Day 4: Thermopyles

Spending every day in a new camp, their differences immediately stick out. Today we drove two hours to Thermopyles, a small camp of about 400 people located in between giant mountains next to a stunning hot spring and of course, the infamous site of 300. Hopping out of the van, what struck us first was not the pungent sulfur permeating the air, but the fact that there was no clear central space where people gathered. The residents mainly stayed inside the two abandoned hotels that were their temporary homes, or walked between them to cook outside, visit the doctors, or do their laundry. What it meant for us was that scouting the camp for an installation location was instantly more difficult, and it was also the first time we did so without an entourage of curious residents. The camp’s position, nestled at the base of forested mountains, meant we also had to hunt for a spot that would have maximum sun exposure throughout the day.

The Thermopyles camp: two abandoned hotels at the base of a lush mountain

The hot springs after which Thermopyles is named, in which locals, tourists and camp residents bathe

Of the people that we saw during our visit, most were adults or small children; few teens were around. Again, in most other camps it had been the teenagers and young males with whom we had spoken. Perhaps this was because residents are free to come and go as they please from the camp, and school-aged children take the bus everyday to the local school. Nevertheless, more people came as we got to work.

We each had fascinating conversations with Moner, a young man who had a similar story to Ahmmad from Kyllini. After attempting to leave the Syrian army, he was forced to stay and fight, until eventually finding a smuggler who was able to get him to Turkey. Once there, he found a job and accumulated enough money to travel to Samos, where he stayed until coming to Thermopyles about a month ago. His dream is to go to Austria, where his wife has been with her family for over a year.  The two have been apart for over a year and a half already, and have no way of knowing how much longer this will be the case, despite Moner’s persistent monthly visits to the asylum center in Athens to inquire about his application status for family reunification. He was incredibly open with his story and political views and gave us the opportunity to really understand the struggles that he, and many others, face.

The children were the first to welcome us to the camp

Many people in the camp are Kurds and were disappointed to see that we didn’t have any materials translated for them. It’s these interactions that build the base of a genuine, bottom-up approach that is invaluable in helping us to develop relevant content. Only by speaking to those we are trying to help and getting their input can we ensure that they are able to empower themselves and access the tools they need to better their situation.

We spoke with a young woman, just 20 years old, whose resilience and compassion struck us all. Growing up in northern Iraq, she married her husband at 18. After deciding they needed to leave, they fled to Turkey, bringing not only their young baby – less than a year old at the time – but also 4 other orphans. Traveling from Iraq to Turkey to Greece, the family and children walked for 5 days in winter. She eagerly showed us pictures on her phone of her life before the war: a beautiful house, stunning wedding photos, a loving family. Now living in the camp for 1 month, she takes care of the 4 children as well as her own. While her husband is Kurdish, she speaks Arabic, and is particularly thrilled to be able to access children’s books on the Elpis platform.  We are excited to continue working towards bringing Kurdish content to the platform so both parents can enjoy materials in their native tongue!

The young woman, pictured here with her biological daughter, Sandariya (14 months)

At age 20, she took five parentless children with her when fleeing Iraq and now cares for them as her own

From Thermopyles Sam and Alex are continuing north to Thessaloniki for an installation at Softex, so stay tuned to hear about their adventures there!


The Elpis Team

The team striking a pose suited to the Thermopyles legacy