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Art Therapists Set Up at Ritsona Refugee Camp

04 November 2016

Art Therapists working with the Flourish Foundation tell us about setting up a new project at the Ritsona refugee camp...

Ritsona is situated in a remote area of mainland Greece just north of Athens on a disused army base and has been active for 8 months.

There are approximately 600 residents, consisting of 200 men, 200 women and 200 children; these are predominantly Syrian families and a few Sudanese individuals.

There has been little structure and systems in place so far, which seem to be reflected upon our first visit to the camp where there is a sense of a disjointed community.
Its one entrance leads to a dirt track, which circles the resident’s tents, governmental and non-governmental organisations in seemingly solid structures face the camp and high barbwire fencing marks its parameters.

There is an abundance of children that wonder mostly unaccompanied, with running noses and huge open eyes playing with stones amongst the rubble.

There is a sense that the adult presence is missing, perhaps the trauma of their experiences keeps them locked inside their tents. We understand with the help of our translator that this is a situation that does not suit the usual proud, self sufficient and compassionate Syrian culture.

The camp has had many changes over the past few months. There are now small portacabins being constructed for the families to move into, which hope to offer warmth in the coming cold months. The cabins suggest a more permanent residency to the individuals, which raises concerns that this may not be a temporary situation.

Flourish foundation’s pilot project aims to facilitate a creative, safe and therapeutic space for children, adolescents and adults. As art psychotherapists we have been mindful of adapting our knowledge of art therapy to culturally support the residents and offer some relief. We have noticed symptoms of PTSD and mental ill-health, and have found art therapy to be an accessible intervention, that seems to surpass cultural differences and language barriers.

This week we have needed to stay flexible, with formal education starting for the children we have adapted our timetable to fit around the residents needs. We have succeeded in holding an open studio space at regular times and have managed the challenges of language barriers, family dynamics, diverse ages and young carers. This is alongside inter-cultural tensions amongst the residents.

We have begun work outside of the building to prepare its walls for a mural. This was a fantastic opportunity to see the males and some females come together to use, share and learn new skills whilst taking ownership of a physical structure.

The preparation of the walls seemed to hold a symbolic meaning; the stripping of the army green paint revealed cracks and holes in the walls, this accompanied emotionally raw stories from some of the men.

We have been humbled by the courage, determination, resilience and hospitality of each individual we have met with.

We have heard of their loss, horror, fear, anger, hopelessness and sadness but above all we have been witness to the ability for the human spirit to survive through unimaginable experiences.

You can follow the Flourish project by clicking on the links below:
Facebook: @flourishfoundation
Instagram: flourishfoundation