Our second stop of the trip was Skaramangas: the largest refugee camp in Greece, located right on the coast of Athens. If you’re like us, you might think that location would make it easy to find. After a stop at the wrong camp, consulting with pedestrians, and countless U-turns, we joined a caravan of large busses that were pulling into a massive abandoned shipyard. Refugees from the island camps climbed out of these busses to survey their new residence as we started unloading our gear. The first impression is undeniably the overwhelming amount of children. Though the whistle blowing and shouts of delight are impossible to miss, their presence is most asserted by the pandemonium that ensued the moment they started running up to see what we were doing. Of the 3,000 people living at Skaramangas, around 80% of them are under the age of 30.
Our installation went smoothly, the unit again positioned in a clearly defined social space next to the community center and playground. Most excitingly, this area includes a library that will be opening in about a week, complete with some computers and classroom space. Given that our Raspberry Pi platform is connected to the Internet with a SIM card, even when we leave we can see what materials are most popular, get feedback from the library and class directors, and update and add material remotely! Our goal is to give them the opportunity to enhance and expand their services with online resources and eventually provide a digital classroom. We are seeing lots of potential for online courses, university degrees, and other forms of education beyond the individual resources we have compiled so far.
Comparing our experience to that at Ritsona, Skaramangas was less personal. The sheer size of the camp made it hard to meet a lot of different people, and with so much going on, people were less interested to see what we were doing with our unit. Strong Wi-Fi and a mobile network were available near the camp entrance, but the connection weakened significantly further in the camp.
An entertainment group complete with a clown, juggler and magician kicked off a performance for the children an hour into our visit. While many of the younger kids don’t mind the camp conditions - playing all day with their friends and siblings and climbing on storage containers is pretty fun – it’s clear that dissatisfaction with the situation and conditions rises with age. Those in their early teens are less easily entertained and are losing years of education, a reality of which they are acutely aware. This awareness does not depress the drive and motivation that these people have, but the camp environment is not conducive to self-development, social integration or learning, which hampers the ability to translate that dynamic into action.
Raid, a young man who had studied Mathematics at a university in Damascus, echoed the frustration of many when he told us, “All I want is a life.” Not only has he been stuck in the camp for over a year now with nothing productive to do, his family is still in Syria and he keeps in touch with them through Whatsapp. He worries that they are in constant danger; as he put it, “today they are alive but tomorrow I don’t know.” Raid expresses frustration at the semi-permanence of the camp. He is dreaming of when he can leave to go to Germany or the U.S. While he wants to become an English translator and teacher, he is hesitant to initiate some form of community group within the camp, as “there’s no point in doing stuff here.”
25-year-old Ibrahim had a slightly more positive outlook. He moved from Syria to Turkey and lived there for two years before arriving in Greece, where he has lived for a year. He studied civil engineering but his real passion is art. He pointed out calligraphy that he had carefully scrawled on his phone case: “live what you love” in Arabic. These words may seem to represent a concept intangible for those mired indefinitely in Skaramangas, but it also symbolizes the beacon of opportunity we are trying to provide.
With quotidian activities already a struggle, it is hard to focus on the positive opportunities – they become invisible. We hope that our work can illuminate the new pathways and opportunities for empowerment that are available to community members in Skaramangas.
On Tuesday we’re splitting up: team members are flying to Lesvos to install two more Solar Hubs in the Kara Tepe camp, where we already have one unit working, while the rest travel to Kyllini, a town on the west coast, where we will provide our digital library to the people in Andravidas camp. Stay tuned!
The Elpis Team