“Step2School”: The first school bell rang for dozens of refugee children
Smiling faces, children’s voices, drawings and on the wall a cardboard with the word “diversity” written on it. This is what one faces visiting a school at the center of Athens, where Step2School, METAdrasi’s educational activity for refugee and migrant children, takes place.
The activity is implemented with the support of European Commission’s Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations Department (ECHO) and in cooperation with the “Open Schools” of the Municipality of Athens, which operates with Stavros Niarchos Foundation as exclusive donor and with the coordination of Athens partnership.
Step2School is a non-formal educational programme, addressed to minors aged 6 to 18, who live in temporary accommodation facilities, shelters for unaccompanied minors and apartments, but it also welcomes all the children that live in the neighborhood.
Athens News Agency – Macedonian Press Agency (ANA-MPA) visited the school where the classes take place and talked with students and teachers.
Mohamed is a 14-year-old boy from Afghanistan. He lives in Greece with his siblings while his parents remain in Afghanistan. “When I grow up, I want to become a doctor. I want to help and cure people”, he says to ANA-MPA. He likes all the classes he takes and when he returns home he immediately concentrates on his homework. 16-year-old Habiba from Tunisia is in Greece with her family and when she grows up she wants to become a psychologist or a lawyer.
Mahmut, Ishra and Leila, in their turn, attend the class, do their exercises, make drawings and they all have a common purpose: to gain knowledge. To learn Greek, English, mathematics and to manage to gradually adjust to the new conditions away from their home country. They timidly answer their teacher’s questions and they hope to hear a “well done”. When the school bell rings for the break, they all go out to the schoolyard, they run and they play together and they do not care about each one’s origin or language.
“Our days here are very different and very much the same. Children have the same need to learn, the same need to play and the same need for a stable environment. But they are different, in the sense that we are dealing with children that might not have been to school before, or might not have stayed in the same area, in the same country for a long period of time. These are children who have experienced displacement, war, starvation”, notes to ANA-MPA, Dimitra Thoma, an educator who participates to the programme from the very first day. And she adds: “If you observe during the break, you will see children of different nationalities who have the same need to play with the ball and to talk with each other and to find their own means of communication. So, an ordinary school day is the same as the day of formal education teacher, but at the same time, so much different”.
The main aim of the project is to offer remedial education to the children, so that they can integrate faster and easier into school. “From now onwards and from the start of the school year, we try to cover their gaps, so that they will be able to perform well in class and we help them wherever needed”, notes Ms Thoma. Referring to the difficulties they face, she points out: “The language is very important and it is essential for the children to know if they are going to stay here. When children know that they will stay in Greece, then, as I have noticed, they make a greater effort to learn the Greek language. The challenge is to the teach the children the social rules, not only the school rules but the rules in communicating among them as well. In the beginning, there is always tension but when you give them space and time they adjust. We try to create a framework of equality and to give them the message that we are all equal regardless of origin, age, sex. Children of different nationalities mingle all together and they help each other, even during the educational process, a fact that brings us great joy”.
Nikoletta Dimitrouka, METAdrasi’s manager for the educational activities in Athens, notes: “The main problem is the heterogeneity of the classmates, concerning both origin and language needs, but with the right class management and the use of appropriate tools you can reach the desired result. Naturally, a difficulty that is being gradually resolved, as the time passes, is the adjustment of the children to the school environment”.
What have children and teachers gained from this activity?
“Socialisation, interaction with other children, opportunity to participate in activities, outside the camp or the accommodation facility is the greatest achievement; this is where integration and education start from”, notes Ms Dimitrouka. And she adds: “This is a mosaic of nationalities. Interacting with children from all these countries is a wonderful feeling. So is seeing the recognition of the efforts we all make to support them. The children do not necessarily say something, but they try to show us their gratitude by their performance, their progress and their commitment in following a daily routine of going to school in the morning and then coming for supplementary teaching”.
On her part, Ms Thoma adds: “All the teachers of the programme we have become different persons now, because we have experienced completely distinct situations, we have received unmeasurable love from the children and we have bonded as a team, so I think that we are better educators, but mainly I believe that we have become better human beings, we see the world with a broader mind”.
The project’s title shows that a “step to school”, is also a step towards a society with open schools and at the same time, an open society that will embrace diversity…