During the month that felt like a lifetime, this June 2019, I volunteered for Za’atar NGO. From folding children’s clothing, organizing folders, and even giving a guitar class in sign language; to taking an improvised Irani dance lesson at the Layali Salon, I learnt what volunteering is all about, what activism and social change truly mean. Back in France, where I have not stopped working for Za’atar NGO, and before going back to Athens as soon as possible, I thought I would give you a little insight of what my life had been – or really what it became, there at The Orange House.
My name is Aude Sathoud, I am an eighteen-year-old French-Congolese student in Political and Social Sciences at Sciences Po, and this is a little bit of my story.
Part 2 – When the Orange House becomes Home.
In addition to my weekly shifts at the Orange House, and occasional support to Pampiraiki at the warehouse, I was lucky to get the opportunity to give a few English classes, during the second part of my Athenian adventure. About twenty classes are offered every week at the Orange House. Focusing on language classes (English and Greek, are the main ones) students can attend a great variety of classes and activities. They are encouraged to come to the English conversation sessions to practice speaking, or even learn to write and improve their C.V during dedicated workshops. Moreover, they can follow a computer skills class given thanks to a collaboration with the Social Hackers Academy, join the second running installation of the Cooking Class job training, and even learn some very nice hip moves by taking the Irani and Arabic dance class.
Offering the most varied and qualitative classes/activities, the Orange House is a principal factor inscribed in Za’atar NGO’s philosophy of empowerment of students as well as volunteers. Za’atar’s mission is not about providing refugees basic goods and services to survive; it is to give them the keys to build a sustainable way of living their own lives. Asking for volunteers to be dynamic and proactive, Za’atar encourages them to share their knowledge and talents. This is how a gardening-lover once happened to cover the Orange House with flowers; a yoga instructor to offer personalized yoga sessions; or a dance student to teach basic moves and choreography to beneficiaries. This is how I ended up giving an unplanned one-hour guitar class to two farsi-speaking siblings, trying to bond without any other language than smiles, thumbs up, and high-fives.
In one month at the Orange House, I did not learn that much about the war in Syria, life under bombings, survival methods in camps, or the dangers of crossing borders. I did not talk nor hear much about exile, loss, nor death. I did learn, however, how to cook foufou the Guinean way; even play a Hindi hit song on the guitar or dance some Irani steps. I did hear, however, about the Senegalese wrestling, Oriental threading, and the best spots to trek at dawn in Turkey. I did learn, however, about the freedom of sailing, and the feeling of the wind on one’s skin when climbing.
In one month at the Orange House, I did not meet those refugees I had been told about for years. I did not meet victims – we would rather say survivors. I did meet, however, a mechanical engineer, a literature teacher, a medical student, a police officer – and even a race car driver! I did meet, however, a great number of soccer players, happy eaters, funny pranksters… From my one-month volunteering with Za’atar, I do not recall neither drama nor tears. I do recall, however, our dances and laughters.
To learn more about Za’atar, and their various amazing initiatives please visit their website and Instagram!