Former Mackie Academy pupil Emily Forbes is embarking on a week-long mission to swim 12km, to raise awareness of the hazards faced by refugees fleeing troubled areas such as Afghanistan – desperate to find safety in Europe – and to raise funds to help them learn to swim.
Here is Emily’s story:
Almost exactly a year ago I boarded a flight to Athens, my ultimate destination a rural town in Northern Greece called Katsika near the city of Ioannina. I was starting a new job as project coordinator with Yoga and Sport with Refugees (YSR).
YSR is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) offering free sporting activities to refugee and asylum-seeking communities in Greece.
YSR was born in late 2017 on the island of Lesvos, Greece, in direct response to the need for an inclusive and accessible environment to nurture the mental and physical health of forced migrants.
The organisation started without a designated space or any equipment, only the founder Estelle and some coaches running and training together outside the infamous Moria camp on Lesvos.
Through cooperation with several partners we have since expanded to Athens, Ioannina and Paris. We now offer more than 20 different sports activities to approximately 400 people each day and more than 3000 every month.
Sport benefits wellbeing
At YSR we believe that practising sports improves not only our physical, but also mental health; builds community and everlasting friendship; and facilitates skills development and integration. This is why we offer free yoga and sports activities for all.
We also hope that through our work and the power of sport we can advocate for social change.
It is in this vein that during my time at home this summer I want to raise awareness, not only for our organisation, but the plight of our communities .
Working on the ground, I have seen first hand the tangible impact YSR has on its community. Some might question the impact of sports on the refugee community, when surely navigating the asylum system, limited resources and instability are only a few of the more immediate problems at play here? But to this I pose the question, as humans what are we without our health?
In a situation where psychosocial support and even something as simple as access to outside space is needed but desperately lacking, we are working to try and close this gap with our activities. How many of us treasure brisk walks along Stoney beach, getting lost in the hills or finding respite in the gym after work? How many friends have we made through a shared hobby?
A world away from Stonehaven
Recently, when discussing with a colleague, who had newly returned to the Netherlands after five years working for YSR in Greece, we reflected that it feels like we live two lives. One version of us exists in Greece, but that person is not fully understood when we return home.
For that reason I often don’t share much about my work on the occasions that I do return home except for within my close circle.
However, given the hostile environment the UK Home Office continues to attempt to create, it feels increasingly uncomfortable not discussing these things – especially when considering the recent passage of the Illegal Migration Act and proposition of offshore detention.
Swim for Good
Therefore I have decided to take a small part of the YSR spirit home with me this summer.
We are currently running our Swim for Good campaign where we are challenging people to swim 12km – the distance travelled in life endangering conditions to cross from Turkey to Greece in search of a safer future.
Many enduring this journey are illegally pushed back to Turkey. This is when the Greek Government blocks both entry to their territory, and the access to the asylum system forced migrants are legally entitled to.
The aim of this campaign is to bring awareness to the high-risk journey people take to reach the EU, empower others to get involved, and raise funds for future swimming classes.
I will be swimming 12k over the course of the week beginning the 31st July in The Stonehaven Open Air Pool. Anyone wanting to get involved and join the campaign or simply to read more about our work then you can find us @yogasportwithrefugeesglobal on instagram.
Alternatively if you are motivated to do so then you can donate directly www.globalgiving.org/projects/ysrswim-for-good/.