Being, for several years now, a member of METAdrasi’s team in Athens, I had the chance to meet many of my Lesvos colleagues through telephone, e-mail, or in person, in meetings, work groups etc. A brief mission in Lesvos gave me the opportunity to experience how they work in the field.
In Lesvos the situation is hard, with violent incidents and conflicts often taking place.
First visit: Kara Tepe. Here, METAdrasi provides a team of trained interpreters since the Center started to operate. Also, since January 2018, METAdrasi carries out educational activities for hundreds of children aged 6-18, through a team of 13 inspired and tireless teachers and field coordinators. The classrooms are set in a row of containers where the children learn Greek, Mathematics and English. There is also an indoors and an outdoors space for creative activities and playing. The place is full of children playing and doing arts and crafts.
I enter the classrooms discreetly. The children are enthusiastically participating, competing over who will raise their hand first. At the same time, just like any child, they are always up to some mischief. I admire the teachers’ patience. In mathematics all the children are aces. They do the calculations in Greek. In English, they learn, among other things, that the words “time” and “money” do not have a plural form. “Time and money cannot be measured…” What a different dimension this expression takes in a refugee camp…
We meet Omid, a widely travelled Iranian who ended up trapped in Greece. Our colleagues call him Homer. Always smiling, he talks with enthusiasm about his participation in METAdrasi’s educational actions. Homer takes us on a tour around the containers/residences where he informs the students’ parents that they are invited to a meeting, this afternoon, regarding their children’s progress. The sun is burning. I see so many pregnant women and babies…
The people we meet are smiling and very polite. They are glad that there is someone to inform them in their own language. They are making great efforts to give a sense of normality in their lives and to keep their hope alive.
In the afternoon, at the meeting with the parents, the members of METAdrasi’s team inform them that mother tongue classes will soon be added to our educational program. They ask them to make sure that their children come regularly and on time for class every morning and they encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas. “Through cooperation, we become better and we achieve the best for the children”, tells them Katerina, the Project Manager. Arabic and Farsi interpreters ensure that everyone understands. Subsequently, each parent is individualy informed about their children’s progress. Finally, METAdrasi’s team members exchange views regarding educational and other matters that concern them.
Later on, we go to METAdrasi’s educational center in Mytilene, that serves unaccompanied minors from Moria refugee camp. We find them in the yard, playing the goblet drums, singing and dancing, in the framework of a music class. The international language of music has brought down the barriers between them. They discover rhythms they have in common and other, new ones. After the end of the class, they board the bus that will take them back to Moria. “The children appreciate the respect you show them and respond accordingly”, tells us Giorgos, the music teacher, an anthropologist from Cyprus. I realise how important it is for these children, who live in the hotspot of Moria, to be here, even for a few hours a day, outside the refugee camp, in the environment of a school.
The Center’s teachers and the field coordinators discuss about the best way to welcome and support a new student expected to start the following day, a particularly vulnerable case. Ending the discussion, Giorgos asks for more goblet drums for his class. A solution will be found for this issue, as for many more, with the contribution of people who support our work…
Nearby, METAdrasi operates the activities “Legal Assistance” for people entitled to international protection and “Certification of Victims of Torture”. The beneficiaries are so many, that our lawyers and experts are making huge efforts daily, in order to support as many as they can.
The next morning, before 8 o’clock, I am in Moria, “the most overcrowded place in the world”, as mentioned in the NY Times., as mentioned in the NY Times. Our team is already in place. 16 interpreters in 4 languages and three local coordinators cover the interpretation needs of the Asylum Service, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “Vostanio” hospital and other entities. Further emergency needs are covered via interpreters’ missions or by teleconference, through which METAdrasi’s team of 350 interpreters in 43 languages and dialects is available. Unfortunately, interpretation in the Reception and Identification procedure has been suspended since 1/3/2018, due to lack of funding. We hope that soon we will be able to cover this need again.
Early in the morning everything is calm. The only refugees and migrants I can see are those who just arrived by boat this dawn. They are waiting to go through the information and identification procedures. Our interpreter in Arabic helps the UNHCR representative to inform them. A little later, another boat arrives. More worn-down people….
As the morning advances, the 7,000 people residing the camp make their appearance. We leave by car to drop an interpreter at Kara Tepe and pick another one up from Pagani, where Asylum Service and EASO interviews take place. “Flexibility is indispensable when dealing with ever-changing needs”, explains to me Efi, a local coordinator of our interpreters’ team, while driving.
Back in Moria I meet Kyriakos, one of the 4 members of METAdrasi’s Guardianship Network for Unaccompanied Minors in Lesvos. Kyriakos is a local who speaks some Arabic he learned from the refugees, in order to come closer to the children, communicating in their mother tongue. He shows me around the unaccompanied minors’ space, where up to 10 boys share a container/dormitory. Later, we walk behind barbed wire through the “safe zone”. Faces of minors appear from all around us, as they come to talk to him. As every day, Kyriakos has a series of tasks to carry out in order to support the unaccompanied children.
A bit later, two more colleagues arrive, in order to pick up an unaccompanied teenage girl of African origin, with the mission to accompany her to Kavala, to a proper accommodation facility. She is a smiling girl, with almost no baggage, who is ceaselessly saying goodbye to people around. We travelled together by plane to Athens.
I left Lesvos full of unforgetable images of will power and hope from the thousands of refugees and migrants on the island. I wish they soon find regularity in their lives. At the same time, I keep in my heart this exceptionally bonded and dynamic team of 42 colleagues, with their impressive ability to deal instantly with any need or problem that comes up, always keeping their high moral and positive thinking. See you soon!
Mary-Laura Capodistria, Communication Manager in METAdrasi