Project Layali is an ambitious venture to address employment and integration challenges facing refugees in Greece. With the support of an InterExchange Foundation Christianson Grant, I'm spending one year in Athens working with the locally run NGO Za'atar to launch the social enterprise.
Za'atar currently runs the refugee shelter and community center Orange House, where I spent six months volunteering in 2017. I'm excited to be back in Athens helping to improve conditions for refugees and foster cross-cultural understanding.
Layali will provide jobs and employment training to refugees who plan to remain in Athens, permanently. Through operating a café, boutique hotel, and cultural event space, the project aims to create an integrated workforce, increase opportunities for refugees to work in the tourism industry, and help create connections and cross-cultural understanding between locals and refugees.
Integrating the workforce & increasing employment opportunities
Layali's goal is to employ both local Greeks and refugees at its social enterprise. Greeks and refugees working side-by-side will help build connections and fight stereotypes that refugees are "job takers."
Layali will also partner with hotels interested in hiring refugee graduates from our hospitality job-training program.
Both the internal integrated workforce and external apprenticeship program will help break down the barriers and stereotypes that stand in the way of refugees gaining employment and integrating into Greek culture.
Tourists in Greece. Image courtesy of Pixabay
Creating a space for cross-cultural exchange
While Za'atar's Orange House allows refugees to celebrate and maintain their culture, it doesn’t enable refugees to share their culture with others. Due to its function as a residence, Orange House must remain private.
Refugee youth at Orange House. Image courtesy of David C.
Project Layali will build upon the successes of Orange House by building a public space to share and spread the joys of Arabic, Farsi, and African culture. It will be a place to screen films, hold lectures, enroll in classes, sing, and dance.
Initial steps in building a non-profit social enterprise
The founders of Za'atar and I have began location scouting for Project Layali and visited two vacant buildings in Athens. Upcoming projects include additional location scouting, completing the paperwork with our Greek lawyer leading to the formation of the new entity, and grant writing in hopes of raising additional funds.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Project Layali is unquestionably bold and while this bold nature presents numerous challenges, it also presents extensive opportunities to increase cross-cultural understanding among native Greeks and Athens' refugee population.
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