Posted by: thebluemusicblog | March 17, 2017


It was interesting to visit the largest refugee camp in the North Greece. I am impressed with the way Greece has handled the refugee crisis. Several hundreds of the former inhabitants in this camp have either moved north inEurope or being relocated to apartments in Thessaloniki. There were only 310 refugees left in this camp, but nobody really know when the next wave of refugees will arrive. A lot depends on the development between Turkey and the EU.

Above you see the director of this camp, a very interesting young man with welcoming words to us representing the YMCA. At the side of Lisa another Greec employee at the camp.

The camp used to consist of a number of tents, but the standard had come up and most of the refugees live in containers. in a few months there will be built 120 real homes on the field at the one side of the camp.

There are separate areas only for women in the camp, as well as prayer rooms for different religions. as you can see above there is also an Orthodox chapel built for the camp. Here are no refugees from Syria. apart from 8 people from Pakistan all are from Afghanistan.

Paris, the Vice President of Thessaloniki YMCA is holding the welcoming speech at the official opening of the World YMCA Refugee Office in Thessaloniki.

Next are two young Orthodox Priests praying for and blessing the office.

National TV was present as well and covered the event.

Lisa Kalivatsi, the Refugee Secretary of the World YMCA, now officially located in Thessaloniki.

John from REACT and Henry from Syria. Henry has decorated the window in our Refugee office, and he has been very active in the REACT programme here in the YMCA, playing theatre together with actor John. Henry and I got to know one another, and then he introduced me to his sister and his parents.

The whole family of Henry plus REACT members. Henry and family are on their way to the Netherlands in a few days. Any YMCA connections there?

Ingunn and Lisa in Athens next day. After interesting and full days in Thessaloniki we flew down to Athens to visit the National YMCA in Greece and Athens YMCA.

Nikos Bibiris is an old friend from my time in YMCA Europe. it was a real pleasure to reconnect with Nikos and we had lunch together with him and two board members. The conversation was stimulating. What is the position of the YMCA in the world today? What are the development trends we have to deal with? How do we regard Islam today? The refugee crisis?

The chapel on the top floor of the YMCA building in Athens has as its central motive Jesus as 12 years old in the temple of Jerusalem.

The word “Souvlaki” in the title of this blogpost indicates that it is not only about the Refugee Office. It is also a photographic walk through some interesting spots in Athens. I could not resist this outcry for peace!

Utterly beautiful, isn’t it? It is a sin to walk past such a picture without grabbing it.

Just around that beautiful window I found this rather pitoresque signpost to Acropolis.

This is Blue Music, or at least Blue Soccer!

This is simply for contemplation.

Like this aristocratic cat was doing in the spring sun.

Back to more serious work. After an inspiring lunch downtown we say goodbye to Joannis and go for a visit to Nikes branch in the outskirts of Athens.

To the far left here is Lefteris, the Vice Mayor of the Nikea Municipality and the physical instruction director for the local YMCA. The man to the right is the chief of the Air Force Military Police in Athens and a veteran volunteer at the YMCA.

The Colonelfro the Air Force, his brother and Lefteris, a great politician and YMCA leader, they all are!

Here we are photographed together with the Special Olympic team in the YMCA.

Here with the Managing Director of the Nikea YMCA, professor in Theology and a great local YMCA leader.

In the late evening the Vice Mayor of Nikea, Lefteris, asked if we were interested in visiting a nearby refugee camp where the YMCA and the municipality of Nikea had plans for some activities. We accepted the invitation, and accompanied by the colonel who is the chief of the Air Force Military Police for all Athens, we had no problems in getting access and be showed around by two staff.

Again we saw a well regulated camp in good conditions. in this camp there were more than thirty unaccompanied minors – a great responsibility for the employees.
Acropolis is residing majestically over Athens and we are walking on and in and through history wherever we turn our steps. The Greec society is continously in a deep financial crisis. Still the population is able to demonstrate hospitality and solidarity with other people in difficult situations. The World YMCA is grateful that we are being invited in by our Greec friends to learn from them and to collaborate with them for the good for the refugees, especially the young ones.

Posted by: thebluemusicblog | March 14, 2017


It is great to return to favorite places of your youth! Not to say that I am old now, but some years ago, when I last sat foot in Thessaloniki, I was even younger than today. And it was and still is – a great city with great people and a terrific YMCA! I salute my good friends in Thessaloniki YMCA and say thank you for a wonderful hospitality and welcome back.

J. Boutaris – a famous man of my younger days. He was the famous wine maker Boutaris, who provided the YMCA with the most exquisite quality wines, I still remember the taste of his Retsina, like a warm summer wind through a pine forest. Now he is the Mayor of the city of Thessaloniki and finally I met my hero of younger days. He gave us a great message when we visited him this morning in his beautiful office. He talked to us about the past, of the days of the Ottoman Empire, of the time when one third of the population was Jews, one third was Turks and one third Greec and how they were living harmoniously together.

While we were looking out at the splendid view from the Municipality, the Mayor drew the lines over to the modern situation with ten thousands, hundreds of thousands of refugees and how the local population was able to welcome them, to see the need of people in difficulties because they have been through crisis themselves, but also because of the history, the past, the days of cosmopolitan population of the city.

We are impressed and touched by the positive message from the leading politician of the city. But then he is and has been a long standing member of the YMCA, even its President for some years. And he is talking so well about the collaboration with the YMCA through the  REACT project – Refugee Assistance Community of Thessaloniki.

The standing of the YMCA in the local community can only be illustrated by the main square of the city being called Y.M.C.A. Square!

