By Amanda Blanco
Tucked away on a side street off Victoria Square in Athens is a house whose door is always open. It is the home of Melissa Network, an organization for the empowerment of migrant women and children.
A marble staircase, lined with children’s artwork, leads visitors to an open landing. Whitewashed arches reveal a reception area for visitors, a living room, and a garden patio.
Young women wearing Converse sneakers and chiffon headscarves sit on wicker chairs, chatting and eating lunch before beginning Greek language classes. Just a few months earlier, some lived in an informal refugee camp on Victoria Square. Now they live in settlements with their families just outside of Athens. The daytrip to Melissa’s house offers the women an opportunity to independently navigate a city they may someday come to accept as home.
“Bring migrant women together and they will just keep giving birth to new ideas,” says Nadina Christopoulou. She sits on the sunny brick veranda, passing around a plate of homemade sweet-orange cake. An anthropologist with a doctorate in social memory from Cambridge University, she is also one of Melissa’s co-founders.
Several years ago, Christopoulou realized that while there were many independent groups for migrant women around Athens, there was no bridge between them. After Greece experienced its economic and refugee crises, the need for unification became more urgent than ever. Along with five female leaders of the migrant community, Christopoulou and her team forged a network that now includes migrants from 45 countries.
Melissa Network offers women a chance to share skills, social connections and life experiences. Alson with Greek language courses, Melissa offers yoga classes, art and music therapy, and weekly consultations with psychiatrists.
Christopoulou’s fellow volunteer and close friend Mable Mosana explains: “Everyone is welcome in this place.”