COMMUNITY

Volunteers keep the peace in Athens neighborhoods

By Lina Giannarou

So you have issues with your neighbors because your dog keeps barking. Sure it’s an uncomfortable situation to be in, but why can’t they just ring your door bell and talk about it in a civilized manner instead of swearing at you from the floor above? Has our society lost all sense of human contact?

It appears that this is very much the case and specialists in conflict resolution are increasingly putting emphasis on dialogue in local communities. This is the aim of Metaplasis, an open platform where people can seek solutions to disputes through dialogue – free of charge.

Metaplasis was developed by a group of 11 volunteers, including lawyers and teachers, all trained in conflict resolution by international organization Mediators Beyond Borders, and was launched in late February.

“All of the group’s members have experienced the ‘magic’ of dialogue and having witnessed the changes it can bring about we wanted to share this with other people, show them that this kind of approach can be an alternative solution, that it’s not always necessary to resort to violence or seek the state’s intervention in order to solve disputes,” says the group’s leader, Dimitra Gavriil. “The truth is that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to listen to what others have to say without thinking at the same time of how we’re supposed to respond in order to win the argument. Communication can be a lovely thing.”

Metaplasis invites members of the public who have a dispute with someone else to contact the group (online at www.metaplasis.org or by calling on 6944.442.371). The team’s volunteers subsequently explain the procedure and, provided the person agrees to it, an appointment is scheduled to discuss the terms. The group then gets in touch with the other side in order to arrange a meeting, which in turn takes place in a space provided by the City of Athens, the Europedirect Hall, located at 50 Academias in the city center. Volunteers are present when the discussion eventually takes place to ensure that the dialogue runs smoothly and that both sides are able to present their case as well as listen to each other.

“We do not intervene, we simply facilitate dialogue. If a solution is found it’s thanks to the contribution and efforts of both parties. The aim is always to establish communication,” says Gavriil.

The group’s services are available to all members of the public, especially neighbors, people living in the same apartment block or neighborhood, but also colleagues, relatives, friends, teachers and parents, and other groups.

“Everyone is invited to get in touch, for whatever problem they may face,” notes Gavriil. “It could be something affecting the entire neighborhood, such as recurring noise pollution or the issue of where to place a dumpster, to smaller issues such as a noisy upstairs neighbor. Most people end up at their local police station to resolve these kind of issues, a practice that doesn’t lead anywhere in our experience,” says Gavriil.

The team, which guarantees confidentiality and impartiality, is currently aiming at organizing a string of events based on the notion of promoting dialogue.

“The idea is to strengthen ties among members of the community so that they will not seek our assistance but come up with their own solutions in the future.”    

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