World Painting Tour Chapter 5: The Love for Painting in the Falling Snow of Athens

We stepped foot into the abandoned hospital in Athens, Greece, and found Syrian refugee youth running around with photocopies of their hands and faces in distorted positions. They were having so much fun with the Spanish volunteers and the Xerox machine. Around Greece, hotels and vacant buildings have been converted into temporary refugee housing. During the introductory meeting with the director we learned that almost all of the hundred and sixty Syrians residing in this old hospital were mothers and children, while the majority of the fathers were either in Germany or back in Syria. The mothers were exhausted after their long trek through dangerous lands and waters, spending most of the time in their rooms; the children ran wild through the hallways cleverly breaking into locked cabinets and doors. It was time for art!

The first afternoon we prepared the entrance wall in the lobby for a large mural and the following morning an exterior wall was busted out to install a secondary exit for fire safety. It happened to be the wall directly adjacent our future composition, allowing wind, silt and snow to enter the lobby freely. Clearly another wall was calling out for the colors of love; in the meantime, we held an art class with an open invitation for all the youth in the building. Although, the attendance per capita was not groundbreaking, and those who came were quite transitory, a few dove deep into their creativity expression, thirsty for more techniques and avenues of expression. During this class, around seven semi-permanent Spanish volunteers joined. It became a short workshop for the facilitators. During this time they said that the refugees enter the dining room on the 4th floor, three times a day to collect their meals and then leave because the energy felt heavy. For fire code the refugees are not allowed to cook their own meals in the building. Although the back wall of the cafeteria was far from optimal with electrical sockets and piping everywhere, this wall was calling.

Robert and I taped off some shapes and the mural was underway the same day with Syrians painting vibrant colors across the wall. We then whitewashed the wall, leaving hints of colors and shape protruding through. Robert painted the girl setting the doves free and I painted the girl blowing the bubbles. The doves of peace and the bubbles of dreams meet in the middle with a gorgeous sunrise over the mountains illuminate the wall from with the dove. A Spanish designer, painting on a wall for the first time, added the city in the black bubble. The Syrian youth painted the lower section with faces, mending broken hearts and quotes: “Love for all mothers in the world” and “If you travel, I will miss you. If I travel, I will miss you.” The mural was finished in a day and a half and the space was transformed with a little paint, much love and good intentions!

The last day of the project arrived, December 30th, and it was snowing. We had been invited to make a painting in a day on the safe home for Greek children who had been removed from dangerous environments. The youth were away for Christmas and the intentions was to surprise them with a new painting upon their return from the holidays. The staff arranged a warm welcome with fresh coffee and delicious treats. It was a race to the finish, painting in the falling snowflakes. Four recovering drug addicts joined us, as an activity for their rehabilitation. They were committed beyond belief. We asked them, “What do you feel is important for children to feel? What would you want your inner child to feel?” They wanted to express a loving family where the children felt safe and together we decided on the composition. The men in the drug rehab program, the staff of the home, the Amaka team and even Niovi’s children were dedicated to paint beauty and love onto this wall! It was a truly beautiful day painting in below freezing temperatures, sharing in this beautiful collaborative piece, painting with those who feel creative and others exploring the possibilities of painting our emotions for the first time. Just after sunset we stood back under the light of the car headlights and smiled inside and out… for we did it! We completed the “Mosaics of Love” for refugees and locals in Greece with flying colors… and butterflies too!!! We painted and made mosaic murals with people from Greece, Iran, Syria. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Eritrea, Bosnia and more!!! THANK YOU TO ALL THE AMAZING REFUGEES, PARTICIPANTS, SUPPORTERS, ORGANIZATIONS, STAFF, FRIENDS and OPEN HEARTS THAT HELPED MAKE THIS POSSIBLE! And… THANK YOUAMAKA team – Antonio Raptis and Daphnie Kalafati – The deepest gratitude for hosting us, laughing with us, working hard with and for us… YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME AND FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS!!!