"From Reus to Hellas" is a project initiated by JCI Reus, and managed by JCI member Jordi Cervera Guasch, 25, from Reus, Catalonia, that aims to help young refugees stranded in refugee camps on Lesbos by providing sport and leisure activities. In this article Jordi shared his fascinating story with us.
Along with JCI Reus, Jordi designed a program that could be useful and sustainable in tending to those displaced populations and quickly put into action. After several fund-raising efforts and with the indispensable collaboration of JCI Greece, in August 2016 the first team of 12 lifeguards was sent to the Kara Tepe refugee camp on the Greek island Lesbos, in the framework of a program that was called "From Reus to Hellas".
"I have been in contact with the water since I was a child, swimming, training, and working as a lifeguard on the Catalan beaches every single summer since I was seventeen. After I had seen the images of the Syrian refugee crisis in the Mediterranean in 2016, I decided to volunteer in this capacity as an expert. I felt that there was something I could do and I had to do."
Kara Tepe is a refugee camp for families and unaccompanied minors, with a population of 800 to 1000 people. "From Reus to Hellas" deploys a small team of volunteers who are trained as first-responders and junior sports instructors, to offer guidance in leisure and sport activities to children who happen to find themselves in the Kara Tepe refugee camp. JCI Reus designed a program for the young refugees in collaboration with the camp’s administration which offers educational opportunities and a safe space for personal and relational development, and which aims to open doors towards recovery and facilitate resilience. Whilst the matter is to offer support to children refugees in the Kara Tepe camp, Jordi's team also keeps in constant touch with the refugee camp even when we are not deployed there, in order to serve as a liaison between Kara Tepe and the Reus comunity to help the camp residents even from the distance.
"Our objective was to practice sport with the kids and adults, men and women, as even if they had all their basic needs covered, they had nothing to do during the day, so by doing sport they had.
Sport opens a gate for creation, effort, and other basic values. We offered them swimming classes to help them fight their strongest fear - the sea, and they did it with courage and an incredible strength."
"From Reus to Hellas" has made a significant impact in the children's lifes in the Kara Tepe refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. At the end of the 2016 project cycle, more than 50 children had directly benefited from this program; at the end of 2017, 150 children have participated and a new edition was planned for summer 2018. The program has been successfully coordinated with JCI Greece, the UNHCR, the Greek coastal police, and the Kara Tepe camp administration.
The project's success has also turned the attention of the team’s hometown Reus on the Mediterranean crisis. The city council, major companies and small associations alike have contributed to the campaign, with fund-raising initiatives, conferences and other activities to increase awareness of the project and the astonishing numbers of refugees that flee the devastation in Syria but are met in Europe with complicated border and resettlement policies.
After seeing how sport becomes a positive tool for young refugees, Jordi founded the NGO "Associació Educa Aprèn Esport". It takes one of the core learnings from the "From Reus to Hellas" project (that the practice of sport implies certain values that are useful and positive for young refugees, and keeps them away from other dangerous activities) to turn them into the foundation of a far-reaching volunteer organization (young athletes, sportsmen and sportswomen) to help young refugees all over the world. Moreover, the team members have also shared their personal experiences with young people in high-schools in and around Reus to help spread awareness of the Mediterranean refugee crisis after its media attention peak and to communicate this project and its impact. Through this communication effort, JCI Reus added an educational dimension to the project. In the months prior to the 2017 expedition, they spoke to 300 students and disseminated the message enclosed in the campaign "Peace is Possible".
"Since 2016 we have been visiting the island with various groups of brave volunteers once per year. This year, we will stay on the island for the whole month from the first of October, doing what we know to do best. Teaching sport and building hope."
For his efforts and dedication Jordi has been nominated by JCI Europe as Everyday Changemaker. Everyday Changemakers are challenging the status quo and are determined to act for a united bright future. They are united by their European identity and the idea that by developing skills, knowledge and understanding it is possible to take action in order to create sustainable impact.
"I believe that a better world is possible indeed: a world where children have the right to a happy and respected childhood; a world where women and men have equal opportunities; a world where people without a voice and without a platform are not exploited. It is possible to achieve this, step by step, if we all work towards this goal. I know that this belief is shared by many European citizens, as well as citizens all over the world who stand ready to be Everyday Changemakers as well. I hope that European institutions can help us uphold these values.
I want to thank my president in the first year of the project Pol Jimenez and my good friend Adrià Agramunt that have always stranded next to me. This is JCI Reus, This is JCI spirit and yes, Peace is Possible."
Are you an active citizen aiming to make a difference and to build a better future for your local communities, your country and the world? Then fill out the Google form here and you may be featured on JCI Europe's Facebook page.