We continue working in the Ioannina region but the camp we are working with is about to be evacuated for the winter. It is perched on a hill side and it is already taking a beating in the heavy Autumn storms. Everyone has now realised that it isn’t going to make it through the Winter. So there is now a concerted effort to move people out of the camp and into the empty and abandoned hotels in the region.
As early as next week, half the camp will move into one abandoned hotel, and the rest of the camp will be moved ‘as quickly as possible’ thereafter (although no one is exactly sure when that will be). This creates a dilemma for us. We had hoped to be withdrawing from the camp soon and handing over education to the Greek education system. But no one has any idea when the local schools will get involved.
We hear that attempts to get the children into Greek schools in various places are encountering a range of practical difficulties. In one place, a school took on extra teachers for the refugee children programme, but half those teachers have resigned and left within a month. We understand that they are citing issues about pay and conditions as apparently the teachers of the refugee children in the Greek schools are not necessarily always being treated equivalently to other teachers. Other schools report that they still do not have the staff appointed and so cannot begin taking the refugee children. In another town the school is ready to take the children, the children are ready to go from the camp, but no one has been able to get a bus contract in place to actually get the children to the school. So nothing happens and it is not who should be arranging the bus contract, so there is no idea when matters will move forward. With these kinds of background factors affecting the refugee children’s access to Greek schools, we have no idea what or when anything will happen for the children in this camp.
So we have a dilemma. Do we split resources and start teaching half the children at the hotel, whilst still teaching the other half of the children in the camp? Conditions in the camp are not ideal, but we do at least now have a (relatively) dry shelter and some tables and chairs to work at. We were just reviewing progress this week and we can see that attendance is around 95% and that each of the children have made demonstrable gains in the core subjects over the last month.
Thinking about the issues confronting the children moved to hotels, we were reflecting on another camp in the region which has just been emptied down to its last 20 residents. Ironically the very week those last people leave, is exactly the week that 100 portable houses have finally turned up, for the residents no longer live there. The families and children have now been put into rented accommodation in town. The conditions are definitely much better than the camp, but the children are now wandering around the town during the day. Already we are seeing fights with packs of stray dogs and near miss road accidents in the streets. The children really need to be in school. Despite the International publicity a month ago about the refugee children in Greece now going to schools, no one on the ground know how or when that is going to happen for the children in this region.
We are increasingly trying to talk to people at the local level about the school situation. Some friendly Greek lawyers are trying to make personal contacts for us locally in the Greek schools. We can’t move anything forward unofficially, in what is a very bureaucratic situation. But we hope that if we can at least get the local Greek teachers and the refugee children knowing each other, then perhaps the needs of the children will be a more visible issue in the official educational meetings which do take place.
On a more general note we have been seeing an increase in communications to us recently about finances and the problems which some charities have got into in Calais. It has been reported in the press that there are issues with embezzlement of funding and questions about how charities have used finances in France. Some aid workers have given money directly to refugees. Others have allowed refugee families in one part of the world to put money into charity bank accounts, or into personal aid worker accounts in order to help specific refugees in the camps in France. In doing this potential issues of money laundering and financing terrorism have been raised.
We take a very simple line with questions of finances and funding. As an organisation we do not give any money to any individuals. All funding and fund raising is to fund the delivery of education to children. Nor do any volunteer teachers ever get involved personally with finances on behalf of individual refugees. This is because we insist on maintaining a professional relationship, not a personal relationship with the parents and children that we work with. Teachers do not sit around camp fires late into the evening socialising, as some other aid organisations do. We deliver professional services in a professional way which maintains professional boundaries and standards.