Our fourth conversation was carried out with members of Melissa Network, a non-profit organisation that operates by and for migrant and refugee women in Greece. The organisation was founded in 2014 with grassroots-based participation and it now counts members from over 45 countries. It provides a platform for networking, capacity building and advocacy and runs an innovative integration program supporting refugee women and children.
The network operates through seven types of activities to support the community and fulfil objectives of the integration of women and girls, which include school support, social rights classes, advocacy classes, psychosocial support, art courses, skills & capacity building and lastly, self/community care.
We spoke with two of the members of Melissa – Ivy Delacion and co-founder Deborah Carlos-Valencia – who are based in Greece and have experience of migration themselves, although they come from different backgrounds. The name of the organisation derives from the Greek word melissa, which means bee, referring to the collective work of bees. The main idea behind the organisation is that it connects migrant communities of women in Greece and establishes a supportive network between them. Paraphrasing the words of the founders of the organisation: it was important to share ideas and valuable practical information as well as practices in general, since they were already working hard for – and within – their own communities (e.g. the Filipino community) and they needed to create a space where they could intermingle; creating a broader group inclusive of all communities, which collectively addresses their concerns and tackles the issues that they face by working together. One cannot imagine or measure the idea of an isolated struggle, a struggle that feels somehow unsupported, and truth be told the Greek state has little to no structures to establish or enhance collaboration between communities. In Deborah’s words: “it becomes imperative for migrant communities to organise themselves and to unite with other communities.”
What is equally essential for the network is to create a safe space for women, where they can come and contribute with their own knowledge, teach languages, babysit – there is a space specifically set up for child care so that mothers can attend classes or other activities. Women who participate in Melissa Network also follow classes on women’s rights and social rights in Greece. The network aims towards a smooth integration of migrant women in a way that is completely horizontal, by reinforcing fruitful exchanges and by establishing strong bonds between all the members. The structure of the organisation is made up of paid staff as well as volunteers that come from abroad and, depending on their work experience, background or academic studies, are assigned different tasks and obligations. It is not rare that women who come to Melissa Network to receive assistance or care from the organisation, later become paid staff members, mostly taking up interpreter positions. There are also examples of participants who have been taking part in activities organised by Melissa and who actualized their own ideas and created programs in ways that benefited the community outside of the organisation.
And although the organisation focuses on providing collective care through community based care practices, it also highlights the gravity of self-care that needs to exist on the base level of every group and activity that runs the institution. Working as a team means that frequent group meetings need to be conducted between all members to openly discuss any problems or difficulties each one might be facing at each given time.
Many thanks to Deborah Carlos-Valencia and Ivy Delacion from Melissa Network.