Valentino's Blog

The monthly explaining to get the buscards. Picture: Roberta Donatini

As I write these words it’s been exactly one year since I first arrived in Thessaloniki. It has been an intense year with its natural ups and downs although in a very exceptional line of work. I have witnessed, seen and experienced a lot of sorrow, despair and tragedy while at the same time I have seen hope, love and kindness. It can be a tough environment sometimes and you may feel alone trying to live up to a Sisyphean task. But then it’s the gratitude of the people you are helping, their smiles, their hugs that makes the work worthwhile. It’s the never-ending energy and motivation of your fellow volunteers. It’s you who are reading this wherever you might be. Your uplifting messages, comments and support keep me going – thank you!

 

Pame

 

This time I will tell you about the most long-standing participant in my programme. Back in May, Waseem joined as the second ever Robin shortly following his friend Hazem, who is now finally reunited with his brother in Germany.

After receiving a rejection from Sweden and seeing all his Syrian friends relocated elsewhere in Europe, Waseem naturally went through a difficult time. Being apart from his family for years and having to watch everyone around you moving on is not an easy thing and it has undoubtedly taken its toll on Waseem’s well-being.

 

All the more so, I am happy and proud to announce that Waseem is back on his track. He successfully applied to the American College here in Thessaloniki and is now attending College twice a week. Furthermore, I was able to link him up with another NGO (IHA) where he acts as an interpreter and cultural mediator and even receives a small salary. The man has a busy time ahead and for that I am glad and wish him all the strength and power to manage it!

Waseem getting ready for his future here in Greece.

 

Before I finish I would like to disclose that the Pame project not only contains men; get to know the three women I support in my next Blog!

 

Love,

Valentino

 

 

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We are looking for 10 new Robins to help us!

 

As you all know there are still thousands of displaced people stuck in Greece. The most affected are often those from less socially accepted groups. One man has set up a project to tackle this. His mission is to accompany these people in their everyday lives and give them hope. Like a social worker, Valentino personally supporting ten vulnerable people in Thessaloniki, regardless of their heritage, gender or religion.

 

The deal is simple. The ten participants commit themselves to act and work in a project (warehouse, kitchen, workshop, translation etc.) and in exchange, they get a monthly bus card and credit to top up their phones. This adds a sense of purpose and value back in to their lives, providing new experiences and encounters. Valentino is someone who is a constant and is there to help them through the ever changing and sometimes chaotic system.

 

To efficiently support the project we are now looking for 10 persons which are willing to donate 50 € monthly and therefore become a “Robin” for one of the individuals.

The project is running continuously since mid May 2017, coordinated by Valentino.

 

If you would like to become a Robin please email: valentino.velasquez@be-a-robin.com

 

 

«Pame» Project Blog Nr. 5

 

As the summer comes to an end I enter my 11th month here in Northern Greece. Everyday, people continue to arrive on the Aegean islands of Greece, but the likelihood of travelling on to another European country has reduced to become almost impossible.

I can see the impact of the increasingly closed borders clearly in my work. Only one person who we support in the “Pame” project still has the chance to travel beyond Greece. Everyone else with whom I work who applied for relocation was refused by other countries in Europe, like Switzerland, like Sweden. European laws and closed borders mean they have to apply for asylum here in Greece.

 

Mohamed fled the civil war in Syria while a minor, and came to Europe. His hope was only for a new start, to live in security and safety. But arriving in Greece he was confronted with the strict, uncompassionate, inhuman European migrant policy. At first he was denied access to the “relocation program” which allowed (predominantly) Syrian refugees to travel on to a different European country. Mohamed appealed and he was permitted to apply, and yet his application led to months of waiting, of continued uncertainty about his future, and the end result was rejection by Switzerland. We cannot possibly imagine what that rejection must feel like for a teenager, having fled his country, civil war, his family, and fleeing to the unknown in hopes of safety. The disappointment and subsequent fear and sorrow that such an asylum rejection engenders must feel unbearable. Unfortunately this result is the reality for Mohamed, and for so many like him when they leave their countries in search of safety, asylum, and protection.

Mohamed in front of the Tamam Community Center in Sindos.

Despite this, Mohamed hasn’t lost his calm, positive, and resilient attitude. He is finding ways to distract himself and stay occupied while working at Tamam Community Center in Sindos, and was also an active team member in our Lampetia project as an interpreter and mediator/facilitator. One month ago he received asylum in Greece, and he remains a participant of the “Pame” project for the time being.

