On my last day in Greece, it was a day of celebration for the refugees. It was time to have a party for Eid al Adha, and our partner Swiss Cross had planned a party in what they affectionately call the Blue Elephant – the blue warehouse next door to the Karamanlis refugee camp. Music, sweets, watermelon, falafel, gifts for the children, and more were all getting under way by mid-afternoon.n SCM helped to purchase a few of the supplies for the party.
What was also getting under way was an art installation to bring attention to the men in the refugee camp. I spoke with the photographer, Gwen Versluis, who created the project, and she told me she was inspired to do something after having spent time volunteering on Lesbos to help the refugees there. She wanted to do more for them but she was not able to spend months and months in Greece so she began looking for another way to put what resources she had available to work to raise awareness. She noticed that the stories of the men were very underrepresented, that they tended to get a negative image in the media, and that everyone wants to help the women and children, but rarely the men. She hopes her project will change that.
Versluis had heard of a project called Inside Out – The People’s Art Project, started by the artist JR, who had won a TED prize for his work. She decided to apply for a grant to bring her idea to fruition and was accepted. She spent time in Karamanlis Camp taking portraits and interviewing the men, and on September 14 she and some volunteers began putting the portraits on the outside wall of the Blue Elephant. She wanted the portraits to be displayed where the people could see them, and with the party that day, it brought plenty of attention to her project from the people in the camp and the volunteers. Only a third of the portraits had been posted, with about 40 more to come. I met one woman outside who pointed out her husband on the wall. She wanted a photo taken of her baby, with the pictures in the background, she seemed proud her husband is part of the project.
More will be available online about the project on the Inside Out page and on Facebook. I know some people will not agree with the project (met a volunteer or two who have already questioned the premise) but in one anecdote about underwear, I find that I have to agree with the artist. A young man came in to the shop to find some nicer clothes to wear for his wedding – yes weddings are still taking place – and he was able to find most of what he was hoping for except a clean undershirt and briefs. There are tons of women’s and children’s underwear, but there are no men’s underwear. SCM has been asked several times to send women’s and children’s underwear, but no one asks for anything for the men. Dignity is something that is hard to quantify, and we, as the people trying to help the refugees in the name of helping them preserve some sense of dignity, seem to overlook that men need help with that, too.