Mosaik Support Center: A Mosaic of Personalities in the Heart of the City
By Natasha Papanikolaou
Oscar Wilde professed the following enigmatic view: the majority of people are other people. This eccentric cipher lends itself to diverse interpretations. One of them is that every human being constitutes a mosaic of multiple identities which issue forth according to circumstance. It is thus also with the refugee. He is not only a person escaping from war; in parallel, he can be a father of two children, a teacher, a sports fan, an animal lover. He might even have been the greatest collector of music records in his city. A case in point is that of the 19 year-old Sham from Pakistan. On the footprints of his compatriot Afzal Shauq's The Peace Wisher, Sham writes the most impressive poems for his age. Together with Ali Reza, film director from Iran, they are active at the Mosaik Support Center, the first cultural and educational center for refugees, which has been in operation since this July, in Mytilini, the capital of the island of Lesvos.
With daily lessons in Greek and English, and Arabic for the volunteers working at the center, with weaving workshops, the creation of various products from recycled materials, such as life jackets, and a very strong team offering legal services, the Mosaik Support Center, on Sappho Street, turned out to be a most useful center in the city, a precious and important tile in the large mosaic of integration.
Away from the refugee camps, the center operates in a renovated historical house built in 1868 -- a date ingrained in the impressive mosaic of white and black pebbles , which dominates the entrance to the building. Here, the refugees confined on our island, rediscover their forgotten multiple identities and cultivate the arts and passions that once made them citizens of this world.
"With the signing of Europe' s agreement with Turkey, we had to reconsider the framework of our work with the refugees. In the beginning, we catered to the needs of people who stayed only for a few days on the island. However, after the "deal" with Turkey, the situation changed. We understood that the processing of applications for asylum and, consequently, decisions on eventual deportations would take considerable time. As a result, the people who reached Lesvos would have to spend a substantial time here. They do not want to stay in Greece. They want to go to Germany and Sweden. They are "stuck" here, however, and they need to adapt to the local society and understand its language. This is what we were told by Chloe Haralambous, member of Borderline-Europe which, together with Lesvos Solidarity-Pikpa, undertook the creation of Mosaik.
Following major steps taken in the previous months by a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are supporting unaccompanied minors and aim at their smooth insertion in their new environment, as well as the good work carried out by the hospitality center of Kara Tepe, Mosaik' s engagement with the refugees is sustained by the people of Mytilini, in spite of the critical times they face.
"From the very beginning," explains again Chloe Haralambous, "we came in touch with the people of the neighborhood. We shopped from the near-by market and took advantage of the contacts we made in order to give information as to our activities and aims. We faced minimal problems. Furthermore, a number of women who give lessons or take care of the children of students during their classes are from the island. We really aspired to that: having local people engage with the question of the refugees in their city. We equally aspired to bringing the refugees into the city, into a space totally different from the camps so that, for a few hours, they can exist not as refugees and come in contact with the local community."
The program of Mosaik, to which 400 people have already registered, is open to everyone, on the condition that they attend regularly and apply themselves. Transportation is undertaken by public transport busses and discounted tickets provided to the student refugees by Doctors Without Borders in collaboration with Mosaik.
"We would also like to work with people from Moria," continues Chloe Haralambous. "We hope to attract single adult men who constitute the largest number of refugees, especially, since there are many NGOs and structures who serve unaccompanied minors and families."
Nevertheless, as it is usual with every cultural center, the women made their presence felt. "The truth is that we are full of women and babies, who were the first to arrive. This is the reason we allocated a special space to take care of infants and small children while their parents attend classes. Additionally, many people come to Mosaik to obtain legal assistance and advice from the recently formed Lesvos Legal Group, headed by Carlos Orjuela who says, "we are here to offer our services to whoever needs them and to inform them about issues regarding requests for asylum."
"Our aim is to collect funds so that those working at Mosaik are paid. Volunteers come and go," adds Chloe who is soon to leave for New York in search of donors to promote the work of Mosaik.
