In an effort to expand skills training for young refugees, SOS Children’s Villages Greece is partnering with an international food company to offer workplace apprenticeships for unaccompanied children and young people.
Two boys living at an SOS Children’s Villages Greece shelter for unaccompanied children in Athens were the first to participate in the two-month programme at the Barilla Hellas’ production and warehouse facility at Thiva.
One, a young man from Pakistan, and a second from Afghanistan welcomed the experience. Both are 16-years-old.
“I am very happy that I worked for the first time in my life in a real, big company, with real co-workers,” the young participant from Afghanistan wrote. “This experience will help me in the future because I will be able to find a job in a big company or factory more easily.”
The young man from Pakistan praised the helpfulness of the staff at Barilla Hellas. “They taught me everything about food and working together,” he wrote in a thank-you note. “I am really thankful to the people who trusted me and helped me. I want to thank one specific co-worker who helped us and loved us like her family.”
Barilla has a long tradition of supporting SOS Children’s Villages Greece. The history of cooperation is what inspired Barilla Hellas to partner with SOS Children’s Villages Greece and offer the apprenticeships for children who are nearing the age of 18 as a pilot project.
“We have a very close cooperation with SOS Children’s Villages,” says Vassilis Chouliaras, Senior Manager for Human Resources in Eastern Europe for Barilla Hellas. “We know that this is an organisation that is really very reputable and accepted in the Greek society. We know the quality of their people and their holistic approach to the children, and this approach really expresses our values.”
“We asked SOS Children’s Villages about programmes for immigrants and how we can support them,” Mr Chouliaras says. This led to the idea for an apprenticeship programme.
After visiting the SOS Children’s Villages shelter for unaccompanied boys in Athens, Mr Chouliaras says we “were very happily surprised” with what they saw. “We saw a systematic approach and happy faces. It gave us a glimpse of hope that these people can be part of Greek society and the apprenticeship programme can be one of the small initiatives that can lead in this direction.”
The apprentices observed the operations at Barilla Hellas’ food warehouse, teaming with mentors to understand the work and operations. It took place during the summer when the boys were not in school.
George Protopapas, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Greece, says the Barilla apprenticeship programme is one way of helping young refugees gain skills and become part of the society. Photo: SOS archives
George Protopapas, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Greece, says the programme is one way of helping young refugees gain skills and become part of the society. “Barilla could be the example of how a company can contribute to this difficult situation for the refugees themselves, but also benefit the host country.”
Investing in the future
Acknowledging that Greece faces both high unemployment at a time when it is also struggling with a three-year refugee influx, Mr Chouliaras does not see the small apprenticeship programme taking away jobs. Rather, he believes the training will benefit both the company and the Greek economy.
“We have a very close cooperation with SOS Children’s Villages,” says Vassilis Chouliaras, Senior Manager for Human Resources in Eastern Europe for Barilla Hellas. Photo by Giorgos Moutafis
“We are a company that over the past few years has really invested in diversity and inclusion,” Mr Chouliaras says. “In order to better understand the consumers, we need to have employees who are really a part of this community. Having these refugees as co-workers, as part of our family, will give us a competitive advantage in the long run. We want to promote that inclusive environment and this is a very good opportunity.”
“This is a starting point,” he says of the project with SOS Children’s Villages. “If we see that these people can really adapt very fast, this is a great benchmark. We can share this, that if here in Greece these people stay and become e productive part of society, then others can do it too.”
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Main photo: SOS Children's Villages Greece offers after-school language and other enrichment classes for children at its shelter for unaccompanied boys in Athens. Photo by Giorgos Moutafis