We paused educational programmes in Greece at the New year, as Winterisation was causing immense disruption in the camps and very significant movements of populations. Since that point we have had discussions about returning to 3 locations, but in each case we have had to cancel our plans at the last minute, due to further disruption on the ground.
We were expecting to re-commence at a site in Greece next week, but the latest assessment of the situation in the camp shows that it just is not going to be feasible to run education and qualification programmes.
Teachers can cope with harsh conditions. We have taught in rain and sun. We have taught in freezing cold and sweltering heat. We can teach without electricity and without books. But the one thing educational programmes cannot cope with is massive disruption and chaotic mobility. Educational programmes are only possible when there is a relatively stable cohort of pupils. At the moment there is just so much mobility, or expected imminent mobility, that it is becoming very difficult to recommence a meaningful educational programme.
We could easily set up a clubs and activities style programme, which provide drop-in amusement and activities for children. Those style of programmes do not require regular or consistent groups of children and so they can work well with high mobility.
But our core purpose as a charity is not about amusement or entertainment of children. It is about education. There is a place for groups to provide child friendly activities, but we have always taken the line that it would be a misuse of trained teachers and an abuse of the generous donations which we receive, if we were to end up just providing another ‘youth club.’ We are happy to work with groups providing youth activities, and we are happy to add activities programmes to the end of an educational day. However, there has to be a core educational programme in place underneath the activities, otherwise we are not actually doing what we set out to do.
We are watching millions of Euros of aid being poured into Greece, to apparently provide education to refugee children. We have been seeing relatively little impact on the ground. We ourselves are experiencing practical circumstances which are making it difficult for us to see how we can provide education. We are becoming increasingly concerned about the risk of being drawn into financially wasteful and educationally ineffective provision.
With the information this week about the inadvisability of proceeding with the latest planned deployment, we have therefore reached the point where we are wondering whether it is wise to put redeployments to Greece on hold for a while. It is not a good use of resources, and it is not fair to volunteer teachers to have to keep cancelling projects at the last minute.
Over the last few months we have had a lot of contacts from camps and groups on the other side of the Mediterranean, asking for help with educational provision. We are increasingly providing educational advice and guidance, but we have not yet provided support on the ground. We have always intended to extend to those regions, as there is a growing body of evidence which shows that it is precisely the lack of infrastructure services such as ‘education’ which are encouraging refugee families to put their lives at risk crossing the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean. With the current situation in Greece, we are now pondering whether the time has come to switch focus and resources to those regions.
As a first step towards that outcome we are carrying out a series of site visits over the next few weeks, to confirm the viability and stability of setting up schooling for groups of pupils in several locations which we have been asked to consider. We haven’t made a final decision on any of the sites in Turkey, Lebanon or Kurdistan, but our preferred option is currently the opening of a school for displaced girls in Northern Kurdistan.
We initially considered this Kurdistan project as a school for 1000 displaced girls. It is a technically demanding project as the scale would make it one of the largest refugee schools in the world, and we would be aiming to deliver international qualifications on a par with the best that private schools in the region could offer. We haven’t yet been able to secure the funding necessary for a project of that scale. So our current thinking is to proceed in phases, (subject to further site visits to confirm viability).
We haven’t entirely discounted further work in Greece, but when we compare the millions of Euros being spent on refugees in Greece, and the negligible resources available for child refugees in Kurdistan, we are increasingly thinking that the time may have come to forge ahead on the road less travelled.