Athens sports pro-active posters of young refugees
ATHENS, Greece (UNHCR) - He seems an unlikely candidate for a poster boy during the Olympics - skinny, kicking a deflated football in a devastated Eritrean village. No bulging muscles, no product placement and no spanking new stadium to practise in.
In the same way, the refugee girls playing basketball in Nepal and volleyball in Ethiopia hardly strike one as pin-up girls for the world's biggest sports meet.
But their images are splashed across the Greek capital of Athens, appearing on posters at 150 bus stops throughout the city in the run-up to the Olympic Games in June.
This well-timed public awareness and fundraising campaign is the result of an ongoing cooperation between the Municipality of Athens and the UN refugee agency. It links the heroic nature of the Olympic Games with the everyday struggles faced by refugee children, and is inspired by a Greek word which means both "game" and "struggle". The caption on each poster reads: "The Games don't only occur every 4 years. Support refugee children in their daily struggle."
Uprooted from their homes, families and everyday lives, refugee children face an uncertain future. For many, the world is a desolate place. The kind of assistance given to these children must not only include food and water but also offer a path towards hope, peace and stability.
As demonstrated in these images, sports activities can bring some normality to their lives and offer a positive way for young refugees to channel their energy, building the self-respect and confidence they need to cope more effectively with the challenges they face.
Linked to the poster campaign is a fundraising initiative supporting sports, recreational and educational activities for refugee girls in the Eastern Horn of Africa. Donations can be made through an SMS (short messaging system) message or a fixed line number.
Refugee children need help and encouragement if they are to continue their education. Young women and girls may face particular social, cultural or domestic pressures that prevent them from going to school. "Together for Girls" is a UNHCR project that aims to harness the appeal of sports and other recreational activities in order to provide a safe route back into education for refugee women in countries such as Somalia and Ethiopia, improving their chances of staying in school and excelling in their studies.
Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis has provided a strong voice in support of multiculturalism and shown the vital role that city authorities can play in shaping asylum policy in the European Union. She expressed her commitment when she signed the "City Statement" along with other Mayors in the EU.
The overall campaign is sponsored by INTRACOM S.A. Hellenic Telecommunications & Electronics Industry. It is supported by UPSTREAM Systems and FULFILL value-added service providers in telecommunications; as well as MASS ATHENS advertising agency. Communication sponsors include FLASH 96, and Athens 98.4 radio stations.
As an initiative to raise awareness and funds, the campaign is already having an impact. In addition, its images and key messages are soon to appear on television and radio advertisements, in the print media and on a number of website banners throughout Greece.
This poster campaign demonstrates that the Olympic spirit goes far beyond the Games and is embodied within Greece's longstanding commitment to humanity and multiculturalism, heritage and hospitality.
By Paul Roots