By Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, April 16 (Xinhua) -- As Athens remains since 2015 a first port-of-call for many refugees who have made it to mainland Europe, young refugees and migrants are offered an opportunity to use skateboarding as a tool of empowerment and integration into local society.
Free Movement Skateboarding, a charity founded by Will Ascott and Ruby Mateja, two passionate skateboarders who met while teaching the sport in the West Bank, in recent months brings mobile skate parks to camps and youth centers across the Greek capital and introduces also young refugees stranded in Greece into the sport.
On Sunday (April 15), a group of boys and girls living in refugee camps learnt how to do skids at a skate park set up in a tiny garden hidden by block of flats in the center of Athens.
The young people who fled war zones and risked their lives to reach Greece on wooden boats via the Aegean Sea were given an opportunity to relieve stress, discover their hidden skills and have fun.
The wide smiles on their faces at the end of the lesson revealed how much they appreciated the chance.
Ascott, Mateja and all other volunteers who joined their team believe, according to a statement posted on their website, that skateboarding is about community and can have a great impact in particular on youth facing severe problems.
During the sessions young refugees in Athens are focusing on improving themselves and encouraging each other. They find the mental calm needed to use the skateboard and how to support fellow athletes and get a helping hand, they explained.
Skateboarding is often a male-dominated activity, instructors noted, but here boys and girls exercise together, breaking gender stereotypes, they added.
The majority of the refugees in Athens are awaiting asylum here or further afield, and this wait can take years. During this time, people need a sense of community beyond the camps.
Volunteers like Ascott and Mateja fill in the gaps left by the state and major international organizations. They help the over 60,000 refugees and migrants who have been stranded in Greece since the closure of the Balkan route to central Europe in 2016.