One man's garbage

Teen raises refugee awareness through art project made from discarded life jackets

Achilleas Souras shows his igloo-shaped installation made of life jackets left by refugees on Greek Island of Lesbos. Photo: Joel Henry

Achilleas Souras is no ordinary teen. At 16, the enthusiasm and passion with which he responded to the EU refugee crisis has resulted in him making an SOS installation from life vests discarded by refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. The result has been a contraption, which resembles an igloo, built with the intention to address the problem of housing for not just refugees but also low-income earners.

Souras, whose mother is Thai-Austrian, resides with his family in Athens. He was recently in Bangkok where his 7m-tall installation was put on display at Paradise Park, courtesy of UNHCR Thailand.

The teen, whose maturity transcends his age, spoke philosophically of the way he viewed the used life vests, saying: "For me the jackets take on a very different meaning when I hold them in my hand, it goes beyond just being an object, it represents a human life, alive or dead."

Eloquent in speech, the enterprising young man, whose discarded life jackets igloo has been displayed in a handful of European countries, also made it to the Milan design week, and South Africa.

"My installation helps to raise funds for refugees wherever it is displayed," said Souras. "While the idea is to ultimately use the waterproof structure as both a shelter and a welcome point for arriving migrants especially on the Greek island that has become a frequented landing spot for refugees entering Europe. However, the entire project is a catalyst to eventually be used for housing purposes."

Building Lego structures as a child gave him the experience he needed to construct the igloo art piece, which was constructed by cutting and folding the jackets to resemble blocks of ice prior to assembling them together.

Souras took on the initiative to start this project early last year, in the hope that he would be tackling social issues. "One that was prominent geographically and one that we touched upon in school was the refugee crisis. I was naturally conscious of what was transpiring at Lesbos as it was always in the news.

"I wanted to use life jackets because they symbolised the refugee crisis. To tackle this issue in an objective manner, I was led to address refugee housing because everyone agrees it is their human right to have a roof over their heads. Secondly, life jackets became a central part of this project because it was creating an environmental problem."

By March, Souras had sent an email to the mayor of Lesbos, requesting for the discarded life jackets to be sent to Barcelona where he was residing with his family at the time. Three hundred arrived, and he used approximately 40 to build the first igloo. The media attention it has received thus far was taken him by surprise.

"While I am thrilled with the reception this project has received from the media, it has come as a surprise. Whatever the case being, from the beginning it was never about me but the plight of the refugees," he said. "In my media interviews I am happiest talking about this project and how to use it in a more constructive manner to address the refugee crisis. I don't desire to have the focus put on me. What I would like to see materialise out of this is a formula to make this type of housing in mass production, to make a house that is cheap and effective.''

Souras said in retrospect, this endeavour turned out much better than expected. He said it raised awareness not just on refugees but also for the need for housing.

Besides being self driven, he tells us that outside factors that have contributed in his approach towards life have been his mixed heritage, the fact that he has resided in various countries, a passion for art and building and attending an international school that exposed him to world cultures, histories and traditions and that offered him a global perspective on a number of issues that he is passionate about. In this case being people.

Souras, who has actively participated in events for a social cause, believes that looking out for another human's needs is no big deal at the end of the day because doing good for someone all ways is self satisfying.

As for social issues he would like to support in the future, he said: "I value people, so if there is a crisis where people are involved, that is where I will be. That is what I am passionate about."

Souras busy at work assembling the igloo with life jackets that were sent to him from the Greek Island of Lesbos. Photo: Federico Bastiani

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