We are finishing this year with a Christmas holiday. Last year we maintained programmes throughout the holiday in France. It was easier to do so there, as several teachers volunteered to do a few days each over the Christmas holiday period.
It isn’t possible to do this in Greece, or at least it isn’t affordably possible. Out of peak travel time it is possible to get a flight from Stansted to Thessaloniki for about £30. During the peak time of school holidays the prices rise very considerably, to the point where it is just not feasible to be moving teachers around.
A further complication in Greece is the Winterisation programme which is going ahead. Many of the charities on the ground are having an influx of volunteers during the holiday and so it is becoming a peak period for insulating buildings and accelerating the physical work of winterisation.
In other camps we have seen several instances of population moves which have effectively closed support work. In the saddest cases, people have been moved out of camps into local towns. But then have moved themselves back to the camps because they report that sleeping in a tent on rubble was better than the accommodation which they were put into in the town. A group of teenagers said goodbye to us in one camp. We closed the teaching operation. We then heard later that the group had reappeared in the camp and now had no support, because Aid workers had had no idea that they would be coming back.
With facilities closed for insulation, and considerable numbers of individual refugees being moved, it has become clear that a break over the Christmas holidays would be a sound idea. In January we will re-assess facilities and individuals and re-focus if necessary.
Over the holiday period we have a lot of meetings taking place in England and we’re looking forward to visit Bristol, Manchester, London and Birmingham over the Christmas period. We were particularly touched by a group of Sixth Formers who asked if we could visit their school and talk to them during the Christmas school holidays. We pointed out that their school will be closed over the holidays so that staff can have a rest. But we will be happy to consider visiting and talking to them later in the year.
We were also very fortunate this week to have the opportunity to meet Gulwali Passerlay. He has written very movingly about his experiences as a refugee. He is interested in our work and we are interested in his perspectives, so we hope that this week's meeting will be the beginning of many further conversations.
A key focus remains fundraising, especially as we continue to receive emails from Middle Eastern countries asking if we can help. If we can find the resources then we would definitely like to be able to do more outreach to further refugee camps. In the Middle East itself there are literally hundreds of thousands of children stuck in camps with very little access to education. Every day that passes, means that the older children lose their chance for ever of getting a school education.
As well as providing direct teaching to children, we have also been increasingly giving advice and guidance to other groups who are providing educational activities in the field. What we are finding is that as the children get older, the teaching required gets more specialist. Even when groups on the ground have experienced teachers working with them, there is still a degree of educational coordination needed, or a degree of what used to be called ‘educational management.’
School leaders know all too well that unless efforts are coordinated on the ground, it is very difficult to achieve the impact which we know that the best schools have. In those schools the sum of the overall teaching starts to exceed the individual efforts of constituent teachers. In the worst schools, proper coordination is lacking. In those schools, the overall impact of a school’s teachers can end up being less than the sum of its parts.
As we have been very fortunate to have a considerable number of school leaders working with us, we have therefore been able to happily provide advice and support to other groups working to provide education to refugee children in the field.
Whether school leaders work directly with our teams of teachers, or whether they offer advice and guidance to other teams, we insist that they must still be teachers on the ground. Once school leaders cease to teach, they can rapidly lose touch with the front line experiences which are a key part of the decision making processes.
Furthermore, we don’t have offices and so we have no where to put school leaders who are too busy to teach. Direct teaching is our priority and we insist that an essential aspect of leadership is modelling the standards expected within the organisation. In that context it is absolutely inconceivable for a school leader to not have enough time to actually teach the children.
To everyone who has made this year educating displaced children in refugee camps, thank you. Have a peaceful christmas holiday.