 

What does this mean for the “Pame” project?

 

The individuals in our “Pame” program need support to have a better chance to build a new life of safety and a sense of normalcy in a foreign country. The international community, the EU, the Greek state, and organisations like the UN are helping on a very limited basis, but huge gaps remain. That’s why organisations such as “ Be a Robin” and other grassroots groups formed in order to fill these gaps.

 

A lot of people arriving to Thessaloniki are forced to live rough on the streets of the city. My program does its best to respond to their need. Many need a constant figure of support in their lives, someone on whom they can count, someone who can offer advice, someone who can connect them to opportunities and resources, someone who has time to sit with them, listen, and share humanity. To give these people a fair chance I plan to use more financial resources to support their education and to improve their quality of living. My hope is that this will enhance their prospect to start a new life here in Greece.

My home for now, Thessaloniki mou!

For now, I will stay here in Thessaloniki as coordinator of the project, and continue to adapt and improve it. To do this, I also need you! I ask you to continue your funding, or to start now.

 

We cannot all leave our lives behind to be here in Greece; you are the Robins close and far whose support sends love and hope to all the people in our projects. Thank you.

 

From Thessaloniki,

Valentino

 

 

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It’s been a while since I last uploaded a post, and a lot has happened. I start with a farewell; some of you might remember Wael, who I wrote about before. Wael is a young Syrian man who helped out at the warehouse for quite some time. Last month, Wael received his final decision and is now in Athens awaiting his final transfer to Spain. I wish you all the best my friend!

You will be missed – good luck in Spain Wael!

 

A second participant has also left the program, but for different reasons. After a long period trying to find alternative solutions, Ahmed, the baker from Aleppo, chose to leave the project for personal reasons. Ahmed is now in Athens, and I wish him the best of luck.

 

Desale is now part of the “Doc Mobile” team.

Nevertheless the need and demand for my work still seems to be high. This is good news but unfortunately I will soon have to turn people away, to prevent me overstretching my capacity to allow me to give each participant a fair amount of support and help.

 

Throughout the last couple of weeks, four new individuals have joined the project. They are all seeking asylum in Greece. Three are Pakistanis, and are waiting for their final decision. Desale, from Eritrea, has been granted asylum. Back in Eritrea, Desale was working as a nurse so immediately I began looking for work opportunities for his specific skill set. It didn’t take me long! “Doc Mobile” is a German NGO operating in several countries to meet the medical needs of displaced people. In Thessaloniki they act as a mobile medical unit offering help to the local street population, as well as supporting people in housing projects or camps. For now Desale works two days a week with “Doc Mobile” and three days a week he attends English and Greek classes.

 

As the project proceeds it becomes clearer that the majority of participants are people, who seek to build a new life here in Greece. To sustain our effective and long lasting support, our organisation depends on you. Please consider donating.

 

 

Love,

Valentino

 

 

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This blog post is particularly special for me; I am going to tell you about a Syrian man who I first met at beginning of the year.

 

Ahmed immigrated in the late 1990s from Aleppo to Greece, where he worked as a baker in Athens first, and then Thessaloniki. When the global financial crisis hit in 2007, Greece was struck especially hard – a reality which remains today. Greece is almost alone in Europe in facing a continued economic struggle. In the years following the crisis, Ahmed, like many others, lost his job and he decided to go home to Syria in 2009. No one could have predicted what would happen in Syria in the years to follow. The civil war, now in its devastating sixth year, forced Ahmed in 2014 to flee again to Europe. Once again Ahmed arrived to Greece where he was relatively fortunate to quickly get asylum and a residence permit. And yet this fortune was accompanied by a subsequent ineligibility for humanitarian aid and support from the Greek government and NGOs. The inevitable happened; Ahmed in his mid 50s, migrant, unqualified and unattractive as working force slipped into poverty, ending up on the streets. For more then two years Ahmed was homeless in the derelict spaces and streets of Thessaloniki. For the past month, this is no longer the case.

Ahmed in the office of “Acción Directa Sierra Norte” – his new employer.

