Greek Surprises

Four of our teachers have been out to visit Greece this week. We calculated the costs of air fares and car rentals in peak holiday period and quickly saw that the most economical way to do the journey was driving from the UK. We have also been thinking about logistics and how we could possibly get heavy paper materials out to Greece, if we were to deploy a teaching team to Greece. So driving down ourselves this week gave us an opportunity to look at the roads and the journey.

We planned a fast journey as we want the bulk of our time to be spent in Greece itself. On the first day we covered 900 miles, reaching Linz in Austria. Putting our tents up in the dark wasn’t a great end to the day, but it was good to know that we had done half the journey in one day. From that point the journey became more difficult with delays at border crossings and challenging roads. We covered another 500 miles on day 2 and finished the last 400 miles on day 3. We have found that a significant amount of information and internet ‘folk lore’ about the journey is inaccurate and so it was very useful to have done the journey for ourselves. We are even thinking of exploring a different return route to see if we can find better roads and journey times between Austria and Greece.

In Greece itself we end this week with two visits to camps. The first camp we visited was Elpida which is a very impressive model of what can be done in order to provide humane, decent facilities for people. The Elpida project characterises itself as an attempt to improve the effectiveness of Aid by approaching it in a ‘private business’ way. This is intended to be a contrast to the normal NGO way of doing things, which they believe is inefficient and less effective. It’s a very interesting model with some very encouraging initial indications.

Our second camp visit was to a situation which is the absolute opposite. We went to a group of about 500 people living in an old derelict agricultural college and overflowing into a field of tents. People spoke of food shortages and even difficulties in getting clean water. We saw open fires where people were trying to find and cook their own food. There were heaps of discarded plastic bottles which were being recycled, filled with water and left in the sun to try and heat enough water for washing purposes. In the tents there were not enough blankets, so some people were sleeping on bits of old cardboard. But even that had run out in some tents, leaving just a very rough gravel as a sleeping surface.

The camp contained many Yazidi who had fled very serious and direct attacks by DAESH (or ISIS). Due to the fact that the Yazidi are not Muslim DAESH have targeted them with particular viciousness. The people in the camp told us stories of massacres, murders, tortures and enslavement. All the people seemed to have their own horrific stories of what they had been through.

One of the most remarkable people who we met was a 116 year old refugee woman. Bearing in mind that the world’s oldest person is currently 116 years old Emma Morano in Italy, realisation dawned on us that this woman could actually be the oldest person in the world. She was born in the reign of queen Victoria and could talk about life during the first world war. When her village had been attacked DAESH made it clear that they planned to exterminate the whole population. So she had been carried 1500 miles by her family, much of it on their backs. She had now reached the safety and salvation which consisted of lying on a dirty floor in a squalid refugee camp.

When we visited the children we found an equally diverse set of needs. One little two year old was lying motionless on a blanket. He has a hole in his heart. The family said that they can’t find medicine and are even struggling to obtain food which the baby can actually digest. They don’t expect the child to last much longer. Other babies were lying in blankets resting across ropes strung between bits of metal. One child literally ran into us. When we asked who he was we were told that he was a three year old who had been found on a mountain next to the dead body of his mother. The group had just picked him up and taken him with them as they fled.

In terms of education we found about 50 of the refugee children ranging from 3 to 14 being organised into singing and play activities by a team of half a dozen 14-16 year old refugee girls. The children were gathered under a couple of trees so that they at least had some shade from the sun. The older girls were just getting on and organising the activities for the younger children and everything was running remarkably smoothly.

We spoke to the older children about their education. They spoke of hopes for the future but they did so with a resigned acceptance that their own education was now lost to them and the best they could do at this point was try and help the younger children.

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