Sharing stories, joining forces – Za’tar NGO took par in a Max Conference

On April 8th 2021, Philippine Krysmann, Za’atar NGO’s intern Assistant Coordinator, took part in the online conference “ Actions for the integration of migrants in the local community : exchange of stories & experience”, held by the KMOP through their project Max – Maximising Migrants’ Contribution to Society.

From journalists and communication professionals, activists and NGOs’ workers to social science researchers, a great diversity of actors in the field of migration and integration of asylum-seeking and refugee people gathered for three hours of exchanges and experience-sharing, tackling topics as varied as common stereotypes about migrants’ integration to debunk, the contribution of education and culture to the process of integration of newcomers as well as the role of the media in informing and telling their stories. 

In this framework, Philippine Krysmann had the opportunity to present Za’atar NGO’s work with asylum-seekers and refugees and its team’s dedication to empower and support them in the building of their own path towards autonomy, through the learning of the Greek language, the acquisition of professional skills, the discovery of the local culture and sharing of their own. Philippine, who has notably been delivering language classes and CV workshops, drew for her experience at Za’atar NGO and the many discussions she has had with the rest of the team to offer an insightful presentation.

Titled “The empowerment of young people and their absorption in the labor market”, her note addressed the legal context framing asylum-seekers and refugees’ search for a job, the struggles they face doing so but the preconceptions which can prevent them from looking for employment as well. She then described the different activities and services offered by Za’atar NGO in response to those issues and to favor the professional integration of the greater number.

Dedicated to the protection, support, social inclusion and empowerment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, Za’atar NGO is determined to advocate for and with them so that both policies and minds evolve for the better.

Learn more about our project and actions by checking out our website and Facebook page.

Bridging Gaps and Reflecting on Education – Some Insights From Marleno Nika, Greek Teacher at the Orange House

The many restrictions on mobility and public gatherings, which have been implemented in Greece for almost a year now, have led Za’atar NGO to adapt its organization, transferring all of its educational services online in order for beneficiaries to keep improving their language skills – a key-factor of the process of integration into a foreign society.

Five language classes are currently delivered via Zoom by an international team of dedicated and enthusiastic teachers. Throughout March and April, bilingual sessions of a CV workshop were also offered to meet several requests.  All those educational activities, adding up to our in-person legal and social services, correspond to a total of more than one hundred free hours of language classes taught to some fifty students each month.

In a constant desire to adjust and improve its practices, Za’atar NGO’s team has launched a revision of its Teachers’ Handbook, guiding our teachers in their first steps and progression, in order to take into account the evolutions implied by the virtualization of classes. Current teachers were invited to share their experience and methods. That is in this framework that one of our Greek teachers, Marleno Nika, student in Greek Language and Linguistics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens,  wrote an insightful reflection on his teaching journey at the Orange House.

Titled “How to Bridge the Gap Between Teacher and Student”, his text reminds us all that “Our idea of teaching and learning, as well as our understanding of what a classroom is and how it functions are highly influenced by our cultural experiences.” A fact that, according to him, should not limit teachers but, on the contrary, stimulate their creativity and challenge their own conceptions and methods. 

As Marleno writes it with great relevance, “(…) we must understand the prerequired sociocultural knowledge needed for a person to follow the classrooms we teach and communicate with our students, in order to understand their ideas on teaching and learning. (…) Our job is to bridge the gap between what students want to learn and what they have to learn, what they already know and assume and what they need to know, in order to navigate inside a certain language community.”

Relying on its international team of volunteers and employees, constantly questioning and improving their methods, Za’atar NGO has always made of cultural awareness and dialogue a key determinant of its practice and success.  

Learn more about our project and actions by checking out our website and Facebook page.

March 2011 – March 2021 : Syria, Ten Years of War

Ten years ago, in March 2011, in a hope for change and progress in individual and political rights already expressed in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya at the time, peaceful protests started taking place in the south of Syria. In a context of economic and environmental crisis (1), disillusion with Bashar al-Assad’s leadership, in place since 2000 after having succeeded his father Hafez, president for the previous thirty years, the protest movement was quick to spread throughout the country.

Non-violent demonstrators were met with guns and tanks.

Six months after the first marches demanding political progress, economic reforms and social change, the situation had turned into a civil war, opposing civilian armed militias to the national army. Voices started raising on the international stage, asking President Bachar al-Assad to put an end to this dangerous escalation of violence. National and international attempts to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict failed one after the other as the country sank into horror and destruction. In 2013, the Syrian power was accused of attacking its own people using chemical weapons. That same year, a new actor emerged, illustrating the diversity and complexity of forces intervening in the conflict – the Islamic State in Irak and the Levant or Islamic State in Irak and Syria.

