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Odyssea: Creating innovative solutions to Greece’s environmental and humanitarian crises

Author: Defne Avcioglu
Published Date: 14 July 2016

Lifejackets left by refugees arriving on Lesbos

Photo credit: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

The impact that the passing of 1 million refugees through Greece can most clearly be illustrated through the masses of lifejackets, rubber boats and other waste material that can be seen littered across the islands and their beaches. One of the most poignant examples is what has come to be known as the ‘life vest graveyard’ in Lesbos, which demonstrates the extent of the threat posed to the island’s ecosystem, yet serves as a haunting reminder of the tragic stories which lie behind them.

Odyssea was founded by Jai Mexis and his partner Irene Psifidi. The inspiration for the project came about by their trip to Lesbos in December as part of a volunteer group, where they began to make temporary shelters for refugees from rubber boats and other materials from the beach. The organization was founded with the aim of finding a long-term solution to the increasing threat to the environment on the islands posed by the build-up of waste material left behind by refugees, and in turn giving back to the refugee communities themselves.

Plans for the organization initially consisted of holding workshops for refugees where they would be taught how to create bags and mattresses from waste materials as a form of short-term relief for themselves. Additionally, they planned to create products to be sold commercially in order to generate income for both refugees and locals on the islands. Ideas included the canvas from lifejackets being used to create phone and laptop cases, with the foam possibly being used in furniture.

In the long term, Odyssea’s goal is to open a factory in Athens where they can manufacture these products, whilst creating job opportunities for refugees by employing them in the production process. Proceeds from sales will return to the local communities in the form of funding for a mobile medical unit to travel around the villages of Lesbos and Chios. The project looks set to be underway soon as they have recently obtained the legal permission to commence their project by the authorities on Lesbos and Chios.

Outside of Greece, they work with other organizations to distribute life jackets to different countries for use in other areas and projects. For example, in the Netherlands, in collaborating with the Makers Unite collective, the lifejackets have been turned into ribbons to be worn in solidarity with the refugees, with proceeds going towards the relief effort in Greece.

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