Our story begins in the Summer of 2015. Like many people at that time, we were aware that something was happening, that we were on the cusp of mass migration unlike any we’d seen before. We saw headlines in the newspapers, links shared among friends and we were compelled to understand more. Who are these people, who are travelling thousands upon thousands of miles? Why are they doing that? How can we help?
On 4th August 2015, we went to Calais. We wanted to go to the ‘Jungle’ and meet the people there. Hear their voices and hope to understand and learn from them. That first experience was more powerful than any of us could have predicted. The people we met were the most inspiring, their situation dire and our resolve to do something about it strengthened massively.
During that trip, and the many trips we took to Calais over the next months, we talked directly to the people there, asking them what it was that they needed and establishing ways we could harness the incredible outpouring of support that we received, to have the biggest impact. We took donations, food and clothes, help set up tents and did everything we could to tell the world that this was happening, and that there was something they could do about it.
It was a difficult time, we were thrown into a situation we weren’t prepared for, and it resulted in us forming a grassroots organisation, The Worldwide Tribe. We were able to learn from every experience, and quickly found where our skillsets were. As the grassroots presence in Calais grew, we started to look further afield, watching the wider crisis unfold and decided our help was more needed elsewhere.
Moving backwards along the route travelled by refugees to Calais, we started to work in Greece. First in the mainland at Idomeni, a pressure point where thousands of people passed on their way further in Europe, where we arranged the delivery of two containers of aid for a local Greek group. It was here that we experienced our first real crisis situation, when an aid distribution was so overcome by the crowd gathered outside that the structure was getting damaged, and our team struggled to escape. Another lesson learned.
As the grassroots presence grew again, this time in Idomeni, we moved to another hotspot - the Greek island of Lesvos. Between 2015 and 2016, Lesvos saw the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees, and our team spent months working on the shoreline, seeing flimsy rubber boats safely to land. There are some experiences from that time that are rarely spoken about, but they will stay with us forever, a reminder of where we have been.
Lesvos also presented us with another opportunity - to see first-hand the impact of local, grassroots organisations. It was something that we were just getting to know, but for the residents of Lesvos, the arrival of refugees by sea wasn’t new, and we had a lot to learn from them.
From September 2015 to March 2016 we worked alongside Pikpa Lesvos Solidarity, supporting them with volunteer recruitment and management, as well as funding, WiFi connectivity and the delivery of a much-needed shelter dome. Pikpa was later presented with the UNHCR Nansen award for services to refugees.
The idea that we could learn much from others was something we kept in mind as we moved further backwards along the route, to Turkey. With the impending implementation of the EU Turkey deal, we knew that the strain would continue to build on the other side of the Aegean. We worked with Refugee Volunteers of Izmir in Basmane, who helped us learn how to navigate refugee populations within the city, not just the camps we were used to. It was a great experience to share information, to learn, but also to offer our opinions and advice, and see the value we could add in supporting an organisation that was stretched beyond capacity.
As the European approach to the crisis evolved, we saw the need to support the 60,000 or so refugees who were to stay in Greece while their applications for asylum were processed. The crisis on the mainland was moving away from an immediate emergency response situation, into a long-term wait, which meant a change in approach was needed.
We worked at EKO Project community space in Thessaloniki, which showed us just how incredible and impactful a safe, creative space could be for those in nearby camps. Displaced populations were becoming stagnant, and in doing so the needs to tackle boredom, depression and despair were rising. Life living in a tent in an old factory, with nothing to do but wait for months on end, is not easy to comprehend, and even more difficult to experience. By offering a place of relief, education, empowerment and community, and providing an element of psychosocial support that was lacking from official approaches, the quality of life for those residents was greatly improved.
The need now is to move beyond emergency response and direct aid where possible, and to develop safe spaces that give displaced people the quality of life that they deserve, wherever they are, and we’re so grateful to have been given the opportunity to support with that.
In June 2017, we were incredibly grateful to receive a starter grant from The Worldwide Tribe to allow us to establish Aniko as an independent organisation, and to focus on our mission to inspire change in humanitarian response. We drew on the knowledge we had gained from Calais, Greece and Turkey to offer free support and advice to like-minded organisations addressing the needs of displaced people, alongside the delivery of our own projects.
The close of 2017 saw an incredible result for us, with the exceptional growth of our pilot project, Aniko FC. The response to the project was so much more than we could ever have imagined, with the development of partnerships with Terre des hommes and the Norwegian Refugee Council within four months of Aniko's launch.
As a small team, we quickly realised the best way to manage this growth was to commit our resources to it, so we chose to pause our emergency response and knowledge-sharing operations and dedicate our full energy to making Aniko FC a success.