From mass protests to a civil war, the Syrian conflict had turned global in less than two years, devastating a country and its people.

After receiving hundreds of thousands asylum-seekers and refugees successively fleeing conflicts and violence in Lebanon, Palestine or Irak, Syria started seeing its own population run away. To this day, according to the UN (2), they are 6.6 million Syrians to have left the country, with an additional 6.7 million being displaced within its borders – which correspond to half the entire population. If European countries soon worried about a “Syrian refugee crisis”, the main host countries of those displaced populations remain neighboring Turkey, currently home to 3.6 million of Syrians, Lebanon, Jordan, Irak and Egypt. While some have managed to find asylum abroad, the majority of them are still living in camps, whose precariousness and poverty have increased due to the global pandemic.

For the 13 million Syrians who have not had the possibility or means to flee, Covid-19 is the last challenge of a long list of daily struggles to survive in the ruins of their country (3).

A decade after the beginning of what was briefly called the Syrian Revolution, while the country is still divided and the prey of international interests, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates the death toll to reach 388, 652 people.

Ten years have passed, millions are gone. And war remains.


(1) Between 2006 and 2010, Syria went through the most severe drought of its contemporary history. See Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Syrian Civil War”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 17 Jul. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War.

(2) UNHCR, “Syria Refugee Crisis Explained”. 5 Feb. 2021. https://www.unrefugees.org/news/syria-refugee-crisis-explained/#:~:text=More%20than%206.6%20million%20Syrians,%2C%20Jordan%2C%20Iraq%20and%20Egypt

(3) UNICEF, “Syria conflict 10 years on: 90 per cent of children need support as violence, economic crisis and COVID-19 pandemic push families to the brink”. 10 March 2021. https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/syria-conflict-10-years-90-cent-children-need-support-violence-economic-crisis-and

An article written by Aude Sathoud, in discussion with Marina Liakis.

Waiting for Spring – 2021 International Day for Women’s Rights

In an ideal word, there would be no need for such a thing as an International Day for Women’s Rights. 

In 2020, migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee women and girls have constituted one of the most vulnerable populations in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Deprived of schools for the youngest of them, who, in their majority, will probably not return, they have been touched by another hidden epidemic. In a context of generalized lockdown, mobility restrictions and social distancing, making even more complex the access to organizations and community support, domestic and gender-based violence has been on the rise worldwide.

In 2020, migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee women have also been frontline actors in the struggle against the pandemic as well as in the survival of economies which, without them and a great number of workers, male and female, composing the invisible though essential basis of our societies, would have collapsed. 

In 2020, migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee women have been thousands to mobilize themselves and their communities in order to preserve their life and solidarity, cope with a situation increasing their vulnerability and isolation, and defend their rights while the world had other priorities.

On this Monday, March 8th 2021, the International Day for Women’s Rights is not a luxury – it is a necessity.

It thus is with a renewed belief in both their ideals and power to change the real that Za’atar NGO’s leadership and team worked throughout 2020 to offer refugee and asylum-seeking women a place to live, take a breath, meet and build, a place to grow and then leave, in their Athenian shelter on the first floor of their community center, the Orange House.

Coming from Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon or Iran, they have been welcomed and supported in this singular and difficult period for us all and even more for people on the move. Benefitting from the holistic approach and personalized support developed by our team of psychologist, social worker and lawyer, they were able to all remain as active as possible – studying at school or taking part in a professional training, finding a job in the summer or between the lockdown periods, and following language classes at the Orange House.

If one of our residents got infected by the virus in the first weeks of the epidemic, and had to spend two weeks in the hospital – a complicated experience for any foreigner and especially asylum-seeker, she was grateful for the kindness of the nursing staff and support from the Orange House’s team and the other residents, with whom she fortunately reunited, recovered and relieved.

In 2021, Za’atar NGO is committed to carry on working to make this complex and beautiful world a better place for all women and girls, so that one day, perhaps, the 8th of March is just another one of those days when we look up at the sky and smile, waiting for spring.

March Volunteers

Our registry of volunteers for the month of March 2021.

Prisoners of lockdown – The double seclusion of refugee and asylum-seeking people

If the pandemic outbreak and consequent lockdown measures have impacted us all, changing our habits, challenging our balance and narrowing our horizons, the most vulnerable of us – among which refugee and asylum-seeker populations, have had to struggle with specific issues.

While we all share a common fear of getting infected by the virus, we are not equal facing it, and some of us, due to their conditions of life or fragile health, are at a greater risk to both catch the virus and develop a severe form of the disease. Living in shelters, crowded shared apartments if not in camps or in the streets, most refugee and asylum-seeking people do not have the possibility to respect measures of physical distance. Most of them being unemployed – waiting to acquire the refugee status to get a legal job or having lost theirs due to the sanitary and economic crisis, thus living on a very low or nonexistent income, they often times do not have the means to afford masks nor hydroalcoholic gel for themselves let alone a whole family.

