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!
Photo credits: Maria Orfanou
Call center tel: 0030 23111 80903
Facebook: Refugees to Refugees R2R Solidarity Call Center