As we travel, meet new people, develop ideas and shape solutions we add projects to the organization. Below are detailed our main current and future projects. Refugee art trail, The Olive branch initiative, Teach a man to fish and our land plan for obtaining a permanent base for operations in Greece.
Refugee Art Trail
In 2017 we set up Refugee art trail as a face book group, it predates All About Change and is still an active project. We were in Belgrade, Serbia at the time, improving living conditions in a huge squatted train depot in the centre of the capital. I had driven my home, a 7.5 ton crane truck with converted box on the back down from the uk with solar set up and tools, a generator and various other equipment including my chainsaw mill. We had been providing a solar / generator powered power station for the roughly 1500 men living in the appalling conditions for 5 months or so. We enabled around 30 people able to charge their phones, devices, and use hair clippers to have hair cuts etc out side my truck simultaneously. We also discovered a huge fallen tree on the site and a group for Afghani friends and I set about milling the wood with my chainsaw mill, and together with railway sleepers from the trash pile, and some wood I had milled at the Calais wood yard, we made a beautiful table, which was sold to a charity leader and funded further voluntary work and some food for the participants who helped create it. This gave us the idea of making art with the refugees as a therapeutic activity, and we discussed involving various art forms such as photography, painting, wood and metal work and so on. 3 years later and we have helped many people by exhibiting their art work on our Facebook page, Instagram, at exhibitions in UK museums, church groups, festivals and other events, with one piece selling for £300!!! see our photo gallery which include art work for sale and practical build projects under taken at sites from Serbia to Lesvos. We are always planning new events and festival stalls in our own yurt, solar powered and transported in our project truck.
This project continues and we are planning future exhibitions and events, but we realised that not everything we want to do is based around art, so another all encompassing group was needed. All About Change was decided on as the name as it covers not only humanitarian aspects of our desire to help, but can also be applied to environmental projects too.
The Olive Branch Initiative
Establishing a need for integration
Training and empowerment, education and skill sharing, these are words often banded about when working with refugees and homeless communities. I have traveled most of Europe over the last four years, helping in some of the most dire and degrading situations and camps, from Calais in Northern France, where we built shelters from plastic sheeting and timber, to Serbia, where we installed lighting for people living around indoor fires in the depths of Balkan winter. I have built classrooms for the only refugee school on Lesvos and been inside the infamous Moria camp during riots as people stabbed each other over preferential treatment of one nationality over another.
What is definitely missing is inclusion. In European countries, in lawful employment, education and above all, in local societies. But as an individual looking at the refugee crisis, what is one person to do for all the millions of people needing, screaming for a solution? The day before I left Lesvos by ferry two winters ago, I was contacted by a woman with an Olive grove who had heard that a tree surgeon was volunteering on the island. She wanted me to trim a whole field of Olive trees which hadn’t been pruned for years and were in a very dense, unproductive state. I went to see them and apologized for not having time, but as we walked through the field we discussed the possibilities of being able to teach the men in Moria camp to climb and prune the trees. On the ferry to Athens I wrote up the idea, and realised that this could be a huge project, which could reach across the whole of Southern Europe as far as Portugal in the West.
Two years later I now have contacts in Spain, Greece and Portugal who are willing to let this project happen on their land. They will get their trees trimmed maybe two years in a row for free, and share the harvest work with the refugees and locals who will receive the training for free from myself, a trained, professional tree surgeon of 20 years world wide experience. The trainees will receive a harness and rope, and a pruning saw and loppers at the end of the course and will have a local contact, the land owner, to help find them more work in the locale, maybe amongst friends and neighbours who also have trees needing work.
As many young people leave rural environments in search of better work in cities, many older land owners rely on fewer and fewer skilled craftsmen to prune the trees for a better crop, and this dying art is payed much better than the only work refugees can find in rural communities, beating the olives from the trees, for a pitiful wage, for long hard hours. Why not share this work load and involve and train a new generation of workers while integrating them with local communities at the same time?
Contact local NGO’s, many of whom we already know and have worked with in these areas, and ask for help to establish a small group, as large as our funding allows, maybe 5 -20 per day of teaching could be a guide, of refugees who have expressed an interest in horticulture or farm work.
once insurance is established for the group in the country in question, set up a date that works for the landowner in the correct season for the tree pruning. Invite the group to the land and make necessary transport arrangements.
The course will most likely be around a week, but could also be done in less time, I will take advice from each land owner on this as a week may be long enough to teach the skills to many people, but may be too long for a small field, and too short for a large field.
There of course will be cases where a very large field would take a lot longer to prune, so once a few days of training are completed, the land owner may want to offer a wage to the people to complete the whole area. this would be the most desirable outcome as it not only finds our friends trained , but also straight into employment. It would also be desirable if the landowners agreed to mentor the new trained people in finding work in the areas after I have moved on to the next area. and also if they agreed to keep the work for the same group the following years.
I would like to offer the course in 3 countries in the first year, and hopefully expand it in the following years.
I would apply for funds to complete this project from various sources. The money would be to cover food and transport of the volunteers to and from the land, equipment like harnesses and tools as mentioned. also transport costs. Each location would need a different amount of funding depending on the amount of participants, and size of the olive grove, and distances between the land and the residence of participants.
If and when the project grows we can expand it to new areas and countries, including more types of fruit tree pruning and even planting etc. Land owners of this scale often have landscaping works they need undertaken, and I have experience in this filed too, we could contract for building projects, grounds maintenance upkeep, and larger tree surgery jobs. This is an exciting proposal with endless possibilities for education and permacultural applications. People need solidarity, they cannot survive forever from charity handouts, as seen by the rates of depression and indeed self harming in the camps, which has been and continues to be the motivation for this and our other projects at All About Change. This is a real solution, maybe not for the masses, but for a number of people, and that is all I can hope to achieve at this stage.
Teach a man to fish
While living on Lesvos helping build classrooms at the School of Peace at One Happy Family centre, I met many guys who lived at the family camp, Kara tepe, just outside Mytilini. They would spend all day every day down at the little bay under the camp, fishing. some of them used only line and hooks, cast out into the water by hand, and drawn back in, over and over again, and by the end of the day they would have a bucket full of small fish to feed their families back at the camp. I sent word home via social media that we needed second hand fishing equipment, and soon with the trucks full of aid, fishing rods started turning up. I also went home and brought some back by plane myself, donated by friends in the UK.
On turning up at the shore with a bundle of fishing rods the people were ecstatic, and I handed them out and talked with the people as they used them all day. One father was from Iran, another from Iraq, more where from Palestine and Afghanistan, all already knew how to fish, and at the end of the day, I was treated to a huge banquet of the small white bait they caught. The atmosphere back at the camp was electric as the families were not used to the amount of food. rations in the camps are really pitiful, even with all the funding that goes to Greece for maintaining the camps, a lot of which doesn’t seam to make it to the inhabitants of the camps for some reason, the diets of the people are supplemented by food they have to buy. there are fast food stalls outside the gates to all the main camps I went to, and people have soon spent all the money they have while waiting the years it takes just to get to the Greek mainland. NGO’s like No border kitchen provide food parcels to those living in squats and sleeping rough but the children in the camps are the ones who need the protein in their diets.
The aim is simple, to crowd fund or raise some money, travel down to Lesvos, Samos, and Chios, buy fishing equipment from local sources, and figure out, with the help of the organisations on the ground there, a fair way to distribute to those most in need of the help. Distribute the rods, and make a connection with those involved. Make a short film to show the success’ and possible impacts of the project, and edit and distribute the film in hope of raising more funds for this project.
In wake of recent political and social changes the need for solidarity within subculture communities and projects is growing ever more important. I don’t want to be on the road side in my truck another year in the uk risking being clamped, towed, or worse burnt out by racists. Long has been the talk of buying land and ‘settling down’ and I think the time to solidify these plans is now. But what do we want from a “drop out and set up our utopia” type plan? Many will have different views, and its important we are clear from the start on what we want to achieve, both for ourselves, and for others…
After my travels and voluntary work over the last few years, it is impossible for me to imagine a piece of land in the sun somewhere, with us all residing there and not see it helping those in most need in the country we end up in. While we in Europe have long had homeless problem, the levels of need have been far increased in recent years by the refugee crisis… and this is where I want to put any effort and expenditure to work in the coming years. Having volunteered at the AMAZING ONE HAPPY FAMILY centre on Lesvos, I was totally inspired to try to re-create this model on the main land, somewhere near a refugee camp. The centre offers a cafe, food at lunch times, a woman’s space, a gym, a clothing distribution centre, a school, and a huge garden where they grow their own food, and much much more I wont go into. Now don’t get me wrong, this took years to develop into what it is today, and I don’t want to dream too big to start with, but what I am saying is that with the right skills, intention, and a bit of capital, we can start a community project that may out-grow our wildest dreams and become a hub for a community bereft of all it once knew, and help people in desperate need of a way out of the boredom of the huge camps.
I think Greece is the right place to start looking for land because, there are huge camps which are semi-permanent, and definitely won’t be moving any time soon. The government there is not dealing with the situation and many people are suffering depression, self harming and so on. The land is cheap, and planning consent can be worked around and acquired easily enough. And it is the first European county refugees from the middle east meet.. so I feel it is the best place to great them and work on integration projects.
My initial goal for the first few years… Buy somewhere cheap, maybe a wooded hill side near a refugee camp. This will keep the price down to a minimum. Possibly if we have enough money between us all, maybe even buy a small piece of woodland in the Balkans too, as a donor for building wood ( oak forest in south Serbia is cheap ). And establish a plan to a) build a timber frame barn / hall, as a main space, while living in vehicles and other alternative accommodation. We have a 6 meter yurt, and a huge solar / battery set up to power the construction phase off grid, and a generator will back that up obviously. And b) We can start to integrate with the refugee community by volunteering at the camp, offering our skills where needed and building a trust relationship with the local authorities, and at the right stage, offer to host people from the most vulnerable groups for living / tuition at our place. This may be families, people with disabilities, social issues, LGBT people etc etc. The project will obviously be as permacultural and off grid as possible, with an emphasis on outdoor education, renewable energy methods and usage, woodland crafts and outdoor activities and so on. This project can also be combined with the olive pruning project if we can afford land with olive trees on.
In the first stage I would like to offer an art and workshop space for people to be able to come and create things, pursue therapeutic arts and crafts as a way of helping manage the stress of war and transition to western culture. This, along with a community-feel in place of harsh camp conditions of hand-to-mouth survival is so necessary for social inclusion for refugees both young and old.
The project will defiantly be viable for funding from many of the groups we have worked with over the last few years and we will start to gain interest from charities and volunteer groups alike as the project grows.
We have put out a facebook post about this and have had a good response from some stalwarts of the off grid educational scene in the Uk such as directors of the ‘Hedge-u-cation’, and also the ‘Re-wild’ projects, as well as other friends and associates from the volunteering world and general friends groups. We hope this project will take off in 2020 and that we will gain funding and start looking for the land by mid summer.