Meet the woman inspiring girls across Greece to support refugees

Olympia Tsamasfyra, from Greece, is educating Girl Guides from her country on the refugee crisis, empowering them to volunteer in camps and make a difference…

Olympia sorting donations for refugees in Greece

Determined not to be bystanders, Olympia Tsamasfyra and her team from the Greek Guiding Association have been on the ground, taking action for refugees over the past 18 months. So far they’ve supported approximately 20,000 refugees.

“As a Girl Guide leader in Greece, it’s my role to educate girls and boys about the refugee crisis and give them the opportunity to support those in need. Anyone could end up a refugee. If I was born in another country I could’ve very well suffered the same fate,” says Olympia, who lives in Athens, Greece.

The activities these young women have undertaken are vast — and much needed. According to IOM, over 250,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea this year, arriving mostly in Greece and Italy, where over 100,000 migrants or refugees have arrived during 2016.

“Groups of Girl Guides, age 14 to 17, go to the camps where refugees stay and distribute food and aid,” explains Olympia. “Our aim is to make refugees feel as safe and comfortable as possible. We also work with the children to help them express themselves and feel safe. We also run educational programmes in primary and secondary schools to raise awareness among children about the refugee issue, as well as teach refugees basic Greek so they can communicate with others.”

Brownies, the younger contingent of the Girl Guides, are getting involved too, putting together backpacks for those who are continuing on with their journey to another country, while other volunteers sort out the donations.

For Olympia and her team, the impact has been huge, although the stories are often heartbreaking.

“I’ve seen so many people deprived of the basics, hopeless and desperate to survive,” she says. “The situation is more difficult for girls. Many of them arrive alone, without a family, leaving them vulnerable to potential abuse and sexual violence.”

According to the UN, refugee and internally displaced women and girls are less likely than men and boys to have access to some of the most fundamental human rights.

The risk of sexual violence and abuse also remains high in many refugee camps, due to overcrowding, inadequate security and a lack of separate bathroom facilities for women and for men.

Many of the refugees that arrive are the same age as the Girl Guides in Olympia’s group and she’s keen to encourage them to help as much as they can.

“I don’t want Greek society to see refugees as a threat. I want them to understand the hardship that refugees, especially girls, endure. As Girl Guides, I want us to work together to help make refugees’ lives more decent.”

Olympia is proud of what’s been achieved so far and she’s determined to carry on.

“I’ve seen a young girl refugee, playing and forgetting for at least a moment about the difficulties she’s faced. I’ve also seen older people open their minds and hearts and recognise the value of giving.”

Having been part of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts for over 24 years, Olympia’s experiences have shaped her values, giving her the confidence to stand up for what she believes in.

For now, though, she’s focused on supporting refugees and ensuring Global Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions is met. Launched a year ago, the Global Goals are a series of ambitious targets to end extreme poverty, tackle climate change and combat all forms of inequality.

“Being in the Girl Guide movement has had a great impact on the choices I’ve made. The values and the skills I’ve developed have contributed to who I am today. It’s also encouraged me to educate other girls and enable them to form opinions, so they can be confident enough to stand up for their rights.

“After all, if every girl was able to learn about her rights, speak up for herself and demand change, the world would be a much better place, plus we’d be a step closer to making sure the Global Goals were met by 2030.”

To mark International Day of the Girl 2016, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has launched #TeamGirl, a campaign that highlights girls and young women tackling real issues and making a difference in their communities today and in the future. To find out more and join the movement visit www.wagggs.org/teamgirl