No sum­mer break for mi­grant schoolchil­dren

Kathimerini English - - Focus -

“B for book, C for car...” re­peat a dozen 6- and 7-year-olds in an English class taught by two refugee vol­un­teers in a makeshift class­room at a Greek mi­grant camp. There will be no sum­mer hol­i­days for these pupils, who have to make up for lost time as Greece pre­pares plans to ed­u­cate around 8,500 refugee chil­dren, start­ing in Septem­ber. The vol­un­teer teach­ers from Syria, an en­gi­neer and a univer­sity stu­dent, are among some 20 refugees giv­ing lessons to 670 stu­dents be­tween the ages of 6 and 13 at the Skara­man­gas camp in the sub­urbs of Athens. Half of the refugees in the camp – Syr­i­ans, Afghans and Iraqi Kurds – are un­der the age of 17. With only two class­rooms set up in ship­ping con­tain­ers, each child re­ceives about two hours of classes per week, in­clud­ing lessons in their na­tive lan­guages – Ara­bic, Dari and Kur­dish – plus English and maths.

“It’s only a drop,” says Syr­ian en­gi­neer Bazel Shrayyef, but still “the start of a re­turn to nor­mal­ity” for the chil­dren who have faced war and ex­ile and are in dan­ger of be­com­ing ap­a­thetic from a life put on hold.

The vol­un­teer teach­ers say re­build­ing ties to school is es­sen­tial for the chil­dren.

“We have chil­dren who are 8 to 10 years old who don’t even know how to hold a pen or write their name in their lan­guage,” says Syr­ian Luaay Ko­man Al Ba­bille, a for­mer stu­dent of pa­le­og­ra­phy in Aleppo, who ini­ti­ated the ed­u­ca­tion ef­forts at the camp. In a makeshift teach­ers’ lounge, also in­side a con­tainer, he puts to­gether text­books from Syr­ian pro­grams on the in­ter­net, care­ful to re­move any- thing that could ag­gra­vate ten­sions.

Ac­cord­ing to the NGO Save the Chil­dren, which has warned of the risk of a lost gen­er­a­tion, the refugee chil­dren stuck in camps in Greece on av­er­age have not been in school for 18 months. And more than a fifth of school-age chil­dren have never set foot in a class­room. At Skara­man­gas, the refugees are wait­ing to learn where they will be re­lo­cated in the EU, or if they will be given asy­lum in Greece – so they don’t know where they will be liv­ing in six months to a year from now.

“In our classes it’s hard for stu­dents to con­cen­trate for a long time, we have to keep get­ting them to pay at­ten­tion,” says Ianni Baveas, one of the lo­cal vol­un­teers who teaches the chil­dren Greek. “A lot of the chil­dren are an­gry,” adds fel­low vol­un­teer Poppy Paraskevopoulou. She says she has been wag­ing a bat­tle with char­ity groups, the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the army, which man­ages the refugee camp, to get eight more class­rooms to have a real ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram. The chal­lenge for Greece, where some 50,000 refugees are stranded af­ter the clos­ing of Europe’s borders through the Balkan coun­tries in late Fe­bru­ary, is to cre­ate a school pro­gram for the chil­dren in the camps. The Greek Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry is work­ing on it, in­cor­po­rat­ing the ini­tia­tives like the one in Skara­man­gas and the pool of vol­un­teers who have fos­tered sol­i­dar­ity with the refugees. The pro­gram set to start in Septem­ber would in­clude classes to in­te­grate the stu­dents, in the camps or at pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties, ahead of proper school­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Greece

© PressReader. All rights reserved.