This post is part of a series of articles highlighting education systems around the world. With this article, we hope to educate and raise awareness on both the needs of the students and the challenges of running a school in a refugee camp. We also hope to share heartwarming and inspiring success stories with our community of teachers around the world.
Since 2016, thousands of adults and children seeking asylum from conflict, violence, and poverty in the Middle East have been stuck living in overcrowded and unsanitary refugee camps in Greece. These asylum seekers lack access to basic necessities like nutrition, hygiene, and education.
As a response to the inhumane conditions that refugees were forced to endure on the Greek island of Chios, volunteers with Be Aware and Share provided educational services to children, teenagers, and young adults. In 2018, Action for Education (AFE) took over the educational initiatives started by Be Aware and Share and expanded their educational programs to the Greek island of Samos.
Jokin, a volunteer ESL teacher with Action for Education on the island of Samos, describes the crisis.
"Thousands of people have no access to basic needs or social support. The conditions are challenging in refugee camps. Today, Action for Education still provides informal educational programs and activities to refugee children, teenagers, and young adults, but they also provide food, tea, showers, reliable internet, and charging stations. At a deeper level, they provide a safe space, a routine, and emotional support."
"It's a small footprint, but it goes deep. It goes beyond the education,” Jokin says. “It makes a big difference." A typical day (before COVID-19) of teaching for Jokin begins by setting up the classroom. At 10:00 am, their educational centers open and students begin to arrive. With the help of a translator, Jokin teaches the young refugees how to read, write, speak, and understand English. In between classes, he helps facilitate different activities like ping pong or foosball and workshops on creative writing or mental health education. During the school day, each student is also provided with a meal.
Janyar, a past student with Action for Education, describes his time at Banana House, one of AFE’s learning centers.
“My time at Banana House was great! I learned a lot. The most important thing for me was the educational support. I studied two different languages, Greek and English, which allowed me to navigate through my stay in Samos. The teaching was very helpful. Not only because the teachers were great and knew how to engage with the students, but because it meant a safe environment."
Khaled, another past student with Action for Education, also describes his time at Banana House.
"It was very useful for me. I learned a lot. Banana House helped me feel comfortable and safe. I made new friends and learned some vocabulary of other languages, not just English. I learned about different cultures and traditions by interacting with people from different countries."
Like many organizations, Action for Education is not immune to the negative impacts of COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, Greece went into lockdown and AFE switched from teaching in person to teaching online classes. In June of 2020, they were able to reopen and implemented many safety measures like smaller class sizes, offering classes outside, staggered class times, temperature checks, and masking. In the fall, Greece went back into lockdown and AFE went back to teaching online. They then started planning how to reopen at the end of February 2021 with the same safety measures they had implemented in the summer.
While it was challenging to provide an online education due to the limited and inconsistent Wi-Fi in the camps, Jokin says that “the biggest challenge is still the situation itself.” With the poor living conditions in the camps and the tensions between locals and refugees, “there are just so many needs that are not being covered.” Action for Education relies on individual donations to run their educational programs and social services. When asked how the average person can help, Jokin says they appreciate donations and volunteers, but that it’s also important to raise awareness—to be aware and make others aware that this is happening.
To learn more about Action for Education and/or to make a donation, visit their website at www.actionforeducation.org.