I think that showers are the first reason people come to us initially, not the sex education courses. We had to close down for three days last week so this morning was like a madhouse. Everyone wants to get on the shower list. I’m like, ‘calm down, we’ll make sure everyone has a shower, don’t worry.’
It's right for them to feel anxious though as opportunities and resources for hygiene are few and far between. Between 20 to 30 people a day use our showers, a lot of whom are men but also there are a lot of families with their children, so we need to factor that into the timings. Most of the people you see here have no access to showers or housing. They are homeless, living up in the mountains or in squats without running water. This is a safe space to get menstrual products, condoms and other things. I think what we do is so important: dignity through hygiene.
Exarcheia Square is right there; it's a well-known hang out for drug dealers, smugglers and even mafia. So this is a safe space to come to instead of hanging out there. The men, especially, really like coming here. I think they feel safe here, comfortable, and they bring in their friends. Male refugees are very stigmatised and a lot of people are scared of them. There are not many people who cater to this group. People are always asking me, ‘Are you sure you’re safe?’ And I’m like ‘the guys are great!’ Once in awhile, something may come up, but it’s usually triggered by something from the outside.
All our instructors are from migrant backgrounds and they are part of the communities they work with. We’ve trained them as part of the program but they speak the language. I think this is one of the things that enables the program to work. The people who come here trust the educator and space, because they're very good at making people feel comfortable, it’s their personalities. So people come in initially because of them, and then they start bringing other people in. Today’s group is very engaged. They keep on asking us for more courses, more stuff. So we are currently taking polls on what is their next priority, is it relationships, or is it something else.
Sometimes I feel like Athens is a really welcoming and open city. I have seen so many good people, Greek people, doing good things, but while many are welcoming there are others who do not share the same mentality. We have seen the Golden Dawn* active with demonstrations, riots and far-right propaganda. But on the whole, I would say it is very welcoming, especially considering the number of people who are here.
* Golden Dawn is a far-right political party in Greece.
Update June 2020 — The Unmentionables closed at the end of 2018 and I got a new job as the manager of CRIBS International, a housing and social work organisation for women and children. I also started a library called The Book Collective, which is currently housed in the Amina Centre in Athens. Exarcheia Square was raided and all the squats have since been evacuated. It's crazy how much things have changed! We still live in Athens, although I'm currently in the US apart from my partner due to travel bans as a result of Covid-19.