By Sophie Fox
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”
“We aim to create a society in which fundamental rights, equitable access to resources and services, and a healthy environment are granted to all and everyone.”
“A society in which all individuals are provided with the tools needed to progress their lives in safety and with dignity.”
Second Tree is a community-led, grassroots NGO operating in Northern Greece. We have nominated them as our June Hero of the Month for the outstanding work they do to provide education and support for refugees.
The organisation was founded by a group of volunteers who met in the Katsikas Refugee Camp in 2016. According to Second Tree, these volunteers “left their old lives to build an organisation that first and foremost treats refugees like people.”
Whereas other refugee-focused NGO’s and charities tend to focus on providing for more basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter, Second Tree looks to the future in order to provide practical skills needed to gain employment, as well as help refugees to build bonds with the local community. Their unique educational and community-led programme helps to provide refugees with tangible skills that can springboard them into their new lives, with the aim of nurturing a sense of independence and aiding integration into their new communities.
The tragedy of individuals who have refugee status is that they are constantly in a state of flux, continuously occupying a liminal space in our society; from having to leave oppressive regimes or war zones where they have no agency, they risk everything – including their lives – to attain a better life for themselves and their families. All of this effort for freedom results in a heart wrenching paradox that once they arrive in the refugee camp, they may be free from the life they were escaping, but they are by no means free: Their agency is now in the hands of the NGO or charity that cares for them. Second Tree’s work is so important for this very reason, as they help set refugees up for success, helping them to obtain independence.
Second Tree’s work has grown in three key areas:
The first key area is a language learning programme where refugees can learn both Greek and English by qualified, Greek Ministry of Education approved teachers.
“Our classrooms are spaces that enable refugees to regain their agency and re-engage in learning again.”
Secondly, their community building programme helps newcomers integrate into the local community. Activities include a twinning project where a refugee is “twinned” with someone from the local community for a “program of activities and excursions designed to foster long-lasting friendships between two groups.” Activities include sports days, football matches, language cafés and cultural exchanges where refugees and locals alike can learn about each other’s cultures.
Lastly, Refugee Youth Scout is a peer-to-peer mentoring programme that promotes youth-wellbeing amongst young refugees. So far, the scheme has “helped more than 300 children stuck in refugee camps develop meaning, routine and identity.” The programme helps to promote kindness, focus and respect for one another. Second Tree states that youths are particularly vulnerable in refugee camps as “this age group is conscious of what displaced them and often lack support systems to help process their trauma. This can lead to anti-social behaviour and a lack of confidence, which also inhibits learning and positive self-development from taking place.” Activities include daily English classes, Greek homework support, workshops and excursions outside of the camp to aid integration into the community.
Most recently, Second Tree has launched a challenge in honour of World Refugee Day. Supporters undertake a variety of challenges – from running, walking, baking and even marathon training - to raise money for refugees. The money will go towards providing 250 refugees with two months of quality education. We are very pleased to announce that Second Tree has so far raised €8,950.
“Participants are challenging society’s false stereotypes of refugees as heroes, victims, or villains by spreading the word that #RefugeesArePeople who don’t want our pity: they want the opportunity to thrive.”
If you’d like to donate to Second Tree, or want to check out more of the amazing work they do please visit https://secondtree.org/donate/