Given that we host many families with children, it makes sense to be very interested in the protection and inclusion of children. The whole effort requires innovation that is useful for school and education in general so as to meet the demands of a changing world, not only because of refugee crisis.
While children can be easily involved in non-formal education such as games, paintings and excursions, full integration into the formal educational curriculum is not self-evident and automatic, even for families that eventually stay in our country. It is needed language and psycho-social preparation, especially for children that have been outside of an organized framework and an educational program for many years.
Refugee children need to return to the educational curriculum as soon as possible. Syrian refugees may be out of school for between 1 and 5 years. Many international organizations have highlighted the need to ensure that there is no lost generation of refugees and that there are no refugee children who do not go to school.
Therefore, in WELCOMMON, we are concerned not only about the quality of accommodation, nutrition and socio-psychological support of refugees of all ages (so there is no relation to WELCOMMON conditions with those in many hotspots) but also for formal and non-formal education of children and also for adults needing it.
Despite the difficulties and the lack of sufficient resources, we are gradually developing and implementing an integrated strategy for education, training and culture according to the needs of the different groups.
- Public schools enrollment of refugee children according to their age (kindergarten, elementary school, high school). Before starting school, all necessary medical examinations and vaccinations are made, in accordance with Greek law. We believe that attendance is very important, not only for acquiring knowledge and skills, but also for smooth integration of children into our society.
- Despite our limited resources, we are able to involve children in non-formal education and skill development activities, both within the WELCOMMON, with the help of our volunteers and outside, in cooperation with other organizations.
- Empowering parents (who are often alone) to be able to take full care of their children, offering them gradual rehabilitation as well as social and psychological support. This process takes time and more human and financial resources are needed.
It is natural that each of the 6 groups:
(A) children, (b) adolescents, and (c) adults who will be relocated to another country,
(D) children (e) adolescents and (f) adults who will stay in our country, has different needs and an appropriate education and inclusion model needs to be developed.
We are interested in collaborating with organizations outside Welcommon (e.g. language courses in various institutions, visits and collaborations with museums, developing collaborations with European institutions) or in hosting activities in our center (e.g. English courses by ADDMA with British Council volunteers). Of course, the first priority is to include, the ones who want it, in the public education system (schools) or in certified training structures.
However, since solutions are not easy and available when needed for all cases, we are trying to offer innovative educational opportunities also inside Welcommon, on fields that are gaps that cannot be covered by other agencies. Besides, we have enough room for that.
A set of activities is organized for all children based on this objective: language learning, socialization, creative activities, team building, organized framework, environmental awareness, social behavior, hygiene and cleanliness and more.
Every day we improve the non-formal education structure at WELCOMMON so as to empower both children and adults that we host and organize many important activities and courses:
-Arabic, English, Mathematics and Science courses with Arabic-speaking volunteer refugees,
– Greek courses for women and facilitation of adults and teenagers to learn Greek in other structures,
– German courses for beginners by German volunteers,
– Enhanced teaching by Arabic-speaking volunteers for children,
– Computer language learning using video and image,
– Painting and photography lessons with volunteers,
– Creative activities for children,
– Visits to art exhibitions, museums, parks and green spaces in Attica,
– Acquaintance with Athens, its history and culture,
– Participation in actions organized by other institutions (e.g. art therapy, advanced language learning) and many others.
Our effort related to children that are waiting for relocation, is focused on preparation for inclusion in the society of destination country and its educational program. Since for many families their stay in Greece was in the process of moving to another destination country, there is a greater difficulty in joining a school program both in terms of linguistic or other preparation and of their psychological support for the time they remain in Greece.
For children who will stay Greece – which is now the majority – the effort is double. It includes organization of many school preparation activities at WELCOMMON in relation with the outside community (language and reinforcement lessons, cooperation with parents, familiarization with formal education, visits of children from various schools, activities in the courtyard of our neighboring school, the 35th Primary School of Athens, preparation of vaccinations and general examinations). Extroverted activities include co-operation with other bodies, visits to schools and joint activities with them.
In the context of our educational program, we have addressed schools that are interested in organizing joint actions. So, Greek school pupils are visiting WELCOMMON and working with the refugee children and the young people we host. We organize together games, musical activities, creative constructions, theater plays and painting.
