Views from the Ground: Project Elea at Eleonas

Life At Eleonas


Eleonas was Greece’s first refugee camp and, according to Project Elea founder and manager, Andreas Ashikalis, it will likely be the last one standing. When you consider the camp’s growing population, this seems a reasonable assumption: Eleonas is home to approximately 2,200 residents, divided into three camps, and this population continues to grow steadily each day.

The camp is described in glowing terms within the humanitarian aid sector: hailed as the “model camp”, Eleonas has nurtured a unique community in downtown Athens.

When you meet Project Elea, this too makes perfect sense. The scale of this NGO’s ambitions for the camp’s community has seen the team pitching plans to the Greek Ministry for industrial kitchens, improved education and increased autonomy for Eleonas residents.

We were struck by the way that dignity and respect were both woven into every aspect of Project Elea’s operations, from its tightly scheduled team coordination meetings to signs in the office with the same reminders. It’s natural to get frustrated doing volunteer work, especially with language barriers and refugees’ needs being so overwhelming. However, having the support of longer term volunteers and a team can make all the difference in the world.

About Project Elea

Andreas tells Campfire Innovation that “the residents [at Eleonas] tell us, these are not their homes — their old homes are gone, and their new ones are somewhere else in Europe”. This sentiment seems to inform the Project Elea agenda, which provides as many community-centric projects as possible, in order to alleviate the boredom and stresses of a life in limbo.

Project Elea started out providing the food and NFI distribution at Eleonas. However, its remarkable influx of enthusiastic volunteers enabled Elea to expand its vision, and go beyond the provision of basic resources to produce a new definition of what we mean when we talk about a “liveable” environment.

Its current line-up of on-site activities include Children’s Activities/Daycare, Children’s Supplementary Schooling, Sports and Leisure Activities, Women’s Self Expression, Skills Workshops and Movie Nights.

Most recently, Project Elea has secured funding for the Library and Learning Centre it has been working so hard for. The centre will be a vibrant community space that the camp’s residents can all use to access learning opportunities suited to their interests.

The full scope of services offered will, in true Project Elea style, will depend on what the residents tell the team they want and need. In the meantime, the team is considering the addition of a lending library, incorporated German and English language activities, story time for children, creative writing and poetry sessions, CV writing workshops, and further education and job matching.

All the community activities are facilitated by a team of volunteers that get stuck into whichever task interests or inspires them, and they are encouraged to add more ideas that can improve community engagement.

Looking for Smart Aid Solutions

Unlike some other smart aid organisations, Project Elea’s evolution was fuelled by manpower. The response from the volunteer community to Eleonas is in many respects Project Elea’s most distinctive quality, and has enabled it to evolve into an innovative community model.

The connection also doesn’t fade when the volunteers go home — the Project Elea volunteer diaspora has already seen fundraising concerts held in Spain, with more slated for throughout Europe over the coming months. Its record of retaining interest and engagement from those that come and work for the project elevates its offer beyond other similar organisations.

Project Elea’s work adds new dimensions to our perception of humanitarian aid, and the scale of its ambition is commendable. The team tells us “We’re dealing with a small bandage for a huge wound…there is a lot that is not being fixed”, adding that their set of principles is explicitly designed to address the gaps in humanitarian aid, whether it’s discipline, structure, education about the environment, conditioning respect for the other cultures you live alongside. Andreas then stresses: “these are the important issues that all children need an opportunity to learn about.”

In addition to the requirements stipulated by the EU, UN and other governing bodies, Project Elea has its own carefully plotted plan for what constitutes human needs, and a long-term vision for how they can successfully implement these features within the camp.

For more information on Project Elea, and how you can support them, you can visit: