Hi Marilyn! Can you share some information about yourself and SolidarityNow?
My name is Marilyn Polena, and I have been honoured to be SolidarityNow’s General Manager since March 2022, having served as Director of Programmes since 2017. In all these years, I have been part of a dedicated multicultural team that solidifies SolidarityNow as one of the largest NGOs in Greece in terms of implemented projects, initiatives, and social imprint. One of our greatest achievements is the relationships developed with our beneficiaries whose evolution is living proof of our work and growth. Since its establishment in 2013 and to date, SolidarityNow has supported more than 350,000 people to claim their lives back, feel empowered, and become autonomous and independent. Our organisation invests in education, livelihoods, the defence of human rights, social integration, and peaceful coexistence by embracing diversity and safeguarding dignity. We, as well as our beneficiaries, are lucky to share common values and work together for an open and tolerant society, where everyone is treated equally while supported to create, flourish, and excel. SolidarityNow becomes the umbrella under which vulnerable people are supported in various ways, irrespective of their status, especially in one fundamental thing: to dream! For us, dreaming and hoping is the cornerstone of humanity.
What practical issues does SolidarityNow address? What’s SolidarityNow’s mission?
We are entering our 10th year of operation. During this decade, SolidarityNow continuously adapts its interventions to respond to society’s ever-changing needs. Our work has always been aligned with our mission which is to improve people’s lives and empower them to create a just and inclusive society, supporting people indiscriminately through innovative social actions, based on solidarity and open society values. SolidarityNow has nationwide interventions falling under specific strategic priorities, namely – inclusive education, livelihoods, access to justice and protection. Some of the specific practical issues addressed are challenges faced by refugee and migrant children in accessing and remaining in public education, barriers faced by vulnerable individuals and NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Trainings) in particular in joining the labour market (cultural, language, and others), difficulties in accessing legal aid for an array of issues (GBV, asylum, civil and labour law). In addition, we are also engaged in giving our beneficiaries access to quality psychosocial support, addressing trauma, youth’s disengagement from society, and the lack of effective responsive child protection services, especially outside urban centres.
SolidarityNow also works to support and strengthen the civil society sector in Greece as a whole; this is achieved through the collaborative partnerships and a leading role in networks and working groups, aiming to strengthen the work carried out at the field level.
How do you facilitate the integration of refugees and migrants in the local community?
SolidarityNow’s work to support refugees and migrants takes place at all levels of the process, from access to asylum to integration. In terms of integration, SolidarityNow’s interventions are twofold: to enable and empower refugees and migrants to adapt to their new environment without sacrificing their unique characteristics, and to strengthen and raise awareness of the local communities that support them to become more open and inclusive.
In this context, the SN provides a comprehensive set of complementary actions to support the integration of refugees and migrants. We provide Greek language courses for adults in Athens, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Kilkis and Katerini, while educational teams are present in 12 camps across Greece to facilitate children’s access to public schools and provide support through non-formal education and home tutoring, including Greek and English language courses, scientific and digital literacy, civic education and life skills activities. We also operate two centres – the Solidarity Centres – in Athens and Thessaloniki, which provide a range of services (including legal assistance and representation, job placement support, accounting services and mental health support) on a pro bono basis, following an open-door operational model. In addition, we work with local communities to carry out joint activities, such as activities with students in local schools, municipalities, women’s associations and local institutions.
Our experience shows that through carefully planned activities, people tend to forget what divides them and instead focus on what they have in common – after all, we all share concerns, interests, fears, dreams and emotions regardless of our background. In addition, SolidarityNow is establishing successful partnerships with various businesses/private companies – developing an expanding network – that include refugees and migrants in their workforce. Together with these business alliances, SolidarityNow is pursuing the desired social change towards inclusive societies.
How can organizations and individuals support SolidarityNow’s efforts for a better world?
Anyone, organizations, and individuals, can support the work carried out by SolidarityNow. By working together, we can amplify the impact of our interventions and work towards the social change which we envision. Support can be provided in various ways, through donations, participation in events, disseminating information about our work and raising awareness about issues of concern, designing joint actions, developing partnerships, and, of course, volunteering. We rely on all of our partners and supporters to also act as ambassadors for our work at a local, national and interventional level.