Until now, we have hosted 4 schools, Ilion Music High School, 165th Elementary School of Athens, 135th Primary School of Athens and Standard Gymnasium of the Evangelical School of Smyrna. We have also begun visiting schools, at their invitation of course, such as Standard Gymnasium of the Evangelical School of Smyrna, as part of their program “I Change … I Change the World”. Our activity is not only about mutual understanding so as to break stereotypes, but also about the preparation of refugee children and their parents to join the formal school program.
Such collaborations are very useful since children become familiar with today’s reality. For example, many children of our elementary schools, are not only young refugees arriving recently in Greece but also second-generation children of refugees and migrants who know Greek well and, to a certain extent, can also use their mother’s and/or father’s language. Often, therefore, our “interpreters” in such meetings are the children themselves from these two groups. It is a very interesting encounter of two worlds that have too much in common, but they have to get to know each other in order to realize it. For us, it is very important to connect refugee children with students in schools that have the same color or speak the same language with them and they rejoice in going to school daily.
All of us at WELCOMMON are happy, when we see a child taking the rewards paper for attending one class lessons. But more steps need to be done so as to support all children to participate in Greek education and culture.
Regular participation in lessons (whether they are going to leave for another country or choose to stay in Greece), and overall progress in all subjects (language, mathematics, etc.) is not a simple matter for refugee children.
Children who are about to migrate or join the rest of their family in another country, do not want to go for a while to a school where they don’t understand the language and “cuts off their playing time”.
But even the children, who will stay in Greece, need targeted help and support so as to be prepared during the summer for the new school year, which will start in September. They have been away from school environment for many years, they were for a long time on the road or better case in a camp and now they have to deal with a different cultural environment than they were used to (for example, parents often do not want girls to go to school because they have to take care of their brothers). And of course they have experienced war and violence with what this entails for their psychological and mental balance, the way they face everything.
Systematic and multifaceted preparation is needed, in order to familiarize children with the new school environment (if they have a memory of something similar), the sitting on the desk for 30-40 minutes until the break, the concentration during the class and the continuous attendance to their classes without absences.
Often parents and children do not have a clear picture of what is really SCHOOL, what is booster teaching, what is a supportive program and what is a language lesson. They confuse them and sometimes they can quit school because they think it’s enough to go to some other … school that starts later, takes less hours and does less lessons. They combine SCHOOL with some programs offered by various institutions. Therefore, a continuous and significant effort is needed to clarify the differences of each program so that they do not suddenly break SCHOOL due to difficulties and confusion. We try to help them understand that when they have school they have to go there EVERYDAY and from the beginning of the lessons. It is part of the process of social inclusion, not always an easy matter.
We encourage children and parents to participate in language or support teaching programs also outside WELCOMMON.
Within WELCOMMON, we try to help children that will be relocated, with Arabic or other creative and social activities, with environmental awareness actions and to familiarize them with teamwork and acceptance of the “different” (not always understood when we have children from 17 ethnicities, with different religions, color and language).
The “Arab Class” of WELCOMMON, has teachers that are refugees themselves.
Despite the fact that #WELCOMMON no longer hosts only Arabs like the first months of its operation until about the end of 2016 (today we host refugees from 15-17 countries that speak 11 different languages), it is important that we continue the “Arab class” alongside with the other lessons we offer in our field (Greek, English, German with the support of many volunteers).
We want WELCOMMON not only to be a high standard reception, hospitality and refugee reception center. We want to be a venue where activities (such as non-formal education and socialization) are organized on the initiative and participation of the guests themselves.
The “Arab Class” is one of the best examples on how our approach #withrefugees can be implemented through the emergence of the capacities of the refugees. Because we must always keep in mind that we host not only people in need of protection but also personalities with talents and skills that, in the right environment, can flourish and offer both for the benefit of their own community (refugees) and for the community that hosts them.
The “Arab class” is mainly for children aged 5 to 12, but sometimes also older ones participate. There are language (2 hours daily), math, science and culture lessons. The aim is to develop a culture of coexistence, respect and social responsibility. “Arab class” complements successfully the actions we organize with the help of experienced staff and volunteers.
It started with the help of Ahmad (a student who, due to the war in Syria, was forced to stop his studies and leave) that was hosted at WELCOMMON and currently lives in Belgium. It was continued by Mohamed and Khalil. For a long time until now “teacher” is Saeda. She does not have a teacher’s degree, but she has the needed culture and knowledge that really makes her a very good and lovely teacher in practice.