Dimitris, board member of the local YMCA as well as the National YMCA and Lisa Kalivatsi, the latest employee of the World YMCA, the Secretary for Refugees placed here in Thessaloniki. I have known Lisa for most of my life and she personifies the Thessaloniki YMCA in the best possible way. Tomorrow we are opening the World YMCA Refugee Office in the YMCA building here with three Mayors and National TV present. I am proud to have Lisa on my staff!

Anna is the leader of the REACT programme and is showing us the impressive exhibition of art made by refugee children.

Some of the Syrian children REACT us working with in the YMCA.

John, Ismini, Palestinian translator,  Dimitris are all staff of the REACT programme. Most of the children have never attended school, so now REACT is offering after school activities for the children.

John is an actor and activating the children in different ways. We watched them, and afterwards the parents approached us to express their gratitude for all things the YMCA does for their children. Moving experiences.

P.Gavriilidis, Vice President of the YMCA, Johan Vilhelm, J.Boutaris and another political advisor.

And here the whole meeting in the Mayor’s beautiful office. Look beyond and you will agree!

NBA is not here, but Thessaloniki YMCA introduced basket ball to Greece and has the most superb basket ball museum in its new building.

We were shown around and I told them about my contacts with the President of Harlem Globetrotters and how they want to collaborate with the YMCA.

Maybe I shall ask them to come to Thessaloniki? Then they showed me the first basket concept of the local YMCA and we all had a good laugh!

Christina was showing us around in the museum.

Georgios, Lisa, Doukisa, Georgios are sports staff if Thessaloniki YMCA and great hosts at the museum of basket ball! Thank you!

What a proud part of the YMCA history!

Panos,  Emma and Vasillis ending the evening programme sharing with us on the Camping programme and leadership development. Emma is hopefully one of the new Change Agents being recruited just now!

What a rich and full day – a great walk down memory lane – and a walk into the new future of the YMCA – thank you Thessaloniki – thank you Lisa.

Posted by: thebluemusicblog | February 26, 2017


I am sitting in the warm afternoon wind on a terrace overlooking Antananarivo city. Due to a cancelled flight I have got an extra day to reflect and think back to five days in beautiful Madagascar. I feel strongly about my visit here. I am inspired and encouraged. The staff team at the national YMCA office has been bending over backwards to show us warm hospitality like when we had pizza in the garden outside the office.

At the same time this is a modern YMCA with strong links to both the Africa Alliance and to the World YMCA and the philosophy of Youth Empowerment and S2C. Nirina is leading a YMCA focusing on empowerment and job training and job creation and entrepreneurship.

Madagascar YMCA has strong partners. On the photo above the Minister for Labour in the Malagasy Government is speaking at the breakfast meeting, attended by a number of top leaders from banking, corporate business, Universities and large NGOs.

I was invited to speak and I shared my story about Ian from the garbage dump in San Pablo who got education and a job through the vocational training system of the YMCA. The Minister bowed over to me and whispered in my ear: “Unfortunately you will not find many Ian-stories in Madagascar!”

The Minister was a very charming acquaintance. Next day we went to Antsirabe, a city 5-6 hours drive away from the Capitol. To our mutual surprise we discovered that the Minister and her husband stayed at the same hotel and we had a nice chat in the restaurant that evening.

90% of the population is poor and struggling to survive on 2 dollars a day. 3% are really rich and then you have a shrinking middle class on 7%. The Minister of Labour was genuinely motivated to work with the YMCA as a partner in the fight to improve living conditions for young people.

Nirina was facilitating this important event and was the true queen of the show.

Carlos was addressing the audience in fluent French on behalf of the African Alliance and told the Minister about the African Renaissance of the young people of the African YMCAs.

The Minister answered questions. She stayed with us for one and a half hour and had brought her top three Civil Servants from the Ministry. I was really impressed.

The audience participated in the lively exchange of opinions and viewpoints on the situation for young people in Madagascar.

Then it was time to say good bye to the Minister.

The meeting continued and here is the Director General of the Ministry speaking to us and making his statement that the YMCA from this day on would be an official partner to the Government in the implementation of the Labour policy.

It was especially interesting to meet with the two representatives of the local ILO office. We in the YMCA feel more and more close to the ILO both in Geneva and locally.

The Director General is a YMCA member from his youth and has a warm relationship to our Organisation.

Two days after the meeting we were making a stop in a small city where people were producing aluminium products in the old ways – very interesting. On the other side of the street a car stopped and the Director General climbed out and shouted to us. He had recognized us and stopped for a talk.

The representative of ILO explaining how they could imagine a closer collaboration with YMCA.

Then we are back to the real focus for all the above meetings and discussions – the young people and Youth Empowerment. Madagascar YMCA is really good at it. There is a club for absolutely all possible interests, and all these clubs go together and constitute a YMCA Power Space. Above is the beauty and cosmetic club.

Here the Monopoly Club (the streets on the game was from Paris and Champs Elyssée was the second most expensive. Rue de Paix the most expensive!)

Of course there is a Chess club!

And equally self evident a club for face painting.

This is the local art club, holding an impressively high level of performance in drawing and painting.

If you are lucky you can listen to 19 seconds of the Music club.

More clubs are exhibited in the courtyard outside the National YMCA office on a Saturday morning.

Here our friend from the Ministry talking with Nirina.

Our good friend Zo, the professional tour guide, was our driver during the whole stay and explained a lot of things for us. When I left the car to make photos of the grafitty, he came after me and translated the words and put it all into context. (See the blogpost “Madagascar Fantastico”).

So told us that his wife had asked him about his clients. After some stories his wife decided to join the YMCA and now Zo himself is doing the same. We proposed to create a Tour Guide club!

Below the S2C (From Subject to Citizen) Credo on the wall of the YMCA.

We all signed this credo in solidarity with all the young people of Madagascar.

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