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Eutuchia: looking for happiness in the Eleonas refugee camp. A reportage of the Youth for Peace from Athens

August 11 2021

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A group of young university students of the Community of Sant'Egidio from Rome are currently in Athens, where they have started a series of activities for children in the Eleonas refugee camp. Here is their report.

It's raining ashes in Athens. Heat emergency, fire emergency and humanitarian emergency are intertwined under the grey sky of Attica. The 2 p.m. sun reflects on the metal sheets of the Eleonas refugee camp; we move slowly between containers and tents, curious children's eyes are on us. We wonder what they must have thought, as the shadows lengthen over tents and containers and the first enrolments for the Summer School have closed.
There are twenty of us, here in Athens, university students from Rome in the streets of the first reception centre for asylum seekers in Greece, Eleonas. But for the children, we are "aammu", uncle in Arabic, "teacher", or "my friend" (very popular). Two days and they are already asking us to drop by and say hello "when we come back next year". Just go explain to them that, in a year's time, they will hopefully no longer be among those waiting for a new life in the refugee camp.
The temporary has already become an everyday life for many of them: for instance, Saleh, 12 years old, is very proud of his volunteer-translator's bib. He left Afghanistan at the age of nine and has spent the last three years between Lesbos and Athens. Batuol, an 11-year-old Syrian, is the same. If you ask her what city she comes from, she mentions the name of a refugee camp in Lebanon. 2021, 2011, and it is quickly calculated: all she has seen of her country is the war, but she says she would never have left her home to end up in another container.
They would have a lot to complain about, but when we find them in the morning shouting with joy as soon as they see our buses, when they offer us shoes (theirs to us!) to replace the ones worn out walking among the stones of Eleonas, or when we see Janaan, 10 years old and a small stroller used as a wheelchair because of his muscular dystrophy, we understand that happiness, for the children of Eleonas, is in these carefree moments, in those "Baby sharks" sung at the top of their lungs while rocking on a swing. 
A drawing and a day spent looking after the youngest kids in the camp change our perspective on the "eutuchia" that we often chase. We can see it in the expression of Ilaf, a 16-year-old Somali girl, who has been in the camp for two years and has decided to help us with the children. Thus showing us that, when we donate our time, who helps is confused with whom is helped.
Soon we will return to Italy, and we will take their stories with us, small paintings in the picture gallery of human migrations. Major agreements, regulations and laws come to mind as we move away from the metal sheets of Eleonas; they appear in the eyes of those curious children who still look out from the containers, they break in the carefree laughter of those girls from Congo: can written words, even if on stamped paper, contain all this? Can words build walls? We think about this as we look at the red hair of two Syrian children, inherited from God knows who in the mists of time. We have all been migrants, after all. Let us not forget this, and the many children who are waiting.