Empowering refugees and locals to develop collaborative initiatives that improve Athenian neighborhoods

Co Athens
Co Athens
co-Athens is an initiative to bring together refugees who participate in Curing the Limbo program and active citizens’ groups of Athens, to co-create actions with positive impact for the city and its neighborhoods. Being one of the flag activities that manifests Curing the Limbo’s participatory philosophy of inclusion, co-Athens tests a model of transcultural cooperation. Igniting the birth of new and the transformation of existing communities, it includes refugees with asylum living in Athens, while working with local actors and taking actions that respond to local neighborhood needs.

Thematic categories for participative interventions were defined out of a methodologically meticulous process that involved both local and refugee communities into a series of public debates around neighborhood needs and city priorities.

Capitalising on the results of a number of public neighborhood events, but also taking into account the refugees’ skills and interests, the following thematic categories were developed as latent areas for collaborative actions:              

  • Interventions that make public spaces more accessible
  • Activities around the promotion of alternative and local tourism    
  • Development and empowerment of cultural neighborhood communities    
  • Activities around sports and wellness           
  • Environmental protection and alternative energy resources
  • Activities for cleaning and highlighting the public surfaces of buildings

Following an open call for participation, 20 Athenian initiatives were selected to partner-up with refugees of Curing the Limbo program forming a common space for ideas sharing and exchange.

In December 2019, the City of Athens published the co-Athens open call, inviting local citizens’ groups to collaborate with participants of Curing the Limbo and creating collaborative proposals that challenge those needs. Amongst over 50 applications, 20 selected initiatives were qualified,- to meet the participants of Curing the Limbo and move further to the final proposals for funding. In the meantime, participants of Curing the Limbo were being constantly empowered and prepared towards co-Athens, through specialized seminars and workshops, aiming mostly to introduce or improve the understanding of concepts such as “action”, “participation” and “active citizenship”.

In March 2020, the Curing the Limbo team was faced with a double challenge:

That would be the best formula to introduce refugees and active citizens to each other and inspire collaboration between them? How would this experimental matchmaking be possible in times of Covid?

The team had to act fast and decisively. A 2-day forum was organized immediately in the beginning of March 2020, right before the lockdown of the country. 100 participants, refugees and Athenian citizens, met and spent two full days to get to know each other, through experiential and non-verbal activities that led to the formation of 14 different collaborative projects. The forum had a catalytic role in the continuation of the program, as right after that date the quarantine took over our lives. But, a solid groundwork had been built during those significant two days.

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14 different teams kept communicating (and still do) to share and develop common ideas for innovative solutions in the city of Athens and design the final proposals to the municipality, using video calls, chat rooms and social media.

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Moreover, a capacity-building program consisting of team-building workshops and counseling sessions, which are meant to empower the collaborative groups on their way to the submission of their proposals for funding, was immediately transferred from physical to digital spaces.

co athens virtual

Life in Greece has gradually started reclaiming its normality since the 4th of May 2020 and people are socializing more and more every day, on a physical, traditional level.

Having co-Athens as a communication tool, apart from the significance of the project itself, helped a lot to empower isolated (even more than before) refugees, but citizens as well. Participants had the chance to discuss new ideas in a period of huge change for humanity, and above all they had each other.

They stayed connected.

They stayed active.