The Unmentionables Resource Center

Genevieve Westrope

When I joined The Unmentionables in October 2017 as the Greece Education Coordinator, I never thought I’d be scrambling to assemble fluorescent yellow balloon lights with our CEO, Kaleigh Heard. But on January 13, 2018, I was doing just that. Because that evening, we’d welcome over 30 people to the brand new Resource Center in the heart of Athens, for the very first time.  

With the balloon lights attached to the wall, Kaleigh and I, along with Rachel Starkey, our Sustainable Reusable Solutions advisor, and Salvatore Loddo, our Greek Logistics Coordinator, raced around the apartment getting everything ready. We moved six-rooms-worth of IKEA furniture boxes out of the space; dulled out countless drill-bits trying to put up classroom whiteboards; and devoured souvlaki in between garbage runs. 

But it was completely worth it. Our Resource Center Grand Opening was everything I had hoped it would be. Just after 4pm, the main living room was filled with energy and excitement. The center was buzzing with questions, and every new person that walked through the door was immediately whisked away onto a tour of the space. 

It was crucial to us that our space—and we as a permanent organization in Greece—became fully collaborative and open to opportunity. We invited other organizations from around the city whose work with refugees we admire, and whose work can fit in with ours. Some we knew already, from our earlier trips to Greece, and some we were meeting for the first time. 

The opening party was due to end at 6pm, but it lasted much, much longer. As most guests started to leave, we got a frantic phone call from a partner about a woman and child who had nowhere to sleep that night. Knowing that we had pullout beds, showers and baby baths, our partner asked if, as the very last resort, we could accommodate them for the night. Of course, we agreed. 

Late into the night, under the yellow glow of the balloon lights, I kept the one year old—a future heartbreaker with enviable eyelashes—entertained in our children’s nook, while his mom explained her situation to those who could help. The center stayed full with passionate and patient people for hours, until we all decided it was time for sleep. While no one could have anticipated that this is how we’d spend the first official night in our Center, Kaleigh and I agreed that there could have been nothing more fitting. Because we were open, we could provide a safe space when it was most needed. And at the end of the day, that’s why The Unmentionables Resource Center opened its doors in the first place.

The Resource Center has now been open for just over a month. In that time, seven brilliant, resilient migrant women have been in intensive training to become teachers of our sexual and reproductive health curriculum. In that time, we’ve housed an emergency accommodation case for a vulnerable mom and baby. In that time, we’ve found a terrific center manager and eager volunteers to ensure the space is comfortable and empowering. And in that time, we’ve been running our photography empowerment program, UnExposed, with a handful of talented and curious migrant youth. 

If in only five weeks we’ve done all this, I can’t wait to see what the next weeks, months and years look like.

Blandine West