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Art’s Power for Healing and Moving On

By Photini Papahatzi, Cultural Manager, educator & artist in Amaka

ART EMERGENCY workshops in refugee camps showed us that art can be an answer to the quest of finding the way to support and help vulnerable people to come to terms with what has happened, what they face and what is coming in the future for them. Art provided a transformation, an open door to face with creativity the beauty and the ugliness of the world we live in and discover new talents, skills, express identity and a new sense of belonging. Based on this intrinsic value and power of Art, using the discipline of Art Therapy we are planning to design a similar intervention for the people involved in CRISALIS project.

In 2016 Amaka in partnership with Mercy Corps designed the program ART EMERGENCY, an art therapy program as an answer to the refugee crisis, which since August 2015, was escalating in Greece. Despite the various services that are being offered by the state and other bodies to refugees that end up in the country, there is a lack of psychological support for vulnerable groups, especially for the younger age groups, such as teenagers.

From this perspective, art, symbolic expression, new media and photography came to support young refugees throughout Greece and help them regain their stolen joy and self-confidence. The participants share a segment of their memories from their  long journey to the west, express their dreams for the future and analyze through quality tools their new environment .

My personal experience through ‘Home’ project led me to join AMAKA team in June 2016 for the first model of the Art Therapy Workshops operated at the Petropoulakis camp, in Filippiada, Epirus, Greece, together with Dafni Kalafati, Myrto Papadopoulou and Andromachi Vrakatseli. The workshops of the area were part of the nation-wide art therapy initiative Art Emergency. Art Emergency aimed to offer a prompt response to young refugees’ need for communication and artistic expression. The program was implemented outside Epirus region as well; in Moria first reception center in Lesvos, in various camps in Attica, in Kos and Leros.

Which flavors, smells and feelings were typical of my home? Which sounds do I recall? How do I color my journey to Greece? What are my most intensive dreams here? What is Greece to me? Am I the only one depressed in the camp?

Photography and multimedia practices, painting, collage and mapping aimed to offer a set of replies to the above questions and capture the individual experience.

It was en extremely hot day of over 40 degrees Celsius in Petropoulakis camp, in Filippiada when I first entered. The workshops were implemented in open air; there was no cooler space that could host the workshops at the time. There were two evening classes held one for the girls and one for the boys. These weekly meetings aimed to support these young refugees be integrated into Greek society in an organic way -for as long as they stay in the country- and create social support and community assistance networks.

In a course of two months the participants browsed photography books, experimented with visual expression, used cameras and narrated their journey in the past, present and future through photography, video, image and sound. The works of young refugees compose a sensory narrative of their itinerary from their homeland to Greece. Having as a starting point the poem Ithaca of Constantine Kavafy, they artistically express what Ithaca is to them.

The works were presented in a multimedia exhibition in a central space in Filippiada where all the local community and the camp residents were invited. The response was huge. This was the first time the refugees left their “ghetto”, not to go for a walk or shopping but to share their stories, their wounds, their fears, their losses. The stories of their lives were there.

“I left when I was 8 from Afghanistan to go to Iran. There our lifes were very hard, and finally my father decided to leave to go to Turkey. When we arrived there we gave lots of money to pass into Greece. When we arrived in Greece, we stayed in Lesvos for 25 days in the camp, then we went to Athens, and finally arrived in the camp in Filippiada. Now we are better but still we want to leave to reach our final destination.”

Sabnam, 14, Afghanistan

“We left Afghanistan  because of war. We went to Iran. Later we went to Turkey. There we got arrested 2 times. We were released from prison after one day. We went to Greece. We feel thankful to Greek people. I want to go to school.”

Zebag Iasi 20 years old

“I missed my father and my family.I want to meet my family.I love flowers.”

Anahita 12 years old

“Very nice memories in peace and love but now is over. I hope for peace in the world. I hope to learn all the languages of the world. Get married and become a doctor. Go again to my country.”

Payan Ibrahim, 14 years old

“Ιn the past Ι had a lot of friends. We were one. We were happy family. In the house there was peace and love. The best time of my life. I want to learn a lot of languages and visit a lot of countries. To be with my family and have a job.”

Ayet Amin 19 years old

Written by Photini Papahatzi, Cultural Manager, educator & artist

AMAKA is an non profit organization founded in Athens in 2008. The main aim of the organization is to provide help into underprivileged social groups. AMAKA has chosen Art as its basic tool to promote positive change to groups and individuals, offering workshops of Art Therapy, Phototherapy, Literacy through Photography, Drama Therapy and Participatory video. Since 2009 AMAKA has been running the “Station Athens” workshop, a drama theatre workshop for refugees and immigrants, in collaboration with the leading theatrical company “POLYPLANITY PRODUCTIONS”, which nowadays showcases its plays in theaters in Greece and abroad. AMAKA is member of the E.P.E.A ( European Prison Education Association ), and through its network runs workshops of Art along European prisons. In Greece its affiliates, the Onassis Cultural Centre, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Bodossaki Institute have been supporting AMAKA’s workshops creating long-term relationships of collaboration. Since 2015, as an immediate response to the huge refugee flow in Greece, AMAKA has designed an innovative art therapy intervention, called “Art Emergency”, applied in a national level, as a pilot project of psychosocial support for young refugees through the Arts. Every year AMAKA organizes/ participates in different cultural /art events that have as a goal to raise social awareness, and promote the sustainability of its actions.

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