chicken coop. Preparing the next generation is an equally evident priority, with classes in English, Farsi, Maths and Science overseen by Layhing Siu Munro and Mohammad, a displaced school principal from Kabul.
In the wake of UNHCR figures that show only 50% of refugee children are receiving the necessary primary school education, with that figure halved for high school age students, a wander through Armando Aid’s candy coloured classrooms restores a glimmer of hope.
Like Do Your Part, Armando Aid’s team has worked to weave a community identity throughout every aspect of their learning environment. This is visible in the bright, distinctive school itself, and in the engagement from residents in supporting this solid curriculum for the children based at the camp. As the pupils eagerly scramble for a tape measure, ready to record the area and perimeter of Oinofyta, there is a welcome sense of normality instilled in this everyday field trip.
Looking for Smart Aid Solutions
Europe is now entering the second major phase of the global refugee crisis: understanding and facilitating integration.
Oinofyta is inspiring because it shows that community inclusion can begin while refugees remain in transit, with sustainable services and community participation helping bridge the gap towards a more stable way of life. Do Your Part’s cap on external volunteer numbers reflects a smart strategy, as well as a sad reality of crisis management: it is not sustainable to rely on a revolving door of volunteers if there is still no end point in sight for Europe’s refugees.
With waiting times in camp often long-term, Lisa’s words carry a deep resonance.
Camps are no longer waiting rooms, so must be structured to support learning and development, and to build nurturing communities in their own right.