Empowerment Program

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Self-Defense and Empowerment Program
for Female Refugees

   Starfish Foundation continues their self defense project, which supports female refugees on the island of Lesvos to become more aware of situations where their boundaries are being crossed, and to learn strategies to protect and advocate for themselves. This project is a follow-up of an earlier pilot program in 2018.

   In February 2019, Starfish offered two days of empowerment through 16th and 17th of February. Our goal was to find a female instructor who would be able to make the refugee women feel comfortable expressing their feelings. We found Margarita Founariotaki from Athens, and invited her for a weekend course, which took place at the 16th and 17th of February. The course was a great success. 57 women participated in two classes of 3.5 hours. 44 of them were refugee women, the other 13 women were volunteers from all over the world who came to learn and to support the refugee women.

   It was amazing to see how eager everyone was to learn how to say NO and to see how happy and enthusiastic they were about joining the class with women from different cultures. They became sisters within a few hours. In the half an hour break, we sat together and talked about experiences in and out of the camp and in the streets of Mytilini. The refugee women said they never feel safe, especially at night, when they go out alone. They hide in their tents, while many men drink and become aggressive.

   Our trainer Margarita created a safe and comfortable space during the class and the sharing sessions. The techniques she showed and taught were basic and clear, understandable for everyone, and easy to explain by the three translators into Farsi, Arabic and French. Doing the exercises together resulted in more confident and powerful attitudes, a surprising experience for all the women. We are much stronger than we normally believe we are. What a joy it was to see these proud and happy faces!

   We noticed during these two days that women need safe spaces in order to feel relaxed, to laugh. And laugh they did! The women left with a huge smiles: they were hugging each other, taking pictures together on their mobile phones, and thanking us over and over again for offering the course.

   We  are proceeding with the classes, especially now that we understand their importance. We would like to organize them more regularly, so we need to find local trainers. Thus we are planning a training week for female instructors on our island in May.

   The second project of this program will be: empowerment through sharing. We are in discussion with representatives of different nationalities in the camp in order to organize a number of sessions with themes like the position of women in European culture, the problem of a lack of safe environments for women and children, and many other issues that refugee women are facing. We saw during the training weekend that the women need to have opportunities to sit and talk, to share experiences, and to feel part of a community. Thus we will build time for group sharing into all of our programs.

   If all goes well with our programs on the island, we will consider expanding them to serve refugee women in other parts of Greece.

   For these projects to succeed on a long term basis, we need financial support. If you wish to contribute to our project, you can make a donation directly to Starfish and earmark it for the Women’s Self-Defense and Empowerment Program. You may also contribute through Global Giving, which offers tax benefits for those who need them, but  they also keep a portion of your donation.