Over the past 6 months I AM YOU have continued to grow and expand our knowledge base within Ritsona and Oinofyta Refugee Camps.
In July 2016 the Informal Education Program run and managed by I AM YOU at Ritsona made some key changes. Namely, we consolidated the I AM YOUth activities into pre-school activities. In doing so we are better able to serve the 3-5 year old population as they now have both play time activities and also basic learning activities. The daily schedule at the pre-school is broken down into 15-minute intervals where the children learn for 15 minutes and then play for 15 minutes. We have converted the pre-school space into four corners. Each corner is dedicated to either a learning or playtime activity and the children rotate from space to space. This allows for the children to learn basic discipline and time management, which better prepares them once they are 6 years old and go into the Primary School Program.
With this success in Ritsona we were approached by the camp management team in Oinofyta to convert our I AM YOUth activities into the pre-school there. Therefore since September 8th 2016 we have also been running and managing the pre-school there.
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOL
The Primary School Program is for children aged 6–12 years of age. At the camp the informal education was managed by I AM YOU but taught by resident teachers from Syria. This means that the learning in camp is based on a Greek curriculum but taught in a Syrian style. It also ensured that once the formal education program began in the Greek schools there would be less of a culture shock as some of the children had never been to school before. The school in camp taught: Math, Arabic, English and Greek. And on Wednesday’s the whole school would be involved in extra curricular activities, which included: sports, art and music lessons. We also managed to organize mini Olympics to coincide with the Olympic Games this August.
In October the formal education program began within the Greek school systems. The formal education program is currently only for students between 6–15 years old. I AM YOU with the Ministry of Education ensured the smooth transition of the children from camp school to a state school. This included organizing the administrative process required by the Ministry, escorting the children to and from camp in the first week to ensure safety as well as organizing enough school backpacks and equipment for the children to be ready to enter the school system effectively.
Introducing a refugee population into a host population comes with its own set of complications. Therefore I AM YOU worked with the Ministry of Education, the parents and teachers of the camp to minimize any negative impact. This included getting permission from the Ministry of Education to allow the teachers of the I AM YOU school to become cultural mediators and attend the public school with the children. This had a positive impact as the children had a familiar face in classroom. The Greek teachers and the cultural mediators worked together in resolving any misunderstandings between the two different teaching styles and the cultural mediators were able to explain any disruptive behavior to the Greek teachers, as they themselves are refugees. I AM YOU organized training for the Syrian teachers to become cultural mediators and we have facilitated meetings with the Greek teachers within the camp so that they can see the community the children come from. Not to mention in meant that the parents could meet the adults who were educating their children. Overall this has meant a lot more understanding from both sides. The Ritsona resident population feels that their concerns about their children’s education are being heard. Whereas the Greek teachers have become much more understanding of the sometimes-challenging behavior of the children as camp life is nothing like living in an urban environment.
As education in Greece is only compulsory for children up to the age of 15 there are currently no plans to incorporate the older population (16–20) into a formal program. I AM YOU chose to rectify this. We have begun a mentoring program for the teenagers in both Ritsona and Oinofyta. This program is called CreaTeens.
The aim of CreaTeens is three-fold. Firstly, we have created an environment specifically for the teenagers. Together we have designed and organized a space for them to “hang-out” and have a level of privacy that is not possible in their shared family spaces. Secondly, there is a focus on mentoring the teenagers and encouraging them to express themselves through various arts and crafts project. This allows a sense of self and value of the self to develop which is vital for this age group as they can be at times overlooked. Finally, we have also enrolled them into a language class. The most popular being English – however we have a few students learning German and Swedish as these are where they hope to be relocated to. All age groups are tender and require support but in particular the teenagers need that little bit extra belief that they can still have the future they wish to build and this is a lot of what I AM YOU does. We stand next to them and cheer for their success, we commiserate their losses and we expect them to take responsibility for their actions. It is a hard balance to meet but the program and volunteers are engineered in such a way that it aims to demonstrate that they can fly when they are ready to.
I AM YOU’s investment in the future of the teenage population saw us bring in a volunteer educational researcher in November. The task of this volunteer was to find pathways of access to higher education. The young adult population was either in university or planning on applying to university prior to their departure from Syria. There was also great hope that by getting student visas they would be able to leave Greece that much sooner. Our researcher then set about finding out the legal and higher education options for students without legal status. Unfortunately having no legal status massively minimizes access to university education. Thankfully we are not the only ones who realized this and an online university called KIRON has been established in Europe. This university is specifically for refugee students and the first two years of learning occur online. We have thus far assisted 12 students in getting their application and three have been successful. We plan to support these students by providing the technology to continue their education and with the space for quiet and peaceful study. The slow Wi-Fi connection does not help but we hope in the New Year to be able to boost the Wi-Fi that is available so that the online classes can occur with ease.
The adult education classes have continued its focus on developing language skills. The afternoon classes of English, Swedish and German classes have continued and in the New Year we are planning on adding Arabic and English alphabet lessons to assist the residents who can speak English but not read and write it. We also have classes for females only and in 2017 we are hoping to develop an online up skilling curriculum for the adult population to prepare them for their next steps and future employment potential.
There is limited assistance in accessing services from the host community. For example refugees in Greece have the same rights of access and services within the Greek Health Care System as the Greeks. However, they do not speak Greek, are unsure how to navigate the process and have limited ways of getting to the hospital if they live in remote areas, as is the case of the refugee camp of Ritsona. I AM YOU have rectified this by securing funding from the Swedish NGO We do what we can in August 2016 for 3 months to put together a team to facilitate this support full time. The team is made up of a coordinator, two Greek-speaking drivers, two Arabic speaking translators and two cars. From August to December 2016 this service has provided access to hospitals for 300 patients. This has also included 25 registrations of new births, managing a Hepatitis A outbreak and ensuring all medical information has been properly captured and stored.
In 2017 the Lifelines project is projected to expand. This is because I AM YOU provide a unique service and the need is great. We are planning for an expansion to five new camps by December 2017.
I AM YOU in collaboration with other actors have also developed into areas that promote a sense of community for the residents of Ritsona.
Community Engagement Team
The I AM YOU field coordinator facilitated the development of a community engagement team. This team is run and managed by the experienced Community Engagement Officer from the International Federation of the Red Cross and is made up of a single member from every actor in the camp and 18 resident members. It is continuously looking to improve the communication between residents and all actors at Ritsona.
I AM YOU volunteers manage the library in Ritsona. The building of the library was a joint effort between Lighthouse and I AM YOU and the books are donations from all over the world. It is a great source of entertainment for the children and a lot of the adult population at camp.
Once a week in each camp we host a movie night for both the children and the adults. The movies are ideally in Arabic or Farsi. The movie nights are very popular and popcorn is provided to all.
In collaboration with Lighthouse, I AM YOU also run the male and female gym space. This was a request made by the residents themselves. The gym is gender segregated and runs three times a week for each group.
Over the next 12 months I AM YOU aims to achieve the following:
- Computer Lab at Ritsona Camp:
- Provide online learning opportunities for the 15+ age group
- Provide a space for the successful candidates on the KIROM program to have a space for learning
- Once again provide Arabic lessons for the primary school population
- Increase the number of volunteers with teaching experience
- Increase the structure of the Lifelines team at Ritsona to 24/7
Looking for "Progress Report: July 2016"? Click here