Whilst many schools in the UK have been on Half Term holiday this week, teaching has continued as normal in Greece. On a positive note we were pleased to be able to move into a dedicated space this week. The teaching space has been put up by another group in the camp. It is just a basic structure consisting of scaffolding and tarpaulin, covering about 60 square metres and accommodating about 50 pupils at a time. The first version of the shelter collapsed in torrential rain, when the weight of the rain was too much for the roof. So there is now a corrugated roof which seems to be bearing up well.
We also now have some basic classroom furniture in place so that all the children can sit on a chair and work at a desk. There was a surprising amount of complexity in achieving this outcome as there were opinions in the camp that chairs and tables were not needed in a school. We argued strongly against such a viewpoint. Children should be learning how to work in school-like surroundings so that they are better prepared for transition to mainstream schools. When we are crouching on the ground it is very hard to achieve an appropriate posture and hand control of pens and pencils. Once we have tables available, the quality of the work which the children can do is so much greater because they can lean on properly flat and firm surfaces.
Our next big emerging problem is heating. It is steadily getting cooler in Greece and the weather is notably worsening. We are not yet at the point where it is too cold to teach in an unheated building, but it is getting steadily closer and closer to that point. It is not clear at the moment what the plan is for heating, especially as we only have tarpaulin walls. Anything with a flame is forbidden because of the risk of fire. Generators are noisy and have also not been allowed in the camp previously.
Further complications arise because we understand that there is now a plan to close the entire camp in December. The UNHCR have recognised that the camp is exposed on the side of a hill and so the conditions will become increasingly unacceptable once the snow and winter weather descends. We have looked with interest at attempts to clear and close a neighbouring camp.
In that neighbouring camp the residents have been sent into houses in mountain villages. But the wider conditions in the mountains were so challenging that some of the refugees have moved themselves back down from the houses into the tents in the camp. We have no reason to think that that will happen in our own camp, but it does make us mindful of the fact that even where there are plans in place, there are often no certainties about outcomes.
Within the UK we have continued to meet potential volunteers, to liaise with groups planning longer term provision for UASCs (Unaccompanied asylum seeking children) and to carry out fund raising activities. We still receive no funding other than donation income, so putting time into fundraising is absolutely essential if we are to be able to continue teaching children in the camps.