#OurHeroes: Evi Papagianni_Together, we Can Succeed Anything!


I remember one morning, being in the organization’s van and listening to the radio about the World Health Organization’s emergency meeting. I’ve heard for a new disease that seemed to be spreading rapidly and affecting more and more people. Back then, I discussed with my colleagues, our driver and cultural mediator, how bad the situation sounded, but at the same time how far away from us. Things were still normal, we had a lot of things to do, and our work with the people included medical escorts, referrals, discussions about the present and the next day.

When we were informed on March 12th about the suspension of the operation of schools, as the first measure to deal with the coronavirus pandemic , we found ourselves in front of, the biggest challenge, that our team had faced until then. We had to act calmly and in a coordinated manner. This was followed by updates, long discussions, and the need for answers that we did not know.

Just a few days later, most of our direct services provided in the context of the SolidarityNow accommodation program had to stop. Personally, I felt very insecure. As a social worker, the heart of my work is the personalized meetings with the people we support. Dialogue and discussions have always been the most important elements of our work; sitting in front of the person who has something to tell you, listening to him/her carefully, looking him/her in the eyes – sometimes, holding his/her hand, reminding him/her that you are there. How could we maintain the valuable “relationship” with our beneficiaries when being in distance? What should we tell them? And, if we ourselves experience something so unprecedented and frightening, how could we rise to the occasion?

The truth is that people have more cognitive reserves than one can imagine.

In the following weeks we were asked to change our way of working. “Meetings” are now held by scheduled telephone appointments. The emergencies are not absent of course – and, now, their management needs more flexibility, as, over time, restrictive measures have become stricter. And how to explain to someone who had survived a war, that this time their safety depends on staying home…

We spent many hours in telephone communication. A big part of the population is dealing with health problems, so we had to ensure they have access to medicines, but we also needed to reschedule their medical appointments. Doctors in the public healthcare system responded with unprecedented readiness. The beneficiaries showed patience and understanding. That was a small victory.

A few days later, we had to think of the children, our beneficiaries’ children. There was a great concern among parents about their education – basis for their integration into Greek society, which was abruptly stopped. The time for the next battle had come, this time with the digital platforms and the language gap, as none of these tools were provided in a language understood by the beneficiaries. But we made it! And we did it mainly with the children’s help and patience.

And, of course, life did not stop. Our beneficiaries’ worries remained the same. Their hopes remained the same. During this time, little Fatime did not stop her blood transfusions. Ali continues his meetings with the psychologist. The family of Zahra and Karim managed to move into their own apartment, happily completing their cycle in our program. And our daily phone communications still go on: for the SMS texts as to obtain exit permission, for the renewal of the asylum card, for the electric power cuts, for a child with a toothache, and so on.

We are now facing the prospect of the next day. It finds me somewhat numb, but also determined. Since we have managed to keep ties in the age of social distancing, we can succeed anything.

I am Evi Papagianni and I am working as a social worker in SolidarityNow’s ESTIA, the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation program, which is implemented by UNHCR and funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union.