The summer of 2015 brought into sharp focus the politics and consequences of war and global inequalities as more than a million men, women and children fleeing their homelands, risked their lives to seek refuge and a better life in Europe. In response to the images that daily filled our screens, that same winter staff from St Ethelburga’s Centre volunteered on the island of Lesbos, a hot-point amid the unfolding humanitarian crisis. From this life and view-changing experience, The People of the Earth project emerged. How could others share in this experience of human connection and interconnectedness? How would the experience change us and contribute to building more empathic, resilient communities?
The aims of People of the Earth are twofold:
- To offer ten citizens of London an experience of volunteering in a camp in Europe (now complete)
- To co-create meaningful spaces of encounter between all Londoners – those who are settled here and those who are seeking refuge and building a new life in the city.
In November 2016, ten London participants of People of the Earth volunteered for a week in the Ointofyta Refugee Camp just north of Athens. Their invitation from Camp manager, Lisa Campbell of American NGO, Do Your Part, was to ‘beautify’ the living spaces. Their task was not to ‘do’ for the camp residents; but to collaborate with them, be led by them in design and to facilitate residents’ own ideas. No-one could have imagined what would emerge from our encounter; an explosion of creativity that travelled along every corridor and drew in child and elder alike. But it wasn’t just the walls that changed; some residents who had never spoken were discussing paint and sharing ideas, others who had avoided one another were crossing the corridors and painting together.
Images of the paintings and posts from participants can be found on our People of the Earth Facebook page with a special album of images here.
Participants returned from the volunteering deeply inspired and motivated to highlight the plight of refugees in Greece, and to create a place of meeting and welcome in London. Our first gathering of refugees and asylum seekers, of Londoners and relevant organisations, is being held in February. See ‘Events’ below.