There is one large refugee camp in central Athens, Eleonas camp, described by one volunteer I spoke with as “the best camp in Greece.” The living units here are ready for all weather, equipped with both heating and air conditioning units. The location is very convenient, with easy access for residents to everything the capital city of Greece has to offer, including a popular science fair and Greenpeace picnic the weekend I visited. According to a volunteer, “the beauty of this camp is the community.” The programs are designed with the residents, and many of the residents help run or lead the activities. I was even told of a family that moved to Sweden, but after a trial period, decided to move back to the camp because they missed this “community.”
There are also many services provided to refugees and migrants in Athens; in the vicinity of Victoria Square, there are 20 such organizations with everything from dentistry and legal advice to nursery care, yoga, and the basics of food and clothing and a place to shower.
The Greek schools are open to all refugees, ages 6-15. Of course, that requires learning in Greek, which is very demanding on these young children. Sometimes algebra homework turns out to be organic chemistry … when all you recognize is that there are formulas involved, but you don’t understand anything else, it’s going to be a challenge to complete any homework! Many children give up. Others are bullied because they don’t understand what the other kids are saying, or they dress differently or look different. Some parents don’t send their kids to school because that would mean accepting the fact that they are going to be in Greece for awhile, but they still look at Greece as only a temporary stop in their journey.
Fortunately, as in Thessaloniki, there are hundreds of volunteers around and dozens of groups in Athens aiming to fill in some of those gaps. Language lessons abound: at the Khora community center, the largest such center I’ve seen, 27 language classes are offered every day. Some people take several languages: English, Greek, French, German, and even Arabic and Farsi are offered (many of the volunteers opt for the latter two); some work towards proficiency in English to improve future job prospects, some in German, looking forward to reunification with family there, and some only show up because it gives them a sense of structure to their days.
In addition to language lessons, two of the facilities I visited offer access to computers. A large volunteer operation at Eleonas Camp, Project Elea (which hosts 20-40 volunteers every day) has hopes to operate a center, perhaps at the location shown in the photograph at the top of this blog. This center would host computer lessons, exam preparation, certification courses, job search help, and online education. I had the opportunity to talk at length with a computer scientist who is volunteering at a computer lab in a center, and he told me he teaches primarily basic computer literacy (double-click versus single click…) but also some HTML and Office products. Online education is not very well-known around here; most people I have talked with have never heard of Khan academy, a site I take for granted after recommending it to my students in Pennsylvania for years. I am working on a list to send people I’ve met this month to help them find sources like Khan, including Coursera, edX, CoolMath … do you know of others I should include? Please send me a list if you have one!