Connecting with Refugees and Migrants through Volunteering-A snapshot of the Time To be Welcome Project led by the Scouts
Imagine finding yourself in a completely war-torn town, seeing the fulfilment of your most basic needs swiftly diminish, leaving you between a rock and a hard place: staying with no guarantee of survival or risking your life to be on the mercy of strangers on a foreign soil.
About 62,000 refugees are stranded in Greece. Those who manage to be moved to the mainland face significant challenges in integrating to a new community, navigating a new system and overcoming the language barriers.
Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, Time to Be Welcome was initiated as a collaborative partnership between 10 youth organisations, six of which are European Scouting organisations. It came with the intention of providing refugees and migrants with non-formal educational and leisure opportunities, helping them, therefore, feel more integrated in their hosting communities in Greece and France.
The project also aims to sensitise European young volunteers about the reality of refugees and migrants, and encourage them to challenge negative stereotypes back in their local communities.
Since its onset in December 2017, Time to Be Welcome has involved dozens of volunteers in Greece and France and has directly reached around 200 refugees and migrants weekly through 15 communitarian activities on average.
Although the themes of refugee resettlement and migration top today's humanitarian and non-profit institutional agendas, the Time to Be Welcome project is quite unique .
"Our volunteers are in constant direct contact with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. This direct exposure is highly needed today to alleviate the alarming level of stigmatisation that is surrounding this vulnerable incoming group" said Veronica Arduino, the project coordinator at the European Scout office.
Stigmatisation starts taking shape when the "other" becomes a distant subject. Interaction between Scouts and refugees shatters that distance through a personalised and human experience transcending the reductionist label of "refugee" or "migrant" to become a peer, a potential friend or simply a fellow human worth of respect.
Returning home, Scouts and non-Scouts would not only have a basket of stories to share with friends and family, but they would also be supported by their sending organisations to transfer their newly-collected insights and knowledge to their peers and their local community at large.
"One of the great assets of this project is to target volunteers, Scouts and non-Scouts, who are already active in a youth association in their home countries. The objective is to give their short volunteering experience a meaningful set-up that helps them find effective ways to transfer their knowledge to their peers later". Said Veronica.
In a time where short-term volunteering faces significant challenges, especially in terms of transforming field-gained insights into impactful, awareness-raising actions back home, Time to Be Welcome empowers participating volunteers and youth organisations to become active social cohesion builders in their local communities.
Above all, there is a priceless sense of self-fulfilment that Scouts and non-Scouts gain from this project. In a time where compassion fatigue is increasingly intensified by sensational and dramatic media coverage around the refugee and migration crisis, passivity has become the norm. Instilling the virtue of action in young people and youth is crucial to boost their personal development and self-esteem.
Time to Be Welcome will continue to offer young volunteers - Scouts and non-Scouts - a memorable journey of self-discovery and altruism till the end of 2018.