Irida: my experience working with refugee women in Greece

Cultural tour around the city of Thessaloniki

What is Irida

My name is Magdaléna Kokonezis, I was born in Greece, to a Greek father and a French mother, but now I live in France. I finished my studies in 2019 and have now been volunteering for three months at Irida. This center dedicated to refugee women and their children is based on four pillars: protection, empowerment, inclusion and integration.

Irida is an enclosed space that offers women a secure and comfortable place. They can attend language and computer classes, relax and discover themselves through various manual workshops, beauty classes and cultural activities. Irida is also a place where refugee women can feel included and understood. They have psychological counseling as well as legal and protection services which allow them in particular to prepare their asylum applications.

Irida uplifts women, giving them the strength to overcome their traumas, regaining self-confidence and rediscover their skills to get the best out of them. For example, Irida gives long-term refugee women the opportunity to lead the workshops and teach the language courses themselves.

How it started

When this project was proposed to me, I was immediately won over by this organisation and its values. I instantly supported their cause and mission providing my knowledge and my help.

At the end of my studies I was lost and did not know which topic to choose for my professional life. So, I decided to volunteer in the social field to see if I could finally find my way. I had this desire to make a difference for those who surrounded me. I wanted to feel that what I was doing had a positive impact on the world.

The fact that this project takes place in Greece is also important to me. Indeed, my heart lies here. Unfortunately, the bad economic situation in which Greece finds itself does not allow the country to have the necessary infrastructure to manage the current migration crisis. This is another reason that pushes me to continue my work here. I want to help and support my country and all the women in need who have been forced to flee their homeland. Women who had to start their lives from scratch in a place they haven’t even chosen.

Adjara Kone, one of the guests of the Irida center.

What I have learned

It’s been three months since I started working in Irida, leading courses and workshops. I have felt an immense desire for integration on the part of all the women I met. I see smiles bursting despite painful liabilities, willingness to learn despite difficulties. Their energy is contagious, their progress undeniable. I feel an indefinable bond between them and me.

This experience made me grow and reflect. I am optimistic because it gave me hope. In short words, it is a great life lesson for me. When you are part of Irida’s team, you think you are the one who can teach something to these women. But then, you quickly realize that the women of Irida are the ones who teach you even more. They helped me learning something new about myself and see life differently. I have never met in my life stronger women. They are so optimistic, they are fighters. Hard-working, beautiful and intelligent.

This is what it means to be a woman to me.

Post Author: Magdalena Kokonezis

Magdalena Kokonezis

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