The ‘flying’ children
They are all under 20 years old, born only a few hours flight away from Greece. That may not seem like far, but their worlds couldn’t be further away from what most of us know.
These are children, mostly boys, aged between 5 and 18, who were forced to cross the Mediterranean to Greece in a desperate attempt to flee war or famine, and seek a chance – even if it’s a slim one – for a decent future.
They have no home, no family, no friends. They left everything behind, endured a harrowing journey and arrived in a strange country with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
They are dubbed the ‘flying’ children.
Fleeing from places like Afghanistan, Syria and Iran, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Ghana, there are currently more than 2,000 of these children in Greece. They either live on the streets or in camps, police stations and detention centres. Usually in difficult conditions, alongside adults and exposed to many threats.
Being outside any protection system, they have neither access to services nor any information on their rights. An alarming number suffer from depression, PTSD and other anxiety disorders.
A home with green spaces
The HOME Project is a non-profit organisation set up to address the needs of refugee and child migrants, who arrive in Greece alone. They move the children to one of their 11 homes, offering them safety, education and help with social integration.
Since early 2017, the project has accommodated more than 285 children.
As a business, we have long been committed to making a positive impact in the societies in which we operate. So, Unilever Greece immediately joined hands with the HOME Project to launch a programme that teaches health and nutrition habits, and employability skills.
We help these children create vegetable gardens – called Knorr Green Spaces – in the homes and bring in experts to teach them about plant care and sustainability. These experts also monitor progress and help plant new vegetables.
That said, some residents have been challenging the choices on offer. As one boy explains: “I tasted broccoli from our garden. I had never eaten broccoli before. And I didn’t like it. I was told though, that we will plant different vegetables for the summer, and I am eager to taste them.”
All children – with an emphasis on those nearing adulthood – are trained on the gardening and agricultural skills required to plant and maintain seasonal vegetable gardens.
They also get cooking lessons with a Unilever Food Solutions chef – with a generous serving of Knorr and Hellmann’s products – encouraging them to adopt healthy eating habits and cut food waste.
The hope is that, as well as being good for their wellbeing in the short term, these skills and knowledge will come in handy for potential job opportunities.
Helping shape the adults they become
Employees from our offices and factories get involved too, volunteering their free time to visit the homes and help out. That might involve spending an evening cooking with the children or taking part in an activity, as simple as kicking a ball around.
When the children need specific items – such as coats and warm clothes for the winter – our colleagues get together, collect what’s required and deliver it to the homes.
“These children are the future,” says Dimitris Serifis, Unilever Foods & Tea Marketing Manager for South East Europe, “and helping their development can really shape the adults they will become. We feel we can make a genuine difference, by offering them a sense of belonging and a fair chance for a better life.”