Tom’s volunteering in Athens

Tom Doust, one of MRA’s founding members, has been in Greece this summer. He was volunteering at an organisation called Ankaa ( which provides support to vulnerable communities such as asylum-seekers, refugees, migrants and other people seeking employment. He has been volunteering as a teacher at Ankaa since 2019.

The approach at Ankaa is holistic and ranges from the delivery of educational programs to skills development in order to open the path to the employment market. Their social business model advocates for sustainable products created under fair and ethical working conditions. As social and environmental challenges are interconnected, they include a positive approach towards the environment and the principles of circular economy in all their programs and activities.

Last year Ankaa moved to a new building in Kipseli. It is smaller than their previous one but is in a much more convenient location. The new building has a garden and 3 good sized balconies.

In addition to the core language and tailoring classes they offer, Ankaa have evolved some other activities to fit into their sustainability ethos. Although they are limited by space they are trying to partner with other organisations and businesses to provide some vocational training and skills. This works well alongside the upcycling projects run by the tailors. The sustainability coordinator Nikos, keeps bees and runs a bee keeping course – with a marketable (and very tasty) product.

The garden is being developed with the help of a permaculture organisation Nea Guinea (Νέα Γουινέα) They have advised on some of the issues with urban gardening and with growing plants from seed. They lent a small polytunnel and the students grew a range of vegetables and flowers; these were sold in the Kipseli community market.

Ankaa gardenAnkaa garden

I’ve been helping evolve the garden and the plan is to repeat the seed growing to plant-sale model. In summer 2022, while I was there, MRA generously donated €250, the bulk of which was spent on a portable greenhouse, the rest on some plants to keep the garden active over the summer. Having a greenhouse that is easy to move allows them to make full use of the 3 balconies as each gets different amounts of light and shelter in the winter.

The soil in the garden is pretty poor but homemade compost, and a lot of advice from Nea Guinea, is helping improve it. Hopefully it will get more productive, but in the meantime the greenhouse and growing seedlings in containers is proving to be a great way of teaching some of the basics of growing stuff.

I’m just about to go there for the 5th time and am looking forward to seeing how the garden is developing.