"Thank you for listening to me" where the words that ended an in-depth conversation I had with a Lebanese refugee, mother of three, staying at the Refugee camp at Kofinou village, Cyprus. Her eyes, with a mixture of gratitude and sentiment, smiled at me as I waved goodbye.
In October 2015, the first set of refugees touched on Cypriot grounds which caused an outbreak within locals, the RAF (Royal Army Force) where their boat led them to and the refugees themselves. Since then, many have come and gone and even more are those who are currently 'wedged' at the refugee camp at Kofinou. Influenced by the global refugee crisis and reflecting onto a more local view Global Shapers Nicosia and Rotaract Larnaca-Kition decided to take a closer look at the refugees in Cyprus. The two teams set out to organize an activity day for the refugees in Cyprus. The Refugee Fun Day's goal was to offer a day of fun activities, free of worries and away from daily monotones whilst raising awareness about the situation at Kofinou with the hope of eliminating possible stereotypes about refugees and immigrants that may exist in the Cypriot society.
As our car wheels stopped outside the camp, faces started popping out of houses to examine the scene. We began to unload the cars filled with the goods various companies donated and kids started circling around us, tiny feet and big eyes. Soon after, the activities started taking shape. Haris Maratheftis gave the children an introduction to yoga and they gladly followed her moves. The calm vibes were soon broken as the kids rushed to indulge their faces in the paint work Georgia Vergou offered. Face-painted tigers, butterflies and zebras excitedly trotted around the refugee camp who later stumbled on sets of rackets provided by Nicosia Beach Club Tennis. With a simple court set-up, using only a blue string for a net the Beach Tennis coaches provided an hour of fun training and tennis games. The children happily ran around catching tennis balls and the camp was filled with laughter. Parents and others adults watched over the activities carefree, allowing themselves to perhaps forget about their problems for a day. The games were not only for the children, we organized a tavli competition and various men in pairs played a game that is common in various cultures. With more than one language barrier present (refugees include Syrians, Lebanese, Somalis and more), the activities had to be universal, so we opted for the magic of body language. It is remarkable how facial expressions can defuse a message through, beyond cultural, linguistic and religious differences. Later on, John and Heather of Peace by Praxis joined us for a meditation session, whilst other children eased their soles on the bouncy castle provided by Boom. Avgousta Demosthenous, painted the refugee camp happy with the help of the children and adults who rushed to claim the paint brushes about. Soon after, the different skin tones blended into one another with splashes of paint colours.
The children at the camp, go to school in Kofinou where they learn Greek, some have been there for up to nine months and it is impressive how much they have been able to pick up. The adults have weekly Greek language lessons yet despite this and another art class, their daily routine is repetitive. This was a complain that kept coming back to me that day. I got chatting to a Lebanese refugee (perhaps asylum seeker is more correct) who invited me to where she was staying for a sip of coffee. A small establishment for a family of five yet satisfying all of their immediate needs, has been their home for the last nine months. I sensed that I was perhaps one of the few people that had visited her place and she welcomed me with arms wide open. She offered me Lebanese coffee (not so different than Cypriot coffee), her husband's freshly-made spinach pastries which were mouth-watering and they even prepared a shisha on a small stool. We interacted for an hour during which I allowed her a platform to express her worries, fears and desires. Her story was not too different from the ones we hear on the news.The long journey at sea, those annonymous faces that dissolved into the ocean, the loss of a past home and the hope for a future one, paused by this paralyzing transit. As she was telling me that her husband's papers had recently been rejected she stared at me as if looking for an answer.
After interacting with the people at the refugee camp, I realized that what we hear on the news about the refugee crisis does not only occur abroad. It might do on a greater scale yet our island currently hosts around 300 refugees and they have wants and needs and worries. The situation strongly occurs in Cyprus and whether or not the media choose to present the facts and the reality, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves personally on the matter. These people are here and appreciate our help. Yes times are difficult for all of us yet the Kofinou camp residents have lost everything and have very little. Despite materialistic goods that they might require that one may donate, what I realized during my brief encounter with them is that they desire a more humanitarian approach. A build-up of activities, social interactions and discussions, development of skills and further understanding of Cyprus.
If you have a skill you can offer (language lessons, pottery making, conversation classes, therapy through art) and can volunteer some of your time on a weekly/monthly basis, you can contact Global Shapers Nicosia for further information
For anyone interested in donating goods there is a need for:
- hygiene products (towels, sanitary towels, shampoo, tooth paste etc)
- shoes (all ages and genders)
- baby clothes and food
FB page: Global Shapers Nicosia
Instagram: Nicosia Shapers
Thank you for listening to me.
Let's shape Kofinou.