Less protected from the virus, asylum-seekers moreover may not be able to access the appropriate healthcare services if they get infected. The majority of them, waiting for the decision concerning their request for asylum or having received a rejection, indeed does not possess the required papers to be allowed into a hospital.

As it is the case for us all, threats on asylum-seeking and refugee people’s health are not only physical ; those times force us into a mental struggle as well. The general atmosphere, which may not be too disturbing or unfamiliar per se to some refugees and asylum-seekers, who have lived through other epidemic experiences in their countries of origin, can however revive some traumatic memories of those periods. The promiscuity of the collective dwellings they live in, while preventing any protective sanitary measure or isolation, makes even more difficult the creation of necessary spaces of loneliness and self-care, peaceful breathing and mental escape. In this context of tension, uncertainty and forced cohabitation, violence is on the rise – women, children as well as LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum-seekers are particularly vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the mobility restrictions and closing orders on many activities and public services slow down NGOs and asylum services’ functioning, in a moment when they probably are the most needed. To the uncertainty of one’s future and silence of authorities thus add a feeling of double-isolation, and sometimes abandonment from organizations, nonetheless working endlessly to adapt and meet ever-growing needs.

In those times of great restrictions, going for a walk seems to remain one of the last freedoms we have. Yet, even such a moment of pleasure and relief becomes a challenge and source of anxiety for asylum-seeking people who fear being controlled and arrested at each step.

And while most of us, when this situation comes to an end, will be free again, for others, lockdown, which was never an “exceptional state”, will remain.

February Volunteers

Our registry of volunteers for the month of February 2021.

Cooking Without Borders – Our Online Cooking Lessons

While borders remain closed, streets empty and parties impossible, Za’atar NGO is committed to build bridges, make people meet, cultures mix and create communities. What a better way to do so than through what we all share – and cherish, food and cooking ?

If Tastes of Damascus, the restaurant of our social enterprise, Layali Project, cannot open its doors and embark curious customers on a tasty trip, everyone can now travel in senses from their own kitchen. How ? By joining our weekly  live cooking lessons, bringing together refugees and Greek people ! After cooking dinner altogether, following the instructions of the restaurant’s team, participants share a well-deserved dinner, to the sound of the guitar or voice of a guest singer or musician.

From Athens to Beyrouth, from France to Venezuela or the United States, they are tenths of chefs-to-be to have joined us since the launching of this series of events. Together, we have flown to Syria, Algeria, Cameroon, each time learning local recipes and discovering new cultures. Many more destinations are to come. An enthusiastic and friendly group of people, coming from all walks and sizes with the same wish to live a nice moment of sharing and bonding, is waiting for you.

Do not miss out on our future trips !

Check out our website and Facebook page to stay updated on all our projects.  

January Volunteers.

Our registry of volunteers for the month of January 2021.

Building BRIDGES – Za’atar NGO, Partner-Organization of a European Research Project

Convinced of the importance of education in the process of inclusion of migrant and refugee people in society, Za’atar NGO has always had for mission to offer free language and skill classes as well as professional trainings to its beneficiaries.

It thus is as an actor of education and from civil society,  that the organization was invited to join a European consortium of research dedicated to improving inclusion in Higher Education, and take part in the ambitious project BRIDGES. Its goal : “diversifying knowledge and tackling discrimination through civil society participation in universities”.

This initiative, co-funded by the Erasmus + Programme of the European Union and the Servicio Español para la Internacionalización de la Educación (SEPIE), runs from October 2019 to July 2022, bringing together actors of Higher Education and civil society from Spain, Germany, Greece and the United Kingdom, under the coordination of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Through this international and diverse partnership, inspired by Participatory Action Research methodologies , the project aims at producing four outcomes :

– a Virtual Lab accessible by all, on which will be displayed the different products and results of the research ;

– a Toolkit of concepts, exercises and strategies to challenge hegemonic discourses and dismantle exclusionary mechanisms operating in Higher Education ;

– a Course, ““Inclusion Without Discrimination,” aimed at current and future Higher Education instructors, which will be delivered in the second year of the project ;

– a Monograph, Diversifying Knowledges, Building Inclusive Societies: Theories and Methods of Narrative Productions., co-authored by all the participants, retracing the whole research adventure and elaboration of the narrative productions and participatory curriculum design, in order for them to be appropriated and replicated by all those who whish to engage with such a challenge.

Za’atar NGO is proud to be part of such an exciting project and intellectual journey, combining action and thinking for change.

Learn more about BRIDGES here.

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