The beginning of an autonomous life
Nefeli feels more independent now that she’s sharing an apartment with other girls of her age in the context of the Supported Independent Living programme that is implemented by UNICEF and is addressed to children and young people over 15 years old.
Nefeli*, 23 years old, grew up in one of Greece’s institutions, that currently house about 1,500 children in total because they could not stay with their families for several different reasons. Nefeli's experiences from her life in the institution have been pivotal, but she especially remembers the lack of privacy because she used to share the space with too many other children and this made her feel extremely lonely:
“There may be one or two persons that will look after you and advise you and, maybe, you may feel some kind of warmth but, generally, you feel that something is missing as you grow up,” says Nefeli.
For a few months now, the young adult Nefeli shares an apartment in Athens with three other girls and she feels more free and independent than ever.
The place she calls “her home” now is one of the apartments supported by UNICEF in Athens region in the context of the pilot programme “Supported Independent Living –SIL” which is co-funded by the European Union and is implemented by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Greece. The programme aims to secure the necessary amenities and services for young people over 15 years old that have lived in institutions in order to secure their everyday living and to support their gradual self-reliance and safe transition and integration in the society and the labour force.
The initial stage of the pilot programme includes three apartments with the capacity to house four children/young people per apartment. The initiative has been established after a consultation procedure with young people living in institutional care, regarding the most suitable form of the alternative protection model in the context of the Organization’s broader attempt to achieve deinstitutionalization in Greece.
“During the last couple of years, UNICEF works in close collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and provides technical support in the designing of the legal framework governing this new care model”, says Ms Myrsini Kazakou, head of the UNICEF Child Protection Department’s programme.
This programme is implemented through the structure of an entire support team that encompasses all participants, including psychologists, social workers and caregivers, like Danae, the caregiver of the team that supports Nefeli and encourages her to engage in several activities ranging from pottery and sewing to the acquiring of skills necessary to find a job. The latter is extremely important for Nefeli.
“The team provides support through a psychologist, a social worker and the rest of the caregivers so that Nefeli will be able to feel that she can manage on her own and will be confident to participate in an job interview…”, explains Danae. Nefeli confirms that:
“It is extremely important that your opinion is heard. You think that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow you will have to rely only on yourself and that this ‘umbilical cord’ will be cut, as codependency will stop...”
Also, Konstantina, the IRC Coordinator for the Athens programme, adds:
“We provide to the residents all kinds of amenities and skills and we support them so that they will acquire the qualifications required to be self-sufficient and live independently.”
When we asked Nefeli how she’s feeling now that she lives in her own apartment and has her personal space and time she said:
“I feel that I have more freedom to go out as I don’t have to ask anyone and I come back whenever I please. Self-sufficiency contributes quite a bit in your personal development, when you handle your own money, when you have to plan your own meals.”
*The name has been changed for personal data protection purposes.