Clutha Leader - - FRONT PAGE -

nstead of feel­ing like you’re miss­ing out on life, you feel you are ben­e­fit­ing from your time here.’’ It was this line from a young per­son at Rit­sona Refugee Camp in Greece that in­spired Pa­p­a­towai teacher Keith Olsen to see whether he could also help make a dif­fer­ence to the lives of the 900 refugees en­camped there.

‘‘I want to help peo­ple who are stuck, to have a chance at a fu­ture, and ed­u­ca­tion is key to chang­ing those dy­nam­ics.’’

Next month, the Catlins man will be trav­el­ling to the camp, about an hour and a half‘s drive north of the cap­i­tal Athens, to work as a vol­un­teer for hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion Light­house Re­lief.

He takes with him a life­time’s teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in art, mu­sic and out­door ed­u­ca­tion to the camp’s Youth En­gage­ment Space, to give young peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to learn new skills and ex­press them­selves. They re­cently started a mag­a­zine, the Rit­sona King­dom Jour­nal, about their ex­pe­ri­ences at the camp and in the cre­ative space.

In 2015, the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian situation in Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries, in par­tic­u­lar Syria be­cause of the civil war, brought thou­sands of refugees across the sea to Greece, which was viewed as an en­try point to Eu­rope.

How­ever, the 50,000-plus refugees can no longer legally travel fur­ther into Eu­rope, and de­spite Greece’s con­tin­u­ing fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the only so­lu­tion for many is in­te­gra­tion.

That is where vol­un­teers come in, to help them over­come lan­guage and cul­tural bar­ri­ers. Olsen and wife Diana Noo­nan have a long as­so­ci­a­tion with Greece. They’ve been go­ing there for years and have a high re­spect for the gen­eros­ity of Greek peo­ple and the help they are pre­pared to give refugees, even when their own coun­try is in eco­nomic tur­moil and they have lit­tle them­selves.

Light­house Re­lief is par­tic­u­larly fo­cused on the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of be­ing a refugee, and the high bore­dom fac­tor for young peo­ple with few op­tions.

Al­though the camp is un­usual, in that peo­ple are free to come and go, they are largely iso­lated. The near­est town of Chal­cis, also known as Chalkida, is about 7km away with no pub­lic trans­port.

‘‘I was at­tracted to Light­house be­cause they were very well or­gan­ised, and in fact the in­ter­view [over the phone] was in­cred­i­bly rig­or­ous,’’ Olsen said.

‘‘They want to know that you are go­ing to be self-suf­fi­cient and you will be able to with­stand the rigours of the place. Camps can be pretty stress­ful places.’’

Story con­tin­ues page 3.

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