The Daily Rhythm of Our Female Friendly Space
Lighthouse Relief’s Female Friendly Space (FFS) is a closed-off area for women and adolescent girls in Ritsona refugee camp on mainland Greece.
By: Melissa Ross
Lighthouse Relief’s Female Friendly Space (FFS) is a closed-off area for women and adolescent girls in Ritsona refugee camp on mainland Greece. The private space provides access to information, education, recreational activities, and support services while offering a range of activities including dance classes, art projects, and health workshops.
Christina Khouri, the programme manager who has also worked with NGOs in Jordan and Oman, describes FFS as “a safe community environment where female residents can feel comfortable and empowered.” The positive impact this programme has on the daily lives of women is shown in their smiles, their hugs and kisses with new friends, and their happy, paint-splattered children.
Christina and another volunteer talk with a woman outside her caravan home.
“Everyday around noon we check in on the ladies. I think it’s comforting for them to know that someone is going to knock on their door with a smile.”
Christina gently knocks on a caravan door while calling out, “As Salam Alaikum.” A woman opens the door with a baby boy on one hip and a shy young girl peering around her skirt at her knees. Greetings and kisses follow as the woman invites Christina in for a cup of tea. Many women in Ritsona refugee camp have become accustomed to Lighthouse Relief volunteers knocking on their doors to say hello and inform them of that day’s activities in FFS. While Christina goes from caravan to caravan, she’s also making mental notes about how the women seem or if caravans are empty because it helps her identify potential protection issues by paying attention to trends in behavior or activity. Even women who never come to FFS return her greeting, chat for a moment, and seem appreciative of her daily presence.
Christina hopes that women feel the space is their own, a place where they can be themselves.
“They can come into our space, take off their headscarves if that feels good for them, and really feel safe and comfortable around the other women.”
The gate at the entrance to FFS has a simply painted male figure with a circle around it and a line through it. The message is clear: this is a proudly female-only space. As women pass through the gate, they greet each other and volunteers with kisses, while some remove their hijabs. They arrange themselves on colourful rugs and pillows in the shaded outdoor space or enjoy a comforting cup of tea inside in the air conditioned quiet space. Arabic pop music suddenly fills the air as the younger women gather in one corner, playing their usual role of DJ and giggling amoung themselves. Some women bring their babies and young children, knowing that FFS is a safe place for their children to play, paint pictures, make new friends, or quietly sleep undisturbed. As more women gather inside for the spa day activities of massage and facials or outside for dance class, the energy level and volume rises to a homey buzz reminiscent of a family gathering.
Christina explains that FFS offers women an opportunity to learn new skills such as sewing, guitar, or languages.
“Some women want to learn something new, so they get to come and practice.”
The FFS sewing room is cozy with just enough room for a table holding a few sewing machines and storage space for fabric and spools of colourful thread displayed like a rainbow, but the diminutive space is not representative of the empowerment it provides the women who use it. One woman is repairing her child’s torn shirt and sewing on a button that is attempting to spring loose. Another woman is altering a dress to make it her own, while the woman on the sewing machine to her right is creating a beautiful pillow for her temporary home in camp. Having access to fabric, needles, and thread gives each of these women a sense of self-sufficiency in an environment where they rely heavily on others to provide everything from milk for their children to sanitary napkins to their human right to escape war, persecution, and poverty.
Christina explains that arts and crafts are a great way to gently encourage conversations.
“Making eye pillows filled with lavender and chamomile is a way to initiate a discussion on the importance of sleep and ask if women have any issues with sleep.”
A refugee camp is an inherently confusing mix of languages, government processes, organizations, and camp procedures. Layer on the traumatic experiences that most residents endured before arriving at Ritsona, and the result can be extremely overwhelmed and emotionally stressed people. FFS makes helpful information available to women whether it’s how to register their children for school, which NGO to contact for a specific need, or ways to take care of their health and wellbeing. Regular discussions on self-care or child care are led through an art project or interactive activity, encouraging women to share their physical and emotional issues with volunteer Red Cross psychologists. These types of psychosocial support services are a lifeline to women who might be silently struggling.
For Christina, the overarching purpose of FFS is to create a sense of fellowship amoung the female residents.
“The biggest thing that we can provide is community, helping other women to connect to each other.”
Negar and Zera look like any pair of friends drinking coffee and discussing their lives while watching their young children run around and play together. Negar and her family are in a very small minority in Ritsona being Iranian and Christian. She’s found the lack of a shared language, culture, and religion very isolating, but as her English improves and she spends her afternoons in FFS, she’s finding that she has much in common with the other young mothers despite their different backgrounds. Zera has two boys under the age of two which keeps her busy in her caravan most of the day. Coming to FFS has become a part of her daily routine though because it’s a safe place for her children to play while she socializes, finding a sense of normality in an otherwise challenging environment.
Please help us continue our vitally important work to advance a dignified humanitarian response in Greece through programmes such as the Female Friendly Space (FFS) by supporting our latest Global Giving campaign: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/lighthouse-relief/