The Hope Project

The Hope Project
Name: Elleni Kempson
Pronouns: she/her
Instagram: hopeprojectorg

The Hope Project was founded by Philippa and Eric Kempson who originally moved to Greece for a quiet life in 2000, never could they have guessed the path that their lives would take. We started helping refugees in 2015 on the north coast of the Greek island of Lesvos, not because we wanted to do this permanently, but because we had to. When people are in danger and boats are landing in front of your house, including women, children, elderly, injured and terminally sick and you’re the only people there, you help. We would like to think that every human being would do the same as we did, “Humans helping other humans”. Originally we started helping boats land, dealing with casualties and providing people with food and water. Our focus is not only to provide support and aid but also to focus on empowerment of the refugees by creating and supporting proactive projects, working alongside them, enabling them to move forward and to help themselves and others. Not only this, but we also provide aid for the local population of the island where needed, supplying the Fire service, Ambulance service, Hospitals, retirement homes and local businesses with key equipment; including much-needed hygiene gear to help stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus. We understand a once peaceful island, home to many innocent Greeks, turned into an international calamity that affects the local’s population and we believe both sides need to be heard and provided for. On top of this, we support like-minded groups on the island aiming to do similar things as us, and we happily support them when they’re in need, as well as vice-versa.

Eric Kempson started a video blog to attempt to get help from influential people in Europe with the resources to make a change. Although they had been helping for months, the severity of the situation didn’t quite hit him till he made his first video called “Another tragic day in Eftalou Greece”. Refugees had always been coming across but in small numbers and very rarely. Little did he know at the time that the influx he had been witnessing was nothing in comparison of the months to come. While filming, he’s showing the debris on the beach and also how close turkey is to where he’s standing. In the video, he mainly focuses on what is happening, what nationalities he’s meeting, why they’re fleeing and their journey. He also talks about how unsafe travel is from Turkey to Greece, especially because of the equipment the smugglers give them. The so-called equipment is, old tire rings, newly glued dingy’s, old rotting boats, deflated and broken life vests and much more. Eric quickly gets distracted by a small doll, only the size of his hand, next to a tiny lifejacket and slowly realizes how small the baby wearing the lifejacket must have been. I’ve known Eric all my life, he’s a tough man, a traditional father if you will and even he soon after finding that doll, starts crying. The idea of children fleeing war, potentially drowning, going through all this trauma at a very young age, as a parent himself, killed him inside. My personal favorite quote from the video, minus the swear words is “These racists do my head in. Because, if it was their children. And they had to leave a war zone. And they had to take their kids with them. Would they still think the same way when other people are trying to help them from a different nation? Would these racists, turn it down? Would they turn the help down for their children?” 

Eric mentions that on that morning they had 200 refugees. A couple of months later we where getting 1000s daily. Also, Eric mentions that over a couple of months in 2014 over 130 people died trying to cross to Lesvos. By the end of 2015, the souls lost in the Mediterranean where over 3770. Those are just the ones that they found the bodies of.

Since December 2017, we have worked from a distribution warehouse close to the horrendous camps in the south-east of Lesvos. Here our volunteers serve approximately 30 families a day with the items they may need such as hygiene, diapers, clothes, shoes, blankets and so much more.

One of our latest projects we have put our full weight behind is the “The Hope Project Art” centre. This project has been focusing on fostering the artistic talents of refugees through performing arts and other art-based programs. Music, poetry, theatre and dance alongside painting, ceramics, photography and so much more! Our aim is to provide opportunities designed to promote good mental health, giving them a safe space to work in and to encourage the interests of the refugees that are stuck in Bureaucratic hell, here on the island.

We are committed to helping these people who are in search of a peaceful, better life, and aim to fully back them in their endeavors. Whether it be the supplying of essential items, providing spaces to allow their inner artist to bloom, providing services such as haircuts, showers and shaving apparatus, but also a chance to browse our library, allowing for such inspiration and distraction from a world poisoned by wrongdoers.

Eric & Philippa Kempson, founders of The Hope Project (Along with their daughter Elleni!) had this project in mind for a long time, but as we are constantly facing a forever changing emergency situation and working to combat as best we can, we are stretched incredibly thin. The opportunity of premises arose next to The Hope Project Distribution Warehouse and it felt a lot like fate. What we see are painters, poets, musicians, photographers, sculptors, dancers and so much more. We are truly excited about the possibilities ahead for these people.

We also have Safe spaces in place for women allowing them to focus on themselves as they often don’t get many chances to do so. This area includes a beauty salon, a female-only gym and an arts and crafts centre equipped with sewing gear and enough woolen thread to reach around the world in an array of colors to make Joseph’s technicolor dream coat look like a damp grey mac! Here women can come together and be at ease, feel safe, relaxed and get some much-needed respite in a male-heavy encampment.

Furthering on from the touching on the tailor shop, it allows for any alterations to be made from items served at the Distribution Centre, as the people see fit, hemming, taking in, etc, all under the watchful eye of a wonderful qualified Tailor/Designer with a speciality in dressmaking. Next to this we also have a male Barber Shop where our on-site barber takes appointments for men to come to be groomed, once again in a safe and quiet environment.

We have other projects in the works and won’t stop attempting to create a space where everyone feels safe, mitigating the worries and stress brought on by the criminally squalid conditions in the camp. Providing shoes and coats, in our opinion, is not enough. We firmly stand by the belief that you need to treat these people as just that… PEOPLE! They’re not prisoners, they have done nothing wrong and they certainly don’t deserve the situation they currently are faced with. If you treat people like animals, they will feel like animals and inevitably, they will act like animals. We aim to make people feel like people again, showing them that among all the chaos, there are those who value their human rights and value them as individuals.

Most of our staff are refugees themselves who live in one of the aforementioned camps. They work for us on a volunteer basis where we provide them with something to do outside the day to day hellhole they’re forced to occupy. The refugee’s make up almost all of our staff…..this includes…..

– Our wonderful distribution team (Front of house), working as the main face of our operation, handpicking clothing on a case by case basis with the families we help.

– Our “back of house” team, mainly focusing on the logistics of the operation, putting away deliveries, keeping the shelves and rails stocked up and organizing the storage warehouse, and well….everything in between!

– Our skilled barber

– Our talented hairdresser

– Our fabulous Beautician

– Our Tailor/Designer

– The art centre staff, keeping an eye on the space we’re so proud of, pointing people in the right direction and allowing for a smooth day expressing yourself!

– Our security team, who ensures the refugee’s who choose to use our facilities can feel safe while doing so.

– The rest of our staff has been made up of Various volunteers from all over the world, an experienced co-ordinator from the UK, and of course, Eric, Philippa and Elleni Kempson, who have made this all possible.

Looking back at how far we’ve come is incredible, looking at how much we’ve adapted and grown is inspiring but unfortunately, the refugee crisis is as bad or maybe even worse than it was 5 years ago. Hard to believe this all started from Eric finding a doll and it’s now become our entire life. The treatment of refugees, the racism, the pushbacks, the conditions they’re forced to live in just to save their lives is horrific. We wish more people would be held accountable for this huge breach of human rights laws, where they’d rather let someone die than address the situation. It doesn’t look like anything is going to change soon be till then all we can do is “HOPE”.