 

The first time I met Ahmed, I was distributing food with “Soul Food Kitchen” to homeless and precariously housed populations of the city. It was early 2017 and still winter. I was moved by his story and sought to help him. Thanks to the language skills of our new Syrian Robins, I was able to contact Ahmed again, and invite him into the “Pame” project.  What does that mean? I am overjoyed to tell you that since the end of May, Ahmed has lived in an apartment in a small town north of Thessaloniki, where he is also working. Thanks to collaboration with the Spanish organisation “Acción Directa Sierra Norte“, who runs a bakery for refugees, Ahmed not only is working, but is able to use his expertise as a baker, earning money and ensuring a continued roof over his head. “Be a Robin” pays half of Ahmed’s salary, and the Spanish pay the other half.

 

The baker from Aleppo – from the streets to the bakery.

 

I want to use this opportunity to thank all the people behind “Be a Robin”. Only as a result of your donations, effort, and compassion am I able to help and support individuals living in the camps and spaces of Thessaloniki,  who find themselves on the fringes of society. Thanks to your support I can fully commit myself to my work and seek a continued positive influence on the lives of these people.

 

In deep gratitude,

Valentino

 

 

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The successful launch of the “Pame” project was followed with some bad news. First my car, and then my phone broke down within three days. The car is essential in allowing me mobility to drive participants of the “Pame” project, to respond to requests, to assist in their goals, to meet people who are interested in participating. The phone – it goes without saying, is necessary for communication and planning. Fortunately I was able to fix both, but at big expense

 

Weekly run to Alexandria camp for basic food supplies such as oil, sugar, and flour.

 

Now the good news! We welcomed another member to our “Pame” project! Wael, a young Syrian man who knows Waseem and Hazim from Alexandria, has been waiting for months for news on his relocation to another European country. Like everyone else, he has no idea of how long this process will take. Wael join the others at the Help Refugees warehouse, for which he has received the month bus pass. And, I am thrilled to announce, that from now on, we will also provide phone credit for all members of the program! Mobile communication is so important for people who are displaced, as it is the only connection they have with their families and friends. Phones also allow participants to call lawyers and gather information about their asylum process and legal details.

 

 

 

Wael is already the third Robin which can work at the warehouse.

 

 

It is wonderful to see how our Syrian members of the “Pame” project, Waseem, Wael, and Hazim, are building community at the Help Refugees Warehouse.Last Monday they invited me, and many of my volunteer friends with whom they have also become friends, to a traditional breaking of the fast (Iftar) during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. We went to their flat to eat and for many of my volunteer friends it was the first time to be part of such a tradition. The food was delicious and plentiful, and we finished the night with sweet chai and games. I believe it is nights like these that are an important step toward breaking up the categories of “us” and “them,” and lead us more towards a “we”, human beings enjoying a meal and having fun together.

 

 

Breaking the fast together at our Syrian friends home.

 

 

From Thessaloniki,

 

Valentino

 

 

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This blog starts with great news: the “Pame” project has begun successfully! After countless visits to government agencies, discussions with a lawyer, and talking with all the coordinators at the “Help Refugees” warehouse, on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, it is already the second week of the project, and we have welcomed Hazim and Waseem!

 

The Syrian friends Waseem and Hazim are the first two participants of the “Pame” project.

 

 

Hazim and Waseem are young Syrian men, who met at the Alexandria refugee camp and became friends. Along with other friends from the camp, they received assistance in moving to an apartment in Thessaloniki. Both Hazim and Waseem have been waiting for months for relocation to another European country. Hazim is waiting for reunification with his older brother in Germany, while Waseem has no idea which country will accept him. It is a waiting game.

In the meantime, as participants of the “Pame Project,” Hazim and Waseem are able to join other volunteers from across the world, and work in the Help Refugees warehouse. For Hazim and Waseem it is a chance to escape the monotony and daily routine of waiting. For Hazim and Waseem, it is more than volunteering. In exchange for their hard work, and thanks to your donations to Be A Robin, we are able to pay for some of their everyday expenses – like monthly bus passes, which we are buying today. Each week, I drive with Hazim and Waseem to Alexandria, a refugee camp 40 minutes from Thessaloniki where they used to live, and from where they can collect basic food supplies.

 

Monthly bus passes for public transportation in and around Thessaloniki, one step towards more independence.

 

In Thessaloniki’s unpredictable yet routine bus strikes, I help Hazim and Waseem by driving them everywhere; thankfully the busses are back on the roads after two weeks of strikes, so Hazim and Waseem can once again move independently around the city and to the warehouse. The help I provide is always returned – currently Hazim is helping me as an interpreter while I find new participants for the project; English should not be a necessity, the project must be accessible for everyone without language restrictions.

 

 

From Thessaloniki,

Valentino

 

 

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