Participatory Action Research for Positive Change

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The Socially Inclusive Community Center

Some 6,900 human beings are stuck on the Greek island of Lesvos, due to the EU-Turkey deal, made in March 2016. This deal sealed the borders across the Balkan route to stop migrants coming to Europe (Strickland, 2018). Around 4,700 of these people reside in the camp of Moria and 1,250 in Kara Tepe. Depending on the different statistics around 70% to 90% are people from Afghanistan. Women account for 22% of the population and children for 42%, of whom more than 7 out of 10 are younger than 12 years old (UNHCR stats published on the 15th of April 2019).

The community center ‘One Happy Family’ is visited by 700-1000 people per day on average and gives visitors and helpers (refugees volunteering in the center) the possibility to learn, laugh, forget their worries for a couple of hours and be part of a community. It is a place which is built and run together with people from refugee camps in Lesvos – therefore, also their slogan: ‘Work WITH the people, not FOR them’. At ‘One Happy Family’ (OHF), you can drink tea, eat lunch, use the Wi-fi, get a haircut, repair your clothes, draw, dance, rest, see the doctor, get legal advice, take language, geography and photography classes,  play chess, learn about theater, permaculture, how to repair a bike, get soap, diapers and a toothbrush, do yoga, Muay Thai, play volleyball.

People at the ‘One Happy Family’ love the strong feeling of community: making friends and connecting, meeting people from different nationalities, giving and receiving respect, as well as actively participating in the community. However, not everyone in the center feels equally part of the community. Some feel uncomfortable and excluded or are concerned that others feel uncomfortable in certain dynamics or situations due to the different backgrounds. It is important for them that everyone feels comfortable and welcome at the community center.

Due to this diverse mix of stories, backgrounds, dynamics as well as the given space of the community center, the question arises: How can refugees visiting and working in the community center ‘One Happy Family’ feel more included and comfortable at the center?

The Socially Inclusive Community Center


Project name The Socially Inclusive Community Center
Start date February 2019
Duration 3,5 months
Status Finished
Country Greece
Action Researcher Julia Ertl
Coordinator Madelon Eelderink
Number of action researchers 1

Each Participatory Action Research starts from a community issue, addressed by its problem owners at location. As such, we make sure the action research is based on local demand rather than donor demand. Together with these local stakeholders, we design the action research in a way that fits the local context, from the problem framing up to methodology and concept definitions.

Problem Definition
Main Research Question
Sub Questions

Each PAR-project delivers direct outcomes for the local community on the addressed issue: we can share what the people’s perspective is on the current and desired situation, as well as the new developments and changes due to the action research. In a later stage, local stakeholders will evaluate the impact of these developments.

Current situation (baseline) according to local stakeholders
Co-created solution

To be determined 1 year after the action research.



Madelon Eelderink

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Julia Ertl

Action Researcher
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Ivan Rivera

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Sustainable Development Goals


You can find the full report here: OHF Action research report – Julia Ertl

Read Julia’s blog about this PAR