Transformation in Ioannina

When we returned to Ioannina in October 2021, it was clear that life was really tough for a large number of refugees in the area. They were stuck in camps or poor housing and the already inadequate state support they needed to rebuild their lives was being withdrawn.  The city had nowhere they could call their own.

So when we found the former Community Centre we thought it was too good an opportunity to miss. It was as empty and run-down but had huge potential as a hub in the city centre.

That’s when Refugee Support’s Dignity Centre Ioannina was born and we spent 2 months renovating it:

Since then we have had 1800 visits to our Dignity Market and served a total of 5,000 people with an essential basket of items that they chose for themselves.

Half have been from Afghanistan, a third from the Middle East and the rest from 15 other nations.

They also had a place where they would be welcome and the opportunity to access other services like sports activities and language learning.

So why are we leaving?

We are transferring management of the Dignity Centre and all the services it offers to another organisation: Be Aware and Share.

As with everywhere else we have worked, deciding to leave has not been a decision we took lightly but we are very happy that it is the right thing for us to do – for us, for the Centre and for the local community.

There are three reasons it makes sense.

1. Setting things up quickly is what we are good at

Our strengths as an organisation are in building new projects and providing short-term, emergency support. The ideal scenario is when something we set up gets successfully taken over by someone else.

When we arrived in Ioannina last year it was clear that a new Centre offering a range of services was needed and no-one else was going to do it. So we quickly set that up.

A huge amount of time and energy has been invested in converting that run-down shell of a building into a vibrant and welcoming community place for the refugee community in the city once again.

2. We have to adapt

Our plan was to run a Dignity Market offering food and hygiene at its heart and to have other services delivered by other organisations.

That was beginning to work out but since March, a lot of our key resources have been taken up responding to the emergency in Ukraine where we are supporting over 1,000 people every week:

The needs of the local refugee population in Ioannina were also changing and increasingly in need of services to help them integrate or move on.

And finally, we only needed a small team of 2 volunteers for the service we were offering which is a tough number of manage. Sometimes you have less and not enough help, sometimes you have too many and volunteers’ time is under-utilised.

3. BAAS will do a brilliant job

In humanitarian work, you need to stay flexible and take advantage of great opportunities when they come along.

So when BAAS arrived with a desire to take on the responsibility of managing the Centre, it was a great opportunity for us to:

  • ensure the Centre could continue serving the community and developing its services
  • focus our resources in other locations where we are better able to help

We have been impressed with their professionalism, communications and dedication to helping refugees. Anyone who has worked with small NGOs will know that is sometimes not the case!

We know that the Dignity Centre will be in good hands with them.

What next?

We are of course still developing what we do in Cyprus and Moldova and also now looking for a new, third location…

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