Women in Nea Kavala Camp: voices of resilience

Written by Chiara Spinnicchia, December-January short-term at OCC Greece.

In refugee camps like the one in Nea Kavala, Northern Greece, the condition of women is often overlooked. But despite the daily challenges and struggles, their lives and experiences tell stories of resilience. 

Photo by Alice Ugolini, long-term volunteer at OCC Greece.

Working at the Open Cultural Centre (OCC), I had the opportunity to speak with several women in the camp, asking them about their lives and what the NGO means to them. Their testimonies reveal a reality of isolation and daily struggles but at the same time underline the importance of organisations like the OCC and their impact on women’s everyday lives.

The stories of Fatima, Sadya and Alal1, three brave women, represent thousands of other women’s stories facing the harsh reality of camps. As they try to cope with life, they face a number of challenges ranging from a lack of adequate medical care to the scarcity of basic resources such as food and clothing for both themselves and their children.

One of the most pressing challenges is the lack of consideration and care for their needs. As Fatima explains, “One time my little son was feeling very bad – he kept vomiting and had a high fever – and I sought help from the doctors inside the camp but they did not give me any attention. But I kept fighting, asking for help and it was only when I wrote a report that they finally listened to me.” She continues, “The only way a woman can get consideration from staff is by raising her voice, fighting powerfully, and writing reports on this bad behaviour. Otherwise, staff refuses to provide the help we need right away.”

Sadya and Fatima described how difficult it is for them to live in the camp with their children, lacking many basic goods. The food is bad and often brings food poisoning to those who eat it, and there are not enough clothes, diapers, or blankets for the kids. In addition, none of them receive the subsidy that the Greek government supposedly gives to refugees for living expenses. With the imminent closure of Drop in the Ocean, an NGO that distributes basic necessities, the prospects for women and their families become increasingly uncertain. Without continued support, the women fear being left to their own devices in a hostile and difficult environment, Fatima tells me, “When Drop will leave the camp, all the funds and all the aid will stop coming to us. We are worried about it.”

Photos by Alice Ugolini, long-term volunteer at OCC Greece.

The importance of community support emerges as a vital source of hope and resilience. Speaking about the OCC, Alal recounts that it allows her and her family to forget their problems and all the hard times they are facing. “Through the activities offered by the OCC, time passes more easily. In the camp, time seems static; being able to come here, to participate in the classes, makes one feel that time is flowing and that we are not just waiting here. OCC is the only space in which I feel loved and supported.”

After working here at OCC, I have realised how important human contact is in this context. The camp is a sad cluster of containers that looks like a prison where people spend their days waiting for a decision on their asylum application. The OCC offers them a refuge and a place to escape this reality; a place where they can learn and integrate while feeling safe and supported. A place where they can be more than just refugees. Alal explains “The OCC helped me a lot to learn languages. In Syria, after the beginning of the war, life stopped for almost a decade. I could not get access to proper education. After I came here to the OCC, I was able – together with my family – to continue my education. Everything I learn here, I am teaching to my children. In this way, we are all getting an education: not just me, but my whole family.”

Photo by Alice Ugolini, long-term volunteer at OCC Greece.

The OCC, with its commitment to providing support, education and a safe environment, is building a bridge to a better future for these women and their families. It is a lighthouse of hope for the asylum seekers of the Nea Kavala camp, showing that even in the most difficult situations it is possible to find support and solidarity.  As they look to the future, Fatima, Sadya and Alal harbour hope for a better life. They dream of being able to continue their studies, work and be independent, despite the adversities they face every day.

In a world where, all too often, being a woman means doubling the burden and the challenges of being a refugee, the voices of women in camps are required to be listened to and acted upon. It is only through the recognition and support of their challenges that we can hope to build a brighter future for all.

  1.  To protect the privacy of the individuals the names and identifying details have been changed. ↩︎