ChristinSa's picture
R2R call center: a cooperative developed from refugees to refugees

The Challenge: 

The Question: 

How can we create and expand a fair, cooperative economy that is directed towards addressing the needs of refugees?

The Problem: 

Refugees staying in Greece should find solutions to cover their life needs that are both sustainable and empowering.

The Solution: 

Building coop projects with refugees and linking them with a network of coop stores, to create an ecosystem of tools for a fair economy.

Channels: 

When it comes to social care, it is important to create links between the social movements, in a way they continuously support and feed back to each other, finding solutions that are creative, radical and practical at the same time.

This is what is happening with a visionary project that is linking alternative and cooperative economy with the needs of refugees in Thessaloniki, Greece. It is a project of a group of people interested in the building of a cooperative economy network, in which I participate as an activist and a researcher of alternative economy. Having completed my PhD in economics in the last spring, I am now interested in continuing research, exploring links between solidarity economy and refugee solidarity movements in wider Greece. 

This cooperative project is called ‘Refugees to Refugees (R2R) Solidarity Call Center’ and it is a project run by refugees for fellow refugees. Its objective is to provide information and advice for various kinds of issues related to either transit, temporary stay or settlement of refugees in Thessaloniki, but also in wider Greece. At the same time, through its services, it hopes to create linkages between refugee communities and the wider solidarity movement, in order to break the exclusion and isolation that refugees are feeling, as a result of being crammed in concentration camps. Strong solidarity networks already exist within the cities, in which teams of lawyers, doctors, translators and networks of families offering hospitality in their homes, are offering voluntary support and practical solutions, whenever needed.

The project is inspiring in its own right, but what makes it even more important and intriguing, is the fact that it is further linked with the efforts to create a new, fair and solidarity economy on a larger scale. Having such a vision, the group of refugees and solidary comrades that are supporting them on this, have built a collaborative network between the cooperative R2R call center and cooperative grocery stores in the area of Thessaloniki, where the refugee operators of the call center can cover most of their food and other basic needs, using a digital, alternative currency that is called Faircoin.

The building of a network of alternative economy is being supported by FairCoop on a global level, and in the area of Thessaloniki it seems to be of special value as it can be directed to service needs of refugees. It is certainly not an easy task to achieve and it requires a lot of networking and cooperation, but already a cooperative store and collectives of producers are participating, while there is interest and plans for more to join very soon. What is also very important is that the cooperative stores participating in this network distribute high quality food products, produced by fellow cooperatives in Greece or imported through fair trade distributions channels.

In Thessaloniki and more generally in Greece, there is currently a rise of the cooperative movement, especially as a result of the effects of the ongoing economic crisis, but unfortunately these new initiatives are up to now largely disconnected from each other. To create links between them, means to expand the spaces where solidarity is being practiced, in other words to fill the gaps with ever-increasing solidarity!

My role in this project as an activist is to work closely with the group of refugees and locals to support the building of the project which requires a lot of work on communication and cooperation, in order to continue and expand successfully. As an independent researcher, I have presented the results of this ongoing project at a conference in Lesvos and hope to continue documenting its progress as well as to explore other similar initiatives in Greece.

One last but very important point is that the funds for this ambitious project are being raised through an international campaign of crowdfunding in both euros and faircoins, which are being used to cover incomes of the refugees working in the project and their home rent. Being a cooperative initiative, this means that all the incomes are being equally distributed among the members, currently four in number, three men from Gambia, Egypt and Morocco, and a woman from Syria.

If you would like to support the R2R solidarity call center and at the same time help expand the bridges between the refugee solidarity movement and the solidarity economy movement, please consider to donate using our ‘coopfunding’ platform or share about the project with your solidarity networks! If you work with refugees in Greece or other countries, interested in the call center’s services or interested in building similar initiatives in the countries where they live, please share the phone line’s number and communication e-mail!

Member of the call center shopping at the cooperative grocery store using FairCoin

Photo credits: Maria Orfanou

 

Call center tel: 0030 23111 80903

 E-mail: Greece@callcenter.coop

Web: Callcenter.coop

Facebook: Refugees to Refugees R2R Solidarity Call Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

R2R!

Alberto's picture

Great stuff, @ChristinSa ! I love the "R2R" concept. With @Alex Levene we had already appreciated the self-organising skillls demonstrated by refugees in the case of The Jungle in Calais (I highly recommend you read his beautiful posts: one and two).

The Jungle behaves the way it does because it is not an official camp. It's more like a favela: the first stop in a migrant's social journey, which mostly goes upwards in the social ladder. So, refugees are more free to cooperate, R2R, then they would be in an official camp. Their ingenuity and skills come into play: they make their own lives better, and become empowered at the same time. Your own story, it seems, goes much in the same direction. 

