Athens September 2017
Artists in Transit travelled to Athens to deliver workshops in 5th school squat and Mosaico House, a home for displaced families. We spent a fortnight working between both running a variety of art workshops aimed at children and young people.
5th school is an amazing, self-organised squat led by Kastro, a Syrian refugee who moved to Athens in the 70s. Despite government opposition, Kastro turned this abandoned school into a home which housed around 350 asylum seekers, mostly from Mosul, Iraq. Those who fled Mosul had done so during a major military campaign to reclaim the city from 3 years of ISIS control.
Whilst we were at 5th School, volunteers were taking asylum seekers to hospital for war injuries
and different families were arriving and leaving almost daily.
While we were there we had full use of an old classroom and we quickly developed a little routine. The AIT team would arrive drinking coffee, straddled with art supplies and once we had found the key we tried (never with much success) to sneak into the classroom unseen. We would tell the children to 'wait for 5 minutes' which soon became a running joke as it would always take us longer. They would initially wait very patiently and then once they realised we had once succeeded the 5-minute promise, banging on the metal door would begin. Once we had set up the activity we would welcome the children in, running, screaming and applause would ensue. After the initial rush of excitement and questions had subsided, a calm ambience would descend on the room and creation would proceed.
After a few days, parents and other adults would come to see what their children were up to. Friendships were made and often parents stayed to join in and to help translate more intricate instructions. Nearing our final day we were asked if we could paint a mural for the entrance which we naturally accepted! We threw together a quick plan and our team worked into the evening preparing the walls. On our last day, many members of the squat community pulled in to help the completion of the wall, some we had only met that day! We followed this up with a party for the children and a screening of the green-screen film.
Saying goodbye was very hard. 5th School had left an impression on all of us and we hope the good memories are reciprocated! We are planning to go back as soon as possible.
Laughter, screaming, mess and happiness.
Time disappears (for a couple of hours) and we create so many beautiful pieces of work with the children that you forget you are even creating.
I think that the happiness of the kids will stay with me the most; their innocence and joy makes you almost forget what they have been through and the hardships they face. I think that this is something that gave me hope but also reminded me of the importance of the work we were doing. We were trying to retain childlike innocence in a world that has been unfair and inexplicably harsh to them.
Nurturing, Challenging, Emotional, Positive.
I really enjoyed the Green Screen Project because
it gave the children a chance to role play and to live in an imagined work of their own and then to see the magic
of this being created on screen for all to see.
Great fun, resourceful and worthwhile.
I particularly enjoyed the last project at the 5th School Squat because it involved other residents who were not on our radar to work with. The children loved painting on the walls and really took it seriously. The finished work, the mural, was brilliant and successful because it immediately changed the entrance to the building.
Parents and adults in the squat really appreciated the time we spent with the children.
Children are children universally. Knowing that they were children of war was sometimes a struggle but that did not negate their creativity, happiness, curiosity and cheekiness when we were working with them! Despite the language and cultural barriers, we were able to connect with the kids through the medium of art which is more powerful than I had ever imagined.