Greece Visit

This was a relatively quiet week in Grande Synthe, apart from a visit to the camp school by the local mayor and 40 MEPs from the European Parliament. With temperatures rising many of the children are spending most of the afternoons around the local lake, so our busiest times have shifted back to the mornings.

Following up on earlier invitations we sent a team to visit 10 refugee camps in Greece, where currently there are almost 50,000 refugees located. We have had several invitations to work with refugee children in Greece but the sheer number of camps and the complexities of the circumstances obtaining in the different camps meant that we needed to visit and look at the conditions and feasibilities of the various locations before proceeding any further with discussions to open an educational centre.

We visited camps in the Thessaloniki area and a number of camps on the islands. We remarked upon how much more organised and orderly things seemed in the Greek camps. Although circumstances are far from ideal, especially with the temperatures soaring in Greece, there were a considerably number of very professional individuals and organisations working hard on the ground.

We were particularly impressed to see proper mainstream electricity available in significant areas of many of the camps. In Dunkirk the only electricity that teachers can access is still the trickle of power from a solar panel on the roof of the school. It generates enough current to power some lights and, when the sun is shining, a single computer or mobile phone charger.

The overall educational situation in the Greek camps is currently very limited. There are up to about 10,000 school age children spread across the camps. There are many activities programmes for children, but relatively few scholastic programmes imparting maths, science and other core subjects. The Greek government is hoping to engage state schools in working with the children in the camps, but as it is now the summer holidays there was considerable uncertainty about when, or if, anything would be in place for the Autumn term.

As we were given a tour of one camp, a rumour went out that we were teachers. By the end of our tour of the camp we had about 20 teenagers gather around us asking if we could get them into a school, or open a school for them; and if so, could we take their names down now, so that they would definitely have a place. It was a heart rending scene of young people conscious that their future lives and prospects are trickling away from them, just desperate for educational help and support as quickly as possible.

We are in communications with staff in the Greek Ministry of Education and we continue to reflect on the feasibility and desirability of working with specific camps. But we are also conscious that we need to do some significant fund raising ourselves. We estimate that it will cost about £120,000 to deploy a team of teachers for a year. We will also need some help from other organisations in terms of setting up an appropriate teaching space for the refugee children and help in getting educational materials out to Greece. Overall the scale of the challenges in Greece are significantly greater than they are in Dunkirk, so we are conscious that if we deploy to Greece we will need to do things very differently. We will potentially have to teach children in larger groups and in shifts, so that we can re-engage more children back into education more quickly.

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