When Lambert fled her home country of Cameroon in 2018, she was just looking for a country to live freely and without fear as an LGBTQ person.
“In Cameroon, you are forced to hide because your relationship cannot be public knowledge or it will be a disaster,” she says. Traveling from Turkey to the island of Kos, in Greece, and then onto Athens, she bore the heavy weight of having to hide her identity as a trans woman for her own safety.
Once in Greece, she still wasn’t safe in the overcrowded refugee camp in Kos. “I had many safety issues and couldn’t show myself for who I truly am,” she remembers. Due to these concerns, Lambert was referred to SafePlace International, which provided her a safe place to stay in their housing program in Athens and welcomed her into the community.
A space without fear
“This was the first time I joined an LGBTQ organization. There were a few in Cameroon, but I was too afraid to go,” Lambert remembers. The sessions and workshops gave her a space to open up about her past and tell her own story.
One memory really stands out: a seminar held on the beach, close to Athens, which became a moment of sharing and welcoming. “It gave me the opportunity to talk to LGBTQ people like myself, from Africa and all over the world.”
Shortly after joining the housing program, she applied to The Dream Academy (TDA) and began volunteering with the organization. She worked the front desk, assisted with case work and community meetings, and aided in the weekly food distribution. After completing The Dream Academy, she became an assistant in the program and later became the first co-leader of the French TDA.
Joy in helping others
“Lambert was excellent in welcoming new students into class and was loved by the whole community because of her soft and quiet nature,” recalls Lionel, Director of Programs at SafePlace in Athens. “The impact she brought to the community was enormous. She helped community members with their paperwork, served as a translator for French to English, and also helped with medical accompaniments to the hospitals. As a personal friend to many members, all she ever wanted was to find love and happiness.”
After three years in Athens, Lambert traveled on to Germany, where she joined an acquaintance she had met in her first month in Greece. Here, she has no fear. “I feel absolutely free,” she smiles.
For other queer people in Africa, she has one piece of advice: Reach out to an LGBTQI+ association. “SafePlace gave me a second chance to learn about myself.”