• Safe Place International

How Safe Place International’s Amani El-Negery Is Supporting ‘Forgotten’ Refugees

As we close out Pride month, we’re featuring organizations that support the LGBTQIA+ community. Safe Place International is providing doubly marginalized communities, including LGBTQIA+ migrants, with housing, education, and advocacy during a time of unprecedented need. Safe Place has also used in-kind furniture donations from Blueground to outfit its refugee community centers and shelters in Athens.

Last week we sat down with Athens-based Amani El-Negery, the organization’s Director of Operations, to find out how Safe Place is supporting migrants during a time when the global refugee crisis has been sidelined by the Covid-19 pandemic, and hear more about how the organization is celebrating Pride.

Blueground’s core mission is to enable exploration by providing individually designed, turnkey homes with flexible lease terms in 15 cities around the world. Staying in a comfortable furnished apartment lets our guests have a deeper, more immersive experience in a new place — and we’re always looking to partner with organizations with similar ideological goals.

Since 2017, Safe Place has been providing housing, education, and advocacy for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, with a special focus on the LGBTQIA+ community. The organization also helps support refugee-led special projects in several countries. Blueground is proud to support the amazing work that Safe Place is doing with in-kind furniture donations to develop their community centers and shelters across Athens.

When El-Negery joined Safe Place in 2020, she was already a well-known figure within the Athens refugee community. “Once I started working on my thesis on factors that impact how well Syrian refugees are able to integrate into life Greece, I just showed up in Athens hoping to get some real-life exposure to help me with my research,” she said. “After I got involved with the community, I didn’t want to leave. I tried a number of ways to continue my work here. Two weeks before I was going to leave, Justin Hilton — Safe Place’s founder — reached out to me based on what he had learned about my work in Greece to offer me a position.”

Pivoting during a pandemic

For the past year and a half, El-Negery has managed the organization’s Athens operations, as well as some overseas initiatives. In addition to running a complex network of shelters and advocacy programs, she had to find creative ways to take some of Safe Place’s core community services online during a time when strict regulations were in place throughout the city.

“2020 was also a tough year because the pandemic took focus away from the refugee crisis. The majority of our partners here were forced to suspend operations or leave Greece — but we didn’t,” she said. “First, we started with doing casework over Zoom. Then we were able to distribute tablets to our members after a big donation from the Tupac Shakur Foundation, and that let us take our language classes online. Both MasterClass and Khan Academy gave our members access to their content, and we also added some fun activities like virtual yoga into the mix.”

As Athens begins to reopen, Safe Place is also hosting some socially distanced in-person events. “Recently, restrictions have eased enough that we’ve been able to do some outdoor events like a skateboarding workshop and a team picnic,” El-Negery said.

Furnishing safe spaces for refugees

For almost two years, Blueground has supported Safe PIace with in-kind supplies and furniture donations. Dishes and coffee machines donated by Blueground have been distributed to members of Safe Place’s Athens Housing Collective program. Some of our custom-made beds were allocated to Athens’s Chamomile Housing Project, an organization that helps individuals with mental health issues better integrate into society, with additional services for asylum seekers and refugees.

Safe Place has also used outdoor furniture donated by Blueground for its Moms2Moms shelter in Lesvos. This seaside residential community center is a sanctuary for women and children who are still coming out of traumatic states after fleeing inhumane conditions in their countries of origin, then braving the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

“When your mind is in survival mode, the world looks a little different,” El-Negery said. “People need a place where they can let out a deep sigh and get grounded before they worry about what’s next. Getting your body moving outside is a big part of healing, and being more active has proven successful for so many of our community members.”

In addition, Blueground was also able to provide furnishings for Safe Place’s new Women & Children’s Center, which will make its debut in Athens later this year.

“This new space will be a place where our members can hang out and socialize, work on their CVs, get a hot meal or a shower — whether they’re homeless or not,” El-Negery said.

Dreaming of a better future

Safe Place’s first priority is making sure their members’ basic needs are met and they have comfortable, secure homes. But there’s plenty more work to be done! Safe Place plans to dramatically expand its Dream Academy, a 10-week intensive course for its members. The pilot program, conducted between April and June of this year, saw 35 LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers — 19 from Nairobi, 11 from Athens, and 5 from South Africa — develop and implement social impact projects in their local communities.

“We invited corporate sponsors to lead classes and provide direct contacts to members for training. IBM, Salesforce, and several other large organizations have participated so far,” El-Negery said. “Our members spend on average about 75 hours in these courses. When you’re an asylum seeker, it can take up to two years in some countries to even get your first interview. We’re helping people make the most out of this waiting period, and we’re invested in social and emotional learning, not just the so-called ‘hard skills.’” Safe Place will lead six additional Dream Academy programs in English, French, and Spanish later this year, and has also started a new Advanced Leadership Program for Dream Academy graduates.

Safe Place is also hosting a virtual celebration on Tuesday, Jun 29, at 5:30 pm Pacific. “Alanis Morrissette will join our founder Justin to lead a discussion, and there will be some music, too. This is a moment of celebration for the LGBTQIA+ community, and so of course all of our beneficiaries will be invited to join,” El-Negery said.

Blueground is proud to support organizations like Safe Place, who are materially contributing to a sense of community in the cities where we have a presence.

To learn more about Blueground’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, be sure to follow us here on Inside Blueground, and on LinkedIn

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