Anya, Victoria, Georgia and 12 other women of refugee and migrant origin are trained as “Neighborhood Nannies” through a new education and training programme implemented by METAdrasi with the support of UNHCR, aiming to facilitate their access to the labour market.
Read the article of the journalist Maria Kouzinopoulou published by Athens – Macedonian News Agency, translated into English, below.
Refugee and migrant women are trained as “neighborhood nannies”
Anya left her homeland, Ukraine, at the age of 25 to find a better future in Greece. Although she had studied computer science in her homeland, she did not manage to find a job in her field of study in Greece and worked in catering and housekeeping. Today, after 26 years in Greece and with the experience of raising her 15-year-old son, she decided to take nursery classes and work as a professional with children, “who are our future”, as she says.
She is trying to make her dream come true through a training programme for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the field care of infants and young children, which is implemented by the non-governmental organization METAdrasi with the support of the UNHCR.
Anya describes to Athens – Macedonian News Agency (AMNA) how when she came to Greece, she felt “as if I was thrown into the sea and told, swim if you want to”. She remembers receiving no help and not knowing where to turn to. “The state did not care to ensure a structured integration to the labour market”. Today she feels that things are much easier for the integration of migrants, “there are facilities that help. Women are also raising their voice and gaining rights”.
Following the war outbreak in her homeland, as she herself was emotionally charged, she decided to contribute voluntarily to the relief of her Ukrainian compatriots who arrived as refugees. This is how she got in touch with METAdrasi and shortly after she found out through the organization about this training programme in infant and child care.
The programme provides four months of training to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants aged 18 years and over. The first pilot phase, which is already underway, involves 15 participants, all women, aged 22-67 years, from eleven different countries. Initially 67 applications were submitted, while the final selection was made according to the conditions set (residence and work permit, knowledge of the Greek language and high school diploma), but also after an interview. Though experience in childcare was not a prerequisite, it was one of the criteria considered in the final selection. “There were several women who had no previous professional experience, but as mothers themselves they knew how to take care of children, while other women had academic studies in a relevant field”, programme manager at METAdrasi, Eleni Metsa, explained to AMNA.
Anya is “overjoyed” to have found this project. “I always had a soft spot for children, I tried in my youth to work for families with children, but I couldn’t handle them. Now having the experience of raising my own child I have settled into this subject. Even questions I had while raising my own child, I now get to solve them here. Maybe I have reached my destination”, she says. She adds that, “Children are the future and it is important to understand their real needs and help them become whole persons who will function in the most beneficial way for themselves and for the society. This is how society will change and humanity will evolve”.
Victoria, also from Ukraine, who has been living in Greece for the past four years, is attending the same programme. She studied foreign languages and worked as an English and German teacher in her homeland. When she first came to Greece, she describes, she was taking care of a 2.5-year-old boy and loved the job of looking after young children. So, she decided to train in this field. “Every day a little child shows you something beautiful, something new and at the same time they learn something new from you, they absorb knowledge from the world they live in”, she says adding that: “Children are our future and we must look after them and educate them from the day they are born”.
The beneficiaries of the programme come from Afghanistan, Iran, Moldova, Ukraine, Serbia, Albania, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Russia and Georgia. Anya notes that “we bonded very quickly and became a team. In class we become children again and children know no borders, their souls do not know discrimination. We learn what a human being is like without the boundaries and stereotypes with which we are burdened by each country or religion. We respect each other and this came to us naturally”.
Georgia from Serbia describes the lessons: “In our classroom discussions, how we were as children is something that connects us and makes us become children again. Even women with children or even grandchildren become children again and that is a very nice feeling. We have so much in common despite the fact that we grew up in different cultures.” She came to Greece as a student at the Psychology Department of Panteion University and as she was working at the same time taking care of young children in a family, she wanted to get the theoretical background through this programme. Her dream is to specialize in child psychology.
The courses take place in a private Institute (IEK) in the centre of Athens in a colourful classroom. Women are taught creative activities, such as puppetry, music and movement education, visual arts and theatre, psychology and baby care. Among other things, they attempt to make their own fairy tales or come up with funny dialogues for comic strips, are invited to perform songs of their homeland, and play puppet theatre.
“I tried to adapt the course to the needs, linguistic and emotional, of these women. Having worked as a kindergarten teacher in intercultural kindergartens, what I was interested in in this class was to create a bond in this group, as we do with preschool children, so that the participants would feel intimate and safe,” kindergarten teacher and head of the School of Pedagogy of the private institute, Ms Verykokkou, explains to AMNA. She also says that in the lessons “we use elements from the different cultures of the participants, such as fairy tales, myths and traditional songs” and adds that “the lessons are adapted to their language level so that they can understand better.”
The programme also includes Greek language courses at METAdrasi’s offices in order for the participants to improve the level of the language and obtain certification and support for the collection of the required documents and medical certificates. In addition, METAdrasi organizes for the participants first aid, protection from sexual exploitation and child protection seminars for unaccompanied minors.
The aim of the training programme in the field of childcare and care of toddlers is to facilitate the access of the refugee and migrant population to the labour market. In this context, UNHCR will also implement, in cooperation with METAdrasi, a training programme for personal assistants for people with disabilities. “These are two areas that are in high demand and of interest to refugees themselves, so we thought it would be useful for everyone to support a small number of refugees and migrants, on a pilot basis, to be trained in these fields,” explains Petros Mastakas, Associate Protection Officer with UNHCR Greece.
Initially, the aim was for the beneficiaries of both programmes to be included in the respective rosters of the Ministry of Labour “Neighbourhood nannies” and “Personal assistants for people with disabilities”. However, for the childcare programme this is not feasible due to the increased educational requirements set out in the relevant inter-ministerial decision. Petros Mastakas points out that “we knew in advance that the way the conditions for inclusion in the rosters of the Ministry of Labour were regulated, we would have many bureaucratic issues and we had taken these into account. But the basic purpose of getting refugees to work has not ceased to apply and even if they do not succeed in registering in the rosters of the Ministry of Labour, they will be able to work in the labour market where there is a huge demand”. Eleni Metsa from METAdrasi, adds that the Integration Department of the organization will, after the completion of the child care project, link the beneficiaries with institutions, companies and organizations looking for staff to take care of children.
In addition, UNHCR and METadrasi are preparing another training programme for cultural mediators, in order for the beneficiaries to obtain, through the required 120 hours of training, a professional license.
METAdrasi’s president, Lora Pappa, explains to AMNA that “METAdrasi had spotted as early as 2017, that there is a need for employees and with our own resources and volunteers we tried to connect employers with refugees.” She described the huge demand for workers in certain sectors, such as tourism, noting that recently employers “came even by plane to our offices in order to interview and hire staff.”
According to data provided by Lora Pappa, 199 refugees and migrants found jobs through METAdrasi in 2022, while the corresponding number in 2021 was 40. “This increase shows the huge need for human resources,” she comments. The organisation’s next goal is to organise seminars for company employees “to inform them and raise awareness on the different cultures of other employees, which was a request from the employers themselves”, concludes the president of METAdrasi.