Argo is a state therapeutic program for drug addicts started back in 1998. It was the first daily ambulatory program for drug addicts. So, instead of taking drug addicts outside of the city and separating them from the rest of the people, the idea is to help them do their therapy within their community, their families and in everyday life. That’s why it is called an open and alternative program. It belongs to the national health system of Thessaloniki. It takes place in the psychiatric hospital of Thessaloniki, is free of charge, and offers services for all drug-addicted behaviours. It started as a pure therapeutic community, but nowadays, they also have a diagnosis unit. In 2018 they created the program “Argo Social Enterprise” in order to help people after their therapy course to have occasional training and work placement.
How is Argo connected to USB? What can volunteers bring/take from there?
In 2021, for the first time, Argo decided to connect young volunteers from all around the world, to come there and participate in their activities. The first experience went well, this year, it is organized a little better, and every year it is going to develop and improve not only for the patients or the employees of Argo but also for the incoming volunteers. This year, Argo decided to promote mainly the work of the Argo Social Enterprise because it is a quite new program that needs a push and help to fulfil its goals. Since 2018 Argo Social Enterprise has managed to create three sustainable full-time work placements for ex-addicts. Their goal is to create at least one sustainable work placement every year. They believe USB volunteers can help reach this goal as soon as possible by bringing their ideas, will, joy, and expertise.
Community thinking is the key to solving any social problem. Stigmas, stereotypes, frames and labels that people can stick on someone is the main issue that this project is working on. Breaking down prejudices and stereotypes amongst youth is essential. This project is also a “win-win” since by helping youth become more open-minded and helpful to society, the target group, in this case ex drug addicts can benefit so much. They can finally be part of “normal” society and have access to all the activities with people from all around Europe. Having daily interaction and working together on different tasks help them integrate and feel like a valuable member of the community.
Main activities in Argo. The impact of the pandemic. Changes after covid. How did it adjust to reality?
As an open day program, Argo was affected a lot by the restricted measures of covid. There were two significant periods in Greece. The first one was for 3 months and the second even longer, around 7 months, with restricted movement measures. By using social networks, Argo managed to partly transform everyday activities into an online format so that people using their social services could still be able to participate in different activities. Instead of coming every day to the hospital and attending group meetings physically, they used virtual space to follow government regulations and still be able to move on with their main goal. They changed the whole timetable and had only one day per week of individual therapy sessions, which they were attending physically. Other than that, all the group meetings were held via social networks. Sadly they were not the same quantity or quality as before covid 19. There were only three per week for one or two hours. Covid affected a lot of Argo’s everyday activities, especially creative ones (athletic activities, non-verbal communication groups, art therapy, theatrical games..), which were closed due to covid 19.
Nowadays, although regarding covid19, it is still crucial timing, they try to overcome these challenges and get back slowly to the previous rhythm.
Even though Argo has a lot of great services, there is always space to develop, improve and become better. Argo’s goal three years ago was to create a specific program for refugees. It is something that’s missing in the city of Thessaloniki, and they feel like they need to create one. Greece was and still is the country gate for the people entering from Turkey, Africa and Asia to Europe. Therefore a lot of refugees and migrants stayed in Greece to live. Some of them have had problems with drug use back in their homelands, but some of them, due to the terrible experiences during their “journey” -migration, started to use different drugs. So this is the first goal in the near future for Argo. The second goal is to create a specific program for women and pregnant women, since stereotypically, women facing drug addiction are facing enormous challenges, and it is a whole other issue for them to overcome the addiction. For now, Argo has two main goals, and they hope with the financial circumstances, they will be able to fulfil the projects within 3-5 years.
The government finances the main therapeutic program. They also held two specific national programs that lasted for 3 years and are already in their second year. So they need to seek more money in order to continue. They also held a lot of European projects, like the one volunteering with USB and others. Finally, and most importantly, Argo social enterprise is a separate and distinctive legal entity founded by Argo employees, ex-members of Argo and financial help of families of people with drug addiction.
Believing in your dreams/goals
Sometimes some things we find impossible, unreachable, or undoable are more than possible! The dreams that are unimaginable to happen, do take time, but they can be real. Opening a program like Argo back in 1998 didn’t seem real. It was expected to fail. People were sceptical. “It will not survive”, they were saying. But, look at it, after 24 years! Improving every day, involving more and more people from all around the world. Helping so many individuals, exploring, developing, evolving, raising awareness and open-mindedness. 24 years is a lot, it takes energy, time, and strength, but the result is so impressive that it is all worth it! Looking back and comparing the reality before the 2000s can motivate us even more to become better! A utopian dream was coming true. With tiny steps, they build and become sustainable.
Argo should be an example of everyone’s goals and/or dreams to make the world a better place!
Written by Salome Chochua