Chloe, whose origin is from Molyvos, has been on the island ever since the summer of 2015 and has witnessed, from the very beginning, the drama of the refugees who landed on the shores of Lesvos as well as the fluctuations in the attitudes of the local communities regarding this drama. "There is a great suspicion and skepticism towards the NGOs. From my experience in the village of Kleio and at the Kolios cheese factory, I understood that the reaction of the people was not so much against the refugees, but against the northern Europeans who "invaded" the island through the NGOs, a situation they considered hypocritical when juxtaposed to the official positions of Europe and Greece' s place therein."
This Friday, Mosaik is organizing a celebration for the people of the neighborhood. "I might read some of my poems," says Ali Reza, who is working on an adaptation of "Waiting for Godot" transforming it to "Waiting for Asylum" . "We will organize a party for the people of the neighborhood who have helped so much. Last time, when we organized a talent show a lot of people showed up, 'some hanging over the rails of the gate. It was great," says the Iranian playwright who is also one of the translators of the center.
Photographs by Vasilis Kazazis and Julian Koeberer
Translation by Sappho Haralambous
“Mosaik“ for refugees and local people
By Anthi Pazianou
The refugee flows to Lesvos are increasing, while there is no clarity as to what will happen with this emergency that has placed our island in the centre of international interest. One thing is clear, however. After the agreeement between the European Union and Turkey and the closure of the European borders, a few thousands of refugees and immigrants have been “trapped“ in Lesvos, some of them for more than six months.
The Ministry of Education might have some kind of plan for the educational needs of refugee children, but the State, as it has already been proven, has no overall plan for the everyday life of these people. At the same time, non-governmental organisations, financed by European programmes, have “invested“ their efforts in providing for some of their basic every day needs, but not for others, equally important. It is against this context that volunteers from the organizations “Lesvos Solidarity“ and “Borderline-Europe“ have opened the “Mosaik Support Centre“ not only for refugees, but for local people as well. Efi Latsoudi and Julian Koeberer gave “E“ a guided tour of the centre.
“Mosaik“ is open from morning till late afternoon, from Monday through Friday. It provides lessons in Greek and in foreign languages, English, Arabic and Farsi, as well as in creative activities, such as painting, crafts and use of recycled materials. Babies with their mothers, together with tens of other refugees of all ages frequent the centre every week.
Moreover, the volunteers, with the help of the “Doctors without Borders“, have secured the purchase of bus tickets, thus providing both free transport to the refugees from and to Moria and Kara Tepe and contributing to the local economy. The latter is pursued in other ways as well. For example, the renovation of the building, which dates back to 1868 and is considered part of the national heritage, was entrusted to a Greek architect. Most of the teachers hired are also from the local community.
“Apart from those who want to teach on a voluntary basis, we sought and hired professionals to develop an overall effective and appropriate didactic methodology and guidance for all. By doing so“, Efi and Julian explained, “we also provided employment to local people. This is in line with our objective of integration“.
How is Mosaik financed? In fact, it has already secured its operation for one year. It depends on private donations as well as donations from churches from all over Europe. “Why don’t you apply to a European programme,“ we asked the volunteers. It became clear that the people behind this initiative had not considered this option. For the time being, they do not feel that they can approach the European Union for support, also on ideological and political grounds, since they consider Europe responsible for the conditions under which the refugees are kept.Apart from the lessons taught, Mosaik offers recreational activities for small children, so that their parents can follow classes. In addition, the refugees can find, here, psychological and legal support from experts. Furhtermore, the refugees can participate in a number of workshops. For example, they can learn to recycle life jackets into handbags or make other objects which they can, in turn, sell in Europe and thus gain some income and contribute to the local economy.
The philologist, Katerina Evstathiou-Selaha, well known for her work with the organization “Embrace“ in Kalloni, is teaching as a volunteer at Mosaik and had these words for our newspaper:
“Mosaik is an amazing space that has been created by its founders with a lot of attention, respect and enthousiasm. It sets an example for similar initiatives in other parts of Greece and symbolizes a lot. First of all, it is an inclusive space so that the refugees come in contact with the people of Mytilini.It is a reaching out hand of friendship in the heart of the city. Apart from the lessons, there have been a number of cultural events that were attended by local people who come here on their own initiative ready to interact with the people of Mosaik. For us, our experience with the students is full of feelings. We do not simply teach the Greek language. We get to know them, we form strong bonds which, at least up till now, have proven very important both for us and our students.“
Photographs by Empros and Julian Koeberer
Translation by Sappho Haralambous