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The Athena Centre for Women: Opening Day reflections

The Athena Centre for Women, the first female-only facility for the refugee population of the islands opened her doors on Chios today.

Without needing a formal introduction to centre, the ladies immediately stepped through the door with a sense of safety, comfort and excitement. Removing their hijabs, and settling into what I like to call, ‘the chill room’, there was a sense of ease and relaxation in the air.

The generosity of so many people – locals, independent volunteers from Leeds and as far as the USA forming the Chios Eastern Shore Response team – allowed for not only a beautiful environment for the women to feel supported and nurtured within, but also for nibbles, water, tea and coffee.

I was so honoured to have resources to serve the women and community who have so generously served me over the past 3 months. The moment they stepped inside, we were able we provide them with cold water. This is not an option while living in tents and containers without refrigeration – something many of us take for granted. We continued to offer snacks and coffee, just as these women have offered to so many of the volunteers as we visit them in their camps.

The women had the opportunity to relax and rest upon the furniture that was lovingly hand made by all the volunteers and pillows and carpets contributed by our donors’ generosity.

The centre was filled with music, song, and dance! Collectively the women sang traditional songs and dance from their home countries.

Cell phones could be charged without having to stand guard and worry about it being stolen and jostling with the men, Wi-Fi network was stable, solitaire was played, art was made, conversation was had and much laughter was heard.

There were also tears. Women who must be mothers, partners, daughters, sisters and friends to all those around them were allowed the space to feel for themselves. To break down their external shields and move into the great burdens they must carry.

I trust that this may be one of the Centre’s greatest benefits, holding safe space for the sadness, the fears, the grief, and the unknown.

Creating a space of sanctuary so that when the women leave they have been recharged and refuelled allowing themselves to continue to be the strength, patience and perseverance for their families and themselves.

Some of the women called this space a dream. They remember their beautiful homes where they can cook for their husbands and children.

As much as I wish that these women have their homes once again, their vehicles, their careers, their country, this is impossible at this time.

But what the Athena Centre for Women can offer is a haven for several hours each day. Supporting people who have gone through more than most could ever imagine and holding space for them in this time.

— Jess Ford

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