Thanx for pointing out these beautiful articles

ChristinSa's picture

@Alberto thank you for your comment and for pointing out these 2 great articles by @Alex Levene! I enjoyed reading them from the first until the last word and felt very touched as they brought up images of informal camps in Greece (e.g. Idomeni in the north borders, the islands and other places) where similar situations and an amazing solidarity movement arose to provide care for the people there.

In all these places, it was very encouraging to see what can be achieved when determination of refugees and solidarity from activists/volunteers is combined in a self-organised and impulsive way. In the informal PIKPA camp in Lesvos for example, refugees create beautiful, colourful bags from discarded, life-jacket materials and are also planning to distribute them abroad.

There is many hopeful examples of such great initiatives in Greece and other countries and I am sure they will multiply as refugees are settling for a longer-time period in their new living places.

What seems to be important right now, in order to make all this effort more meaningful and useful, is to move further from just providing for the basic needs to create structures of solidarity and cooperation that can provide more sustainable solutions and allow people to take care of themselves and feel empowered. This is a big challenge that lies ahead but we should start thinking this way if we want to make a real change to both their lives and ours.

Timely roles for Network connectors, documenters, researchers

Noemi's picture

Great story, Christine! I find it so useful to see people like you, Alex, @Aravella Salonikidou who are not just contributing on the ground, but also take the time to write the story and build this layer of connectivity that is needed for multiplication as you mention.. or remodeling of cooperation. It seems you're on a promising path. I will try to support this in any way I can. And if you know someone who is interested to set up shop online to work out distribution of eg. handmade objects abroad - this team in Berlin led by @ninabreznik and @serapath are offering free coding courses for refugees.

Thank you for the

Aravella Salonikidou's picture

Thank you for the encouragement! I'm working on my article these days, so I'm a little bit (more) buzy! I'm glad to know about R2R. I didn't know about this project. I'll be in touch!

What?!?

Alberto's picture

"In the informal PIKPA camp in Lesvos for example, refugees create beautiful, colourful bags from discarded, life-jacket materials and are also planning to distribute them abroad."

Do you have more information about this story, @ChristinSa ? It sounds amazing! 

Glad you find this interesting

ChristinSa's picture

I am glad you find this project interesting @Alberto , I was also very excited to hear about it when I visited this Lesvos camp. Not only because it encourages refugees to learn new skills or use existing ones, but also because of the great idea of reuse of plastic materials and environmental awareness related to the project. I wrote an article about it which was published here, although it is in Greek there is quite a few photos from the camp and the handmade bags, if you wish to have a look. You can also find more info about this self-organised Lesvos camp on the following link, with contact details, in case you would like to contact them about this specific project.

Thanx for sharing @ChristinSa

Aravella Salonikidou's picture

Thanx for sharing @ChristinSa!  It could be nice to meet you! We run "next door's" project and we don't know each other. Now I think we have this chance. I'd like to know more details and how I can help.

This is great Aravella

ChristinSa's picture

This is great @Aravella Salonikidou! I have heard about your project and have 'seen' you virtually here and there on facebook, mainly through Room 39 and Steki Metanaston groups/pages, as I can understand that you are also helping the people there. I am also involved with some of the groups at Steki so we could perhaps meet there sometime, or at Micropolis, another social space nearby where this R2R call center project is based. I would love to see how we could possibly collaborate and help each other and I am sure that there is a lot to share/learn from the work that we and other people in our networks, are doing. I will connect with you on facebook to stay in touch! :)

Great!

Aravella Salonikidou's picture

See you soon!

And do not forget about us :-)

Alberto's picture

It's lovely to see you "next door neighbours" connect in the context of a global community! Let's stay in touch, though, there are many people in the Edgeryders community, all over Europe, trying to help out, healing our ailing societies. @Alex Levene is an obvious example, but there are others. The potential for mutual learning is obvious. 

Literally next door!

Aravella Salonikidou's picture

Me, @ChristinSa @To_Steki @Positive-Voice and maybe some others, we (or our projects) are in the same neighbourhood. So, when @ybe and @Alex Levene visit Thessaloniki, we can arrange a creative meeting! Thanx to this community!

:-) I am so looking forward

ybe's picture

:-) I am so looking forward to meeting you all !

