Iro and Nahal enjoy reading together. The little girl has completed two years in the arms of Iro and together, they have built a new family. © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis
Growing up, Iro Iordanidou heard stories of her grandparents’ flight from Cappadocia in Turkey’s central Anatolia region. The privations of that chaotic period, their need for safety, food, and protection are tales familiar to many modern-day Greeks.
Almost one hundred years have passed, and Iro’s family, as well as Greece, have undergone a great change in circumstances, but one of the characteristics of Greeks remains their compassion and hospitality towards others.
A few years ago, Iro felt an urge to share her own circumstances. She wanted to foster a child in need of stability and approached the Prefecture of Attica for more information and details on fostering options.
Officials in the prefecture took Iro’s details. During the introductory meetings they mentioned the various fostering options, and the agencies working to place needy children. That was when they mentioned METAdrasi, an NGO founded in Greece in 2009 with the mission of facilitating the reception and integration of refugees and migrants in Greece.
Iro was motivated by a need to help, she didn’t have any special requests. Of course she was familiar with the plight of those persons fleeing difficulty in their countries and who had started coming ashore in large numbers in 2015. She was also acquainted with the work of METAdrasi, but she had no preference between fostering a Greek child, or a foreigner. Iro just knew that METAdrasi needed foster parents for unaccompanied children, and that she could help.
A thorough evaluation process took place by the State services and with social workers and psychologists of METAdrasi to determine whether Iro could take up the responsibility of raising a youngster and meet the required obligations.
“ It was my love for children, for people, for life and my need to help, to support a little person who needs care and protection. This led me to the decision to become a foster parent and open my arms to a refugee child,” Iro says.
About two years ago, after the necessary assessments and interviews were completed, Iro welcomed intο her home a four-year-old girl, born in Afghanistan. Little Nahal* needed to feel she would be cared for and loved.
“Nahal has some scattered images from the past, but she does not have specific memories. We have spent a lot of time talking about how she got into my arms,” Iro says. “I explained to her that I did not bring her into this world.”
“I helped her understand that I am not the ‘mother of the belly,’ but I am the ‘mother of the hug’ and that I love her very much,” Iro declares. The process of building trust, and establishing a relationship took time, but a few weeks after joining Iro’s household, little Nahal started calling Iro “mom.”
The two of them bonded quickly, but as part of the fostering process, social workers and a psychologist still visit regularly to speak with Iro and Nahal.
“The staff of METAdrasi are by my side whenever I need them,” Iro says. “They do not intervene, they supervise. They monitor Nahal’s development, while over time a relationship of trust is established with the foster parent, as well. After two years, they know what kind of person I am and how much I love Nahal.”
METAdrasi’s foster care programme for unaccompanied minors is not an adoption program. A lot of couples who express interest mistakenly believe that fostering means adoption. Those in charge of the initiative are often called upon to clarify that it is a child protection and rehabilitation scheme. Fostering may eventually lead to adoption, but that process is different, as the judicial system holds the responsibility for determining an adoption.
From 2016 until today, under METAdrasi’s foster care program, 106 unaccompanied children have been hosted by 89 families. Three of them have been adopted by their foster parents. The program is implemented with the support of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and co-funded by the European Union.
The fostering options for refugee children include three types of parenting: the emergency type, in which a child needs immediate protection, such as when a child is homeless or when the birth parents have passed away, or when the courts decide a minor should be removed from their family environment. There is also the short-term fostering option, in which a child is hosted in a family for a few months, a situation that may arise when children are waiting to be reunited with their parents or other relatives elsewhere in Europe. Finally, there is also long-term fostering, when a child lives with the foster parent for an extended period.
Regardless of the period, the sponsoring household receives financial assistance to cover the child’s expenses.
The case of Nahal from Afghanistan belongs to the third type of fostering. The little girl has completed two years in the arms of Iro and together, they have built a new family.
Iro offered Nahal a new life and for the first time ever, her own room. Nahal has filled it with colourful drawings, dolls and toys, while the living room of their home is decorated with photos of her and Iro together on holidays and excursions.
The little girl goes to school, where she has made many new friends. In the afternoons, when the weather is nice, she rides a bike in the nearby park and plays with other children from the neighborhood. During weekends Nahal and Iro spend more time together, and the little girl attends horse-riding lessons.
“I love my mom and my friends at school. I really like horses. Every Sunday morning we go to the riding school. When I grow up, I want to have my own horse. Of course, I know that it cannot stay with us, but I will love it and take care of it. I want to make long trips on my horse, and for mom to come with us,” seven-year-old Nahal declares.
When Iro shared her decision to foster a child with friends and relatives, some expressed reservations, but they soon saw that she was determined. Iro says that now everyone adores Nahal, and each day they realize that Iro herself is now a happier and more compassionate person.
Of course, they faced a period of adjustment, as it took some time for Nahal to feel safe and cozy in her new home.
“Foster caring means responsibility. Anyone who is interested should think carefully and evaluate their strengths. A child changes your life and gives you great joy, but there are also difficult moments,” Iro says.
“At first I had to approach a little girl who did not know me and who was entering a new, unknown household. We had to sense each other’s feelings. Despite the challenges, with work, patience, and perseverance everything went well and we are now a happy family,” Iro explains.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, please complete this form: https://bit.ly/2ZInm2T, call tel: +30 214 100 8700 and +30 214 100 8717 (for Athens), +30 2310 501151 (for Thessaloniki) or send an email to [email protected]
* The child’s name has been changed for protection reasons