If you have ever spent any time in Ritsona camp, then you know Mariana Santoyo Bahamón. As the Protection Coordinator for Lighthouse Relief, Mariana exudes a generous spirit and is also a rock for many families in camp. She has worked tirelessly to build a system to protect children and identify and refer them to extra support through the Child Friendly Space. The space additionally gives children an environment with structure where they can both learn and have fun.
Recently Mariana’s mother and sister expressed a desire to come to Ritsona to see her in her element, and bond as a family by supporting camp residents and building interactive learning games for the children. Mercedes, Mariana’s mother, is an agriculture engineer in Bogotá, Colombia and Manuela, Mariana’s younger sister, is an industrial designer now living in Barcelona.
The Bahamóns pitched several ideas to the Lighthouse Relief team and landed on several multi-faceted projects:
- Restructuring and bringing to life a garden for plants and vegetables in Ritsona that an independent volunteer had started a while ago; they took on this task and built a fence and watering system with residents, planting seeds. Residents have taken over the project and started gardening at their tents.
- A language memory game that will enable children to keep learning while at play, designed based on the CFS project with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as well as personal safety themes blended in.
- A “broken telephone” game that doubles as a colorful sculpture and encourages communication.
- A hanging flower and herb garden made using recycled plastic bottles.
- Plastic bottle garbage bins, which have since been distributed to tents and around camp.
Manuela also provided the idea of a dry toilet for the CFS, which the Lighthouse Relief construction team then threw many hours of planning, designing, sawing and hammering into creating.
“We really wanted to find ways to encourage play as well as learning and each of these projects does that in a very different way,” said Manuela. “What inspires me is knowing that small details can change people's lives, by modifying their activities in everyday life, awakening positive emotions, and giving them a sense of belonging. It is especially true in these vulnerable situations where people need these changes the most.”
Manuela and Mercedes worked with volunteers on the construction team and camp residents to develop and execute the projects. They combed the nearby city of Chalkida to get all of the materials they needed – everything from multiple pieces of PVC tubes, to steel pipes to wood and paint -- and then constructed everything with special care back at camp.
After Manuela left, Mercedes continued working with the construction team to build ramps at Oinofyta, a camp near Ritsona, and a floor for the Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic and other spaces. She also helped identify ways of enabling women to access Lighthouse Relief services at the Female Friendly Space, laying the groundwork for a response to gender-based violence protection. Finally, she teamed up with other women to organise activities.
All of this also provided a valuable opportunity for the family to bond. “As a mother, I can’t be prouder. My two girls have become marvelous women, dedicated to making this this world a better place.
“Mariana has had a special heart and compassion for vulnerable people, especially children, since she was a little girl. She has found her path in the field of protection in emergencies, and now is immensely happy working with Lighthouse Relief."
"Manuela is a very creative and sensitive artist. I always admire how she manages to make ideas come to life with her skills and hands. It is a privilege to be able to be a small part of what they do,” Mercedes added.
“My mother and sister are my best friends and my constant support system. They give me the strength and motivation to be better at what I do. They have always encouraged me to follow my dreams, so much so that they wanted to come and share this with us. I admire them and am proud to have them on our team,” says Mariana.
“Working with my mother and sister is like working with the best team I could ever ask for,” says Manuela. “We know each others' likes and dislikes in a way that no one else does. We know how each of us think and appreciate each other’s ideas and solutions.”
The residents who know Mariana well were touched to see her family there supporting her and doing something for the camp community. Many partnered with the family to bring their projects to fruition. For the Bahamóns, this was exactly what they had hoped for. Their goal for volunteering was to have the residents become the leaders of the projects and to take over their running after their departure.
To enable the residents of Ritsona and other camps to keep building, consider donating!