Saeda is a gentle woman, mother, poet, plays very good music (like many other Syrian women), and she can speak and write literary Arabic, that few hold well. But, along with the children, they are also preparing small theater plays that “go up” in WELCOMMON’s venue-restaurant space. When we have events, she is always willing to prepare and present a poetic speech that everyone listens with respect, even people who do not understand Arabic.
She has been hosted for a long time at #WELCOMMON, with her three children, waiting to go to Germany where her husband and another child of her, are. Until she leaves, she offers her knowledge to the children.
And we find that – as is expected – the children, who participate daily in the #WELCOMMON Arab class, respect it and even more, they show their great love for their “teacher” Saeda.
Language learning using computer and e-learning.
At #WELCOMMON, we’re trying to use innovative methods to educate and highlight the capacities and skills of hosted refugees. One of the key issues is fast and targeted language learning, whether they will be relocated to another country or they will stay in Greece. Depending on the final destination, however, different solutions are needed. If somebody is going to leave, he/she may not want to learn Greek, while those who are staying want to learn Greek and English quickly. We therefore propose, in cooperation with our social service, a “fan” of solutions outside (in cooperation with various institutions) and within WELCOMMON.
Among other things, we offer the ability to learn languages using computers and e-learning methods. Through relevant programs and technology infrastructure, we encourage our hosts to use English, German or Greek language learning programs in their native language (e.g. Arabic, Somali or Urdu).
Using video-YouTube is a good method if guests do not know how to write their native language (e.g. they may speak Arabic but they do not know how to write) or have a language that is not very common in Greece (e.g. Farsi, Urdu, Lingala, etc.). Thus, with the help of volunteers or by themselves, the guests can practice their knowledge in an innovative way every day in the computer room that is designed for this purpose.
Computer use is, as we have seen, an attractive way to practice their knowledge and language skills daily.
Art as a means of socialization, healing and returning to regularity.
Children express themselves artistically and creatively in our organized activities on many levels: visits to museums, galleries and exhibitions and also creative activities such as painting, collage, photography and film making workshops. All these activities are part of their familiarization with art and creativity, of the promotion of their talents and skills and the use of art for the treatment of their wounds (art therapy), but also for their social integration.
On their own they often express their artistic creativity not only on paper and cardboard but also on the many walls of the 8-storey building of WELCOMMON.
Wanting to make WELCOMMON more warm and artistic, we organize various paintings of large surfaces, always with the participation of the refugees hosted here.
In addition to the walls of some rooms, 6 large surfaces / walls have already been converted into works of art with the substantial participation of the WELCOMMON refugees: the room of Arab courses, the social clinic, the entrance to the classroom and the kindergarten, the wall outside the restaurant and the wall of the half-floor. In few months our space will be transformed into a large open art workshop.
On Thursday, April 13, 2017, we organized a night dedicated to refugees and art, presenting the exhibition “Refugees talk through art: the Prior, the Runaway, the Hope and Expectations”. Visitors, especially children and adolescents, presented their own paintings during their stay at WELCOMMON. Young people and women also, presented photos and videos from their life and home before the war, but also from their journey to hope, while showing their aspirations and dreams. It was a “first” attempt from refugees themselves to guide us through art into the dual image of their lives, in the pain but also in their dreams, in runaway but also in hope… Now these reports will multiply and the next is planned for September.
Raising and supporting talents and skills.
We often organize musical evenings, where both guests and our hosts play music and dance. We also invite people who are street performers like Pepe Perperoni, or puppeteers that can show how to make dolls from scrap materials. Beyond laughter and fun, all these are opportunities for talents to arise. Laughter should not be deprived by any child and refugee children have already suffered a lot. We strive, with many activities, to help them regain their childhood and show off their talents.
This experience and the enthusiasm shown by our children reminded us of a relevant project that is implemented by the bilingual and multinational Berlin’s European School, Quentin Blake Europe School. We visited this school in May 2017, as part of the cooperation between Wind of Renewal (the social cooperative that is responsible for WELCOMMON) and the German citizens’ initiative RESPECT for GREECE. At this school, for the last 10 years, the pupils of the 4th grade “live” in the well-known Circus Cabuwazi, for a week aiming to their training and the emergence of new talents in the acrobatics, in juggling, in the seamstress and in the art of clown.
We also want to show similar talents among refugee children in WELCOMMON as well, in cooperation with our neighborhood school. From September, many of the children we host, as part of their integration into the education system, will start attending the lessons of this school.