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‘It’s like a tent jungle’

Creston native starts non-profit to provide education and mental health support to refugees in Greece

With war being commonplace in the middle east for decades, many citizens of countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan find themselves with no home and no work, living in camps similar to the one Creston native and global health consultant Morganne Bovee volunteered at last fall in Samos, Greece.

“I think as Americans we tentatively know that bad things are happening there,” said Bovee. “But I don’t think people take in the full extent of the mass exodus of people who no longer have a home or work because of the danger or bombing and fighting.”

Making a change

Bovee graduated from Creston in 2011 and proceeded to the University of Iowa, later receiving her master’s in public health from George Washington University with an emphasis in global health. She has worked as a certified child life specialist in clinical healthcare settings, and implemented international projects in mental health and psychosocial support services. In fall of last year, she spent six weeks in the refugee community in Samos.

“My role was to be setting up early years programming for a pre-existing NGO, or non-governmental organization,” said Bovee.

Bovee, along with fellow global volunteers Liz Croke and Mira Durici, noted the lack of educational and mental health resources within the camp.

“These two, who are now my colleagues, were already volunteering or working there,” said Bovee. “We had similar background as educators or in my case, a mental health specialist. We agreed there was a huge lack of service and something had to be done.”

The group looked into options to better address these issues from within the pre-existing organizations.

“We started to have this conversation on how we could shift resources or what we could do differently for the NGOs we were already working for,” said Bovee. “We decided we needed to do something new. The existing structure already has their own set of goals and missions. They have to be careful where they provide their services or they could spread themselves thin.”

After further discussion and research, the three established the Refugee Education Centre in December and created a GoFundMe which has currently raised $1,000.

The mission

“Broadly speaking, our goal is to provide services where there are none,” said Bovee. “Since refugees are considered ‘illegal’, they can’t enter the public school system.”

The curriculum is designed and delivered by local teachers from the refugee community as well as international visiting teachers. Classrooms are grouped by age and level of previous schooling to provide the most relevant education for each student.

“We also want to provide first-string trauma recovery services,” said Bovee. “We want to take a ‘training the trainer’ approach.”

Bovee said the goal of this method is to teach members of the refugee community how to help guide children through the trauma faced before and during the relocation process.

“It would essentially be like establishing a support group for the community to help each other and themselves,” said Bovee.

Refugees and Samos

The island of Samos is known for its position in Greek history and mythology and as a scenic vacation spot for its landscape and beaches. Bovee said contention between the locals and the refugees is due the waning tourism industry on the island.

“Samos is beautiful,” said Bovee. “The beaches are like white pebbles. Before the crisis, this place survived on tourism. And with less tourists coming there, locals begin to think of refugees as bad for hurting the industry.”

The refugee camp is a mile walk up behind the mountains away from the local community. Bovee said the reason travelers seek refuge in these islands is due to Greece’s location to their home and the western world.

“The island is really close to Turkey so it’s one of the hot spots for refugees to go headed into Europe,” said Bovee.

One of the biggest concerns for locals, refugees and volunteers is the ever-growing population within the camps.

“You’re seeing refugee camps that were built for 650 people holding 8,000 refugees,” said Bovee. “Camps are twelve times over the capacity of what it was built for. It’s like a tent jungle. You would see a family of four share a tent the size of a table.”

The environment where the Samos camp is located is harsh, said Bovee.

“There’s nothing to protect against rain and it’s not uncommon for a snake to get in a tent,” said Bovee.

Helping the cause

Bovee said other ways to support the plight of the refugees can be through telling and sharing their stories. However, Bovee urges caution before doing so.

“Sharing pictures and stories can be powerful,” said Bovee. “But sometimes the refugees in those photos almost become the face of the issue and it can be exploitative. You have to be careful.”

The Refugee Education Centre plans to do fundraisers, starting with local areas such as Creston and Des Moines. Bovee raised $400 at their first pub quiz fundraiser Friday night at A&G Lounge and Restaurant in Creston.

Bovee said the Refugee Education Centre is applying for several grants which will hopefully provide majority of the funding. If anyone would like to support the cause donations can be made at Questions, comments and support can be directed to

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