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Hoops for Humanity Have Returned From a Refugee Camp in Greece

4 May 18 words: Chloe Campbell

A little under a month ago, our Chloe spoke to Rochene Johnston from Hoops for Humanity about her upcoming trip to a refugee camp in Greece, where she would be running workshops and distributing hula hoops to the children. The workshops aimed to put a smile on the faces of refugee kids and allow them to truly be children.  Fresh off her return flight from Athens, Rochene sat down to tell us how well the trip went...

Hey Rochene, welcome back! How was your recent trip to Greece, where you were working with young refugees?
I landed in Athens with a thud! My case had been left in Manchester, so it didn’t make the first part of my journey. The 100 hoops I sent over managed to make it though, and were stockpiled in a van where we were staying, with the folk at Free Movement Skateboarding, at an organisation called Khora.

Over the week we did lots of hoop workshops with young refugees; the sessions lasted around 2 hours and in total we had over 100 people take part. We managed to do workshops with City Plaza squat, refugee youth services, Khora and Camp Eleonas. We managed to do two days at Camp Eleonas, which was the biggest eye opener. I was never given a definitive number for how many inhabitants are currently there, but it is thought to be over 1000. Some of the kids I spoke to have been there for over three years.

The camp is comprised of metal cabins that have been transformed into homes. There are a few charities and organisations on the site, but apparently many pulled out since the ‘crisis’ ended, which has left all of the inhabitants there in limbo. There is no plan for these people; therefore their future is uncertain, without any future initiative for what opportunities await Eleonas’ next generation.

It was common to hear stories of families being split up, with relatives missing; some families had stories of relatives making it Germany, or being stuck in war-torn countries, or Calais. Despite the circumstances I did not feel scared when I was at the camp, the people there were very kind and polite, they helped keep things in check and there was a community feel, despite the obvious difficulties.

How were the activities you conducted received by the children at the camps?
The children were excited to see hula hoops, meet new people and experience my crazy tricks. Our first workshop at the camp was insane, nothing had prepared me for that. The children were in a flurry of excitement, hula-hoops were flying all over the place.

The words ‘how did you do that’, ‘you show me’ or ‘you give me’ will stay with me forever. They loved it. It increased their physical, social, emotional and cognitive capacities. The children involved were a mixture of nationalities, age and gender. I was surprised to find that my most accomplished hoop prodigies were boys; they were super keen to learn big tricks, and they learned a lot in our time together. It was really sad to tell them I wouldn’t be back.

From the hoops that were donated, I have distributed them to CircusAid, who will let me do workshops with them. Hoops were also sent to Khora, Camp Eleonas Project Elea, and Free Movement Skateboarding so they can continue it as a side project

What plans does Project Hoop have for the summer of 2018?
This summer I want to get back over to Greece in July, I have been granted a contract to do hula hoop workshops with Circus Aid during July and August. Circus Aid is an organisation that runs circus based workshops with refugees all over the world. I am going to be trying to raise more funds through the GoFundMe to help get me over there for a few weeks in the summer so that I can do more.

This summer, Project Hoop has been asked to do some big events. We will be doing a workshop at the qualifying Olympics Triathlon Mixed Relay event, on Thursday 7th June in Nottingham. We are hoping to get involved with Splendour festival again, as well as exploring projects with the refugees here in Nottingham. The summer will bring some ‘hoop socials’ too; these will be put on to bring together the women who have been attending my classes and workshops. We have such a wonderful Hoop Squad here in Nottingham.

For the future, I intend to keep on teaching or performing. I love teaching hula hoop, our weekly classes at The Lenton Centre, and our workshops have been really successful. This April was fully booked with workshops, and we are currently setting up another weekly session as well.

Do you have plans to work with the Refugee Forum in Nottingham?
Yes, I have been in communication with them for some time now. I am trying to organise sessions for kids and women. I have been discussing kids’ sessions for some time, we have further talks scheduled for May this year. I have lots of ideas to bounce around, and hopefully put into practice, with the refugees of Nottingham and beyond. We were recently invited and interviewed on BBC Radio Nottingham, and we have been featured on Notts TV, and in the Nottingham This Girl Can documentary too.

If you would like more information, or to get involved, get in touch via email info@projecthoop.com or check out our facebook page and the Project Hoop website.

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