Visiting in January

Alex Levene's picture

@ChristinSa @To_Steki @Positive-Voice @Aravella Salonikidou

I am planning on coming to Thessalonki in the middle of January. (15th-19th) Part of the trip will be touch volunteers and get to know what is being done there by Help Refugees (who i worked with in Calais this year). I'd also love to meet up with you and see your projects. If anyone has any suggestions for cheap places to stay whilst we're out there please let me know.

Feeling inspired to join.

Noemi's picture

Between Natalia having gone this summer, @Ybe just now, and you, well.. we should all go. Also ping @Jenny Gkiougki if she will be around.

You are welcome

ChristinSa's picture

@Noemi and everyone else you are more than welcome to also join! Would be great to meet in person and exchange information and ideas! I am sure @Jenny Gkiougki would love that as well :)

Great news

ChristinSa's picture

@Alex Levene this is great! I and people from our collective will be happy to meet with you and discuss about our projects and your experience in Calais. I will also try to see if I can find some cheap options to suggest for your stay. Looking forward to meeting you in Thessaloniki!

for sure

ChristinSa's picture

for sure, let's keep in touch everyone!

Thank you

Alex Levene's picture

Many thanks for the kind words @ChristinSa, i'm really glad that my words touched you.

It's interesting also that it made you think of camps at places like Idomeni. The team who manage the warehouse in Calais and do a lot of the groundwork on the Jungle camp is led by the British charity organisation HelpRefugees. They also did a lot of work in Idomeni during the last year as well. 

I believe they have now moved their operations in Greece to Thessaloniki, so perhaps you have come across them and their team members? I saw that they recently opened a new distribution warehouse there.

I have been talking to their team and i'm trying to find a time in early January when i can come out to Greece and talk to them/see what they are doing there. I hope that during this time i might also be able to meet some of the great people and organisations that have shared their stories on Edgeryders (@To-Steki, @Aravella Salonikidou, @Pavlos)

Good to hear about HelpRefugees and to have you here in Greece

ChristinSa's picture

@Alex Levene good to learn about the work of HelpRefugees, I have not come across them so far but will look for more information and will try to contact their team in Greece to see what they are doing. I am very much in favour of refugee self-organisation or projects involving the solidarity movement and refugees in horizontal relationships (althoug I am aware that this is not always easy to achieve) but I can see and understand that some of the more formal orgs are also being organised in a way that allows quite a lof of self-organisation or self-management in practice and are doing a lot of great work on the ground. I have seen this already with some organisations working in the camps around Greece.

It will be great also to have you here in Greece! Please let me know when this happens and I will arrange to meet you with our group in order to share our experiences and other valuable information.

Great inspiring stories

ChristinSa's picture

Dear @Noemi thanks for the encouraging words and suggestions! I know about the great work of 'RefugeesWork' initiative as we collaborate with them through FairCoop on a global level. I am not sure they know about our local call center project in Thessaloniki, but I am glad that this article and your comment gave the opportunity for this 'connection'. I hope more people continue to share their inspiring stories in order to keep discovering common paths and shared visions.

love it

ybe's picture

I find this a very hopeful story

1) because of the involvement of refugees themselves - it is so empowering to be able to do something to improve your life, to have work, to have a life, an income and to be part of a community

2) because of the 'amplification' factor - you put a lot of energy in connecting different initiatives and projects and that is what we need to create general and global change

thx

ybe from traumatour (soon in thessaloniki)

 

 

Thanx Ybe, i agree

ChristinSa's picture

@ybe thanks for your kind words, i agree with what you are saying about these two factors and this is what i tried to highlight in my article! Your traumatour project also seems super interesting and it is very exciting to see that more people are planning to visit Thessaloniki with their projects in the future! I am in contact with people working in alternative health and spiritual health projects here in Greece so I could put you in contact with them, if you are interested.

yes please !

ybe's picture

I would like to have some more contacts in Thessaloniki; I still have room in my agenda (december) to help a couple of organisations

f.ex with trauma info sessions for the helpers (basic trauma information, interventions and exercises) or by helping develop on ongoing 'how-to-cope-with-trauma-practice, or...

thx, ybe

great

ChristinSa's picture

Your plans sound great, let's speak again closer to the time that you come and see which groups/places/people you are interested in meeting here related to your project. Your services could be very beneficial to refugees so we can get you in contact with groups working with refugees or the social solidarity clinic of Thessaloniki which is another great initiative working on a community voluntary basis.

"solidarity"

johncoate's picture

This is a fascinating project.  I have alerted a close friend, an American journalist who has done important radio and print reporting on the refugees in Greece, to come have a look at this topic becfause of this specific project and because of the networking going on in this conversation.

One question: by "solidarity" do you mean a formal association or something more loosely arranged through a kind of self-identification?

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