2nd December 2019
Prism annually reviews the Collective Fund operations that work outside of the UK. This year’s field visit brought Prism’s Team to the islands of Samos and Lesvos in Greece, where several of our Collective Fund groups fund and run programmes to support refugees on the islands. Both islands border the Turkish coastline and have seen an increase in the number of refugees arriving over the last 6 months. The increase in the numbers of refugees is compounded by a lack of accommodation and space for new arrivals and as winter is fast approaching it has meant the role of Prism Collective Fund’s and the organisations that they support is increasingly important. This trip forms part of our commitment to ensure all activities carried out under Prism’s auspices comply with UK charity law. The visit was therefore not only an opportunity for Prism to monitor operations on the ground but also a chance to see first-hand the impact of the projects run by our Collective Funds, as well as the challenges they face daily.
Prism visited Samos first, where the island’s refugee camp is designed to hold 650 people, but current figures estimate that there are over 6,000 refugees in the area, and many have been forced to set up around the outside of the camp. Different types of aid projects have established a base on the island in the last few years, and each provides a niche area of support for the refugee population on the island.
Help Refugees, Prism’s largest Collective Fund, supports over 120 projects and have distributed £5.6million throughout 2019. The team currently help support over 20 organisations across the two Greek islands and play an important role in evaluating the current situation and reacting quickly to any changes in conditions that affect refugees. The Prism team were able to visit a number of the organisations supported by Help Refugees including: Movement on the Ground, that Help Refugees contributes funding towards their garbage removal initiative which has meant clearing up a 1-year build-up of waste around the camps on Samos; Med’EqualiTeam, which Help Refugees provides funding for the group’s office space and the medical and admin coordinators that are vital to the project’s operations; Samos Volunteers; and Mazi youth centre (run by Still I Rise).
Action for Education, another Collective Fund at Prism, have operated under Prism’s auspices for just under 2 years, and at the beginning of 2019 they expanded their operations onto the island of Samos and opened The Banana House. Whilst on Samos, the Prism team visited The Banana House, a space created to engage refugee communities in lifelong learning through creativity, community and choice. This renovated space comprises of 3 classrooms, a kitchen, chill-out room, showers and a large garden. The centre is run by a team of 10 international volunteers and around 30 volunteers from the refugee community. The purpose of the project is to provide a safe space for refugees to get away from the camp, to learn and form relationships with the volunteers which can positively affect their mental health.
It was clear to the Prism team when visiting the different organisations on Samos, both Prism’s Collective Funds and the organisations that receive vital funding from Help Refugees, that there was a coordinated effort to alleviate some of the very difficult challenges refugees are experiencing.
Lesvos is home to one of the largest refugee camps in Europe, Moria Camp. The camp, which was built for a total of 4,000 people, now has up to 14,000 living in and around the camp, according to estimates from those working in the field.
Prism’s Collective Fund, Office of Displaced Designers (ODD) was the first site the team visited. The Founder of the ODD, Shareen, has been living on Lesvos for several years and is responsible for implementing the group’s projects. The ODD operates in an office space situated in the centre of Mytilene where they run a creative mentorship programme. The programme works to connect refugee artists with relevant mentors in their field. The ODD also provide a workspace and budget for materials so that they are able to work on their art and create a portfolio. The project culminates in the artist being able to exhibit their work in the local area, and this plays a vital role in helping members of the refugee population integrate with the community on the island.
Legal Centre Lesvos is situated in the centre of Mytilene and offers free legal advice and casework to refugees mostly focussed around helping individuals with their asylum cases. Prism visited the centre and Meely, a long-term volunteer, showed the team around and explained the importance and vital need for organisations that are able to give free legal advice to refugees, especially in relation to their asylum cases. The asylum interviews can be long, and lack of preparation and advice on an asylum case can seriously limit an individual’s ability to be able to claim asylum. Legal Centre Lesvos is one of the few legal clinics operating on the island and so it plays a crucial role in assisting many refugees who come through Lesvos with their asylum claims.
The final Collective Fund the Prism team visited on Lesvos was The Hope Project. The Hope Project have been operating on the island for 4 years and were set up by Eric and Phillipa Kempson. Their operations have evolved and expanded since inception and they now run support programmes from 4 large warehouses in walking distance from Moria Camp. The first two warehouses operate as a clothes distribution point for refugees and include a waiting area and additional storage space. The third warehouse acts as an arts centre with a stage where people can perform and play musical instruments, and there are also materials available for painting and drawing. Next to the art warehouse is the final space which houses a barber salon, a gym, a nail parlour and a knitting room. All the warehouses are run completely by volunteers from the refugee community and so this not only gives them access to the facilities but also helps to foster a sense of autonomy.
In addition to Prism’s Collective Funds that operate on the island , the team were also able to visit a range of other organisations that are supported and part-funded by Help Refugees: Watershed Foundation, an organisation that provides vital sanitation and water to those living in the Moria Camp; Refugees 4 Refugees, a group that provides a range of services from clothes distribution to laundry; One Happy Family, a community centre that sees upwards of 800 visitors a day and has everything from a herb garden to café; Better Days, a school that is situated in the centre of Mytilene and caters to roughly about 250 of the estimated 1,000 un-accompanied minors in the camp; and Movement on the Ground.
Having visited over 21 different projects and organisations, it was evident to the Prism team that there is still a great need for their presence on the island, especially as the numbers of refugees has been steadily rising in recent months. From speaking with the founders and volunteers working on behalf of the Prism Collective Funds on Samos and Lesvos, it is clear that by being part of Prism’s charitable umbrella, they have been able operate in a compliant way, whilst also being able to remain flexible and responsive to the changing situation on the islands. Looking forward, it now seems more important than ever that all the groups operating on the islands are able to work together to prepare for the challenges winter presents, with the urgent need to provide all refugees with suitable shelter and warm items to combat the changes in conditions.
We would like to thank our partners and everyone who took the time to show us around their operations in Greece. In particular we would like to thank Matty and Olivia from Help Refugees for guiding the team on Samos, and on Lesvos, Dan from Better Days and Aslum who works with the Help Refugees team and acts as a coordinator with the projects on the island. Thank you to everyone for their continued hard work and passion that has made and continues to make a huge difference to the lives of refugees.
More on Prism’s Collective Fund model: