One Happy Family (OHF)
One Happy Family (OHF) is a collaborative community-based project with the aim of providing accessible and appropriate community spaces, services, and opportunities to people from refugee and migrant backgrounds in Greece. We are a peaceful, colourful and active place where people are welcome, can collaborate and be well! OHF is a Swiss/Greek organisation, established by a group of young people in Lesvos, Greece in 2017 as a direct response to the refugee crisis of 2015.
In Lesvos, OHF operated a community space where people could visit during the day, with varying activities and provision to food and basic needs items, as well as educational programmes. OHF Lesvos’s guiding principle was to work «WITH them, instead of FOR them».
Now based in Victoria Square, Athens, the OHF Victoria Community Center was a response to an identified need for more spaces that are in the spirit of OHF Lesvos and can support people from refugee and migrant backgrounds to navigate the complex, uncertain and changing needs in Athens.
Victoria Community Center Athens
The Victoria Community Center is a safe space outside the camps where displaced people can hang out, read, talk, play, get a warm meal, meet other people facing similar challenges and access much need services. Whereas OHF is responsible for the general management and facilitation of the spaces, as well as for some core activities related to the center itself, various services are offered by specialist organisations;
Farsi-Speaking, Female-Led Community Support
OHF strives to keep the space flexible and to adjust activities according to the needs of people living in Athens. The centre has several floors, with offices, classrooms, and a café, and offers as well outdoor areas (yard, balconies, and rooftop). Victoria Community Center is located in an area in Athens close to where many refugees/migrants live.
History of One Happy Family
All of these challenges demanded and showed that our project is able to consistently adapt and respond to the changing needs of displaced people and their situation. It offers a platform for engagement and gives displaced people the opportunity to realise their own
ideas, to help out and to feel worthy. Nevertheless, the project is continuously challenged by governmental decisions regarding displaced people as well as the work of NGOs. The
opportunities that OHF offers to people on Lesvos should be accessible for everyone
everywhere. The future might hopefully bring our project to other places as well, with the
same spirit of offering people a space of community and empowerment. Always WITH the
people, always together.
This is why our moving to Athens is also an important step.
In 2020 one of our coordinators set up the Community Volunteer Support Program in Athens (our first small milestone), which gained more impact in 2021. OHF also started to partner with more organisations in Athens and supported additional community volunteers, all while creating an atmosphere of “coming together, learning from each other”. This led to the creation and opening of the Victoria Community Center in April 2022.
Unfortunately, the circumstances on the island got rougher for displaced people as well as
NGOs in the beginning of 2020. Due to revolts from the far right, OHF had to close its gates temporarily for security concerns in January 2020, as a safe environment could not be guaranteed. Like many other NGOs, most of the OHF visiting volunteers were
evacuated from the island. During the time of closure an arson case took place at OHF:
people lit fire to the school building and it spread towards the main building. The whole team of OHF started rebuilding as soon as the investigation allowed it. This is why in spite of these incidents, the community center quickly became a colourful space again, with joy and laughter around. All of this made us realise again how beautiful a project can be if everyone works together and that even the toughest circumstances can’t stop the power of
togetherness. Soon after, in March 2020, the Covid-pandemic arrived on the island as well
and measures were taken by the Greek authorities. The Moria camp was put under a strict
lockdown, so very few people could come to the community center. In the aftermath of the
arson, and during this first COVID-19 lockdown, we also took the opportunity to evaluate our project, establish a better organisational structure, learn from our mistakes and make
improvements. In September 2020, an even bigger fire burned down camp Moria completely, leaving thousands of people from the camp on the streets. The OHF team tried to support wherever possible and adapted it’s daily routine to what was needed the most. After the new camp of Mavrovouni was set up and the Covid-regulations continued, it became clear that our projects at OHF had to adapt as well. OHF continued to support their community volunteers, opened the community center whenever COVID restrictions allowed it and created a free online shop.
In Spring 2017, a group of volunteers and displaced people decided to start a new project on the island of Lesvos to offer people a way out of the lethargy and misery of everyday life in the camp. Community-building, participation and empowerment were and are important principles of this project. From the very beginning, the team met at eye level and displaced people were perceived as people with a wide range of skills, knowledge, dreams and wishes. People who can help and who want to help – instead of needing help and being dependent on it. Thanks to this concentrated force of knowledge, skills and energy, the community center welcomed its first visitors after two months of renovation of the old building in a familiar, friendly, creative and safe atmosphere. In the years of 2018 and 2019 the community center played an important role in the humanitarian aid and emergency responseon the island of Lesvos. During that period many people were able to spend their time there. At the end of 2019 around 1’000 people walked daily to OHF to learn Greek or English, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, play some volleyball or sew something in the Women-space. People also enjoyed the food and the possibility to spend time in a safe environment or attend one of the many other projects.
WITH them, instead of FOR them
“WITH them, instead of FOR them” is not only a core value of One Happy Family (OHF), but was also the basic idea that led to the initiation of the project. The situation on the Greek island of Lesvos changed drastically with the signing of the EU-Turkey Agreement in March 2016. The agreement led not only to increased border controls and often violent and illegal pushbacks and thus a reduction in the number of people arriving on the Aegean Islands, but also the fact that the people who arrived on the islands were restricted in their freedom of movement. Asylum applications were to be done on the Greek islands and people were forced to live in inhumane conditions for months or years in the camps on the islands – which is a situation that continues to this day.