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Since 2015 grassroots volunteering to support displaced people in Europe has become a significant feature of the humanitarian aid sector. Numerous small scale organisations have grown across the continent to meet the dire need exposed by the lack of co-ordinated action by national governments, European agencies and large NGOs; in response, thousands of European (and international) citizens have tried to fill these gaps in towns, cities and refugee camps across Europe, from the islands of Greece to Calais, France. It is clear that an already critical situation for refugees would be worse still without the work put in by grassroots organisations.


However, despite great intention and effort, these volunteers are often ill-equipped for such humanitarian work, lacking the relevant skills and previous experience to equip them for such an experience, and to set up considered services. Consequently, such work has had an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of those volunteers, which in turn has affected the vital services provided to displaced people. The situation on the ground is complex and the environments that humanitarians encounter can be very challenging to navigate. Such challenges include:


  • Human rights abuses including the denial of the rights of refugees to seek international protection and to have their basic human rights met

  • Exposure to vicarious trauma

  • Inter-organisational tension between local, national and international aid agencies

  • Encounters with police and law enforcement

  • The rise of nationalism in local populations triggering antagonism and in some cases, danger towards displaced communities and humanitarians supporting them

  • Inter-ethnic tensions between displaced populations


In 2020, there were two devastating fires in camps on Samos and Lesvos. In the Lesvos fire, Moria camp which was built for 2,000 people but housed 20,000 in squalid, degrading living conditions burned to the ground, destroying the makeshift homes of displaced communities and rendering thousands completely homeless with limited sympathy from local populations. Volunteers were involved in supporting people through both these events and picking up the pieces in the aftermath. Considering that the majority of volunteers are young people in their early 20s from settled European societies, it is unsurprising that there have been significant mental health consequences from the shattering of pre-established world views and issues surfacing within young organisations set up with people who often have no or limited relevant experience.

To address the pressing need of psychosocial and Wellbeing support within grassroots organisations, The Human Hive, Indigo Volunteers,  and Amna (funded by Choose Love) designed a six-month pilot programme to support 12 grassroots humanitarian organisations and their teams to embed well-being into their policies and team practices.


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