Sep 30, 2021

AMBITIOUS TERM at the ATHENS HUB!

Students taking the Exam
Students taking the Exam

DEAR FRIENDS!

Looking at my last report reminds me never to say never again! Corona is still around, and we have to do our best to protect the most vulnerable in our societies!

The beginning of September marks the return to education worldwide, and our HUB in Athens is no different! Although this is a stranger year, without students physically in the HUB, we have managed to continue with online classes, and our teachers have been working hard at creating the same back-to-school spirit through zoom. We are almost used to the new normal of speaking through masks and elbowing colleagues. Despite the lockdown, we distribute lesson packs and homework from the HUB and pens and notebooks for our students. We have also welcomed new volunteers; Noora, Caitlin, and Euan, who you may have seen at the front desk or helping us out in the kitchen. And a warm welcome to our new Greek teacher, Lambrini, and to Maria, who will be our coordination and administrative support, and much more. It is great to see so many familiar and new faces for a new term and increase our capacity to develop new projects. We are now preparing a soft opening of in-class attendance with strict social distancing rules and mandatory vaccination for all or regular rapid tests. All our team is already fully vaccinated, but we nevertheless self-test twice a week to add another layer of safety. As announced, we have created an ambitious training program for this term! At the beginning of September, we restarted and increased the capacity of our intense Greek and English language program, adding more experienced teachers and volunteers to our team. In addition, we offer financial literacy/life skill workshops, a variety of computer courses, including ECDL certificates and Basic Coding training! Also, we are developing new projects to increase the employability of our students by offering information workshops for career pathways as interpreters and home caregivers. Some facts and numbers for the last months of our work at the Athens HUB: Despite being locked down between February and July, our teaching staff taught 1093 online classes across all levels! In addition, we just reopened registrations for our language program, adding more courses in both and Greek languages to accommodate students from waiting lists and recruit new ones. As a result, we aim to accommodate190 students in total (max ten students per class is the Corona capacity) in the following weeks for language courses. In addition, we are also recruiting for our ECDL computer evening classes and our Pilot in Basic Coding. Also, we increased the number of meals to 120 per week as part of our ECHOSTEPS UP project to support the homeless on the streets of Athens. Thank you to the cooking team for your hard work and creativity to provide nutritious and delicious meals.

Highlight!

We want to say a huge congratulations to all our 26 students who sat ESB English Language Exams in June. Every student passed, and we saw some wonderful results with 11 Merits and 6 Distinctions - a testament to their hard work and dedication.

Learning online definitely has its challenges, but we managed to make it work and ended up having a lot of fun along the way! We prepared throughout February - June with Zoom classes three times per week, plenty of homework, and regular practice exams.

And it certainly paid off! Well done, everyone!

Also, a huge well done to our teachers! They have pulled together in this challenging situation and have done an incredible job!

 We thank all our supporters who make all this possible!

Gabi, Catharina, Gabriella and the ECHO-Team

Their teacher Helena
Their teacher Helena
Sep 1, 2021

"You say, goodbye and I say, Hello"

Clothes Distribution
Clothes Distribution

Since our last report in May, the number of asylum seekers in the Leros Hotspot Camp has further diminished. On the one hand, no new refugees made it across the heavily guarded Greek sea border; on the other hand, all asylum applicants with a positive asylum decision were gradually evacuated to the mainland. The few families remaining on Leros to date all have a negative asylum decision and are now stuck in legal limbo. Greece does not accept them as refugees, considering Turkey to be a safe country for them, and Turkey does not accept any returns from Greece. Understandingly, none of these individuals was too keen to join our HUB programs – the lack of perspective leaves them too desperate to even think about joining a recreational activity or studying a new language that they might never need. Also, none of the camp residents were yet given the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which gives the authorities the right to keep them confined and one needs a very good reason to be able to leave the camp premises.

For our small volunteer team there was little to do except of marking a presence on the island in order to reassure these families that they are not completely forgotten. The past months were therefore dedicated to the distribution of non-food and hygiene items that were purchased with the support of some generous donors and grants we had recently received: Like in the previous year, we conducted a big summer clothes distribution in our HUB garden and not in our so-called ‘Boutique’ in order to stick to COVID regulations. With the support of the CARE UK Charity - RENEW, we were able to purchase 18 baby strollers that were given to families with small children; also, we continued to regularly distribute our COVID-Kits, consisting of a supply of masks, hand-sanitizer and soap, to keep everybody safe. Fortunately, no camp resident was infected with COVID so far, despite lots of international tourists and a significant number of COVID cases on the island. The Leros hospital was supplied with another load of COVID rapid tests and necessary vaccines for newborn babies in the camp. In addition, each pregnant woman received a Baby-Kit containing clothes for the newborn, diapers, baby wipes, and whatever needed for post-partum hygiene. COVID-tests, vaccines, baby-kits were bought with the generous donation of the German Order of St. George and the Malteser Hilfsdienst. Two volunteers from the Austrian charity ‘Doro Blancke’ visited us on Leros and bought urgently needed mosquito repellant and sunscreen for all camp residents. And last but not least, the TUI Care Foundations supplied all residents with sun caps, sandals and hand-sanitizer.

Eventually, we decided that under these circumstances it no longer made sense to maintain our infrastructure and invite new volunteers to the island. With our ATHENS HUB in place and a lot of unmet needs in the capital, it seemed more logical to shift our focus and enforce our activities and integration programs there. The plan was to just keep our storage and run necessary distributions with the help of a mobile team and our local volunteers. - By the end of July, we were ready to pack up and – after almost six years – say goodbye to Leros, but then two things happened: The situation in Afghanistan escalated and we saw thousands of people trying to escape the country. Despite the deterring rhetoric of Greek politicians assuring the world and themselves, that they were not going to accept any more refugees, we decided to wait and see how things turn out over the next weeks. We don't expect Afghani refugees immediately, but it might well be that in a few weeks' time, some Afghani refugees will arrive. And another thing happened: In late August, Greece opened its border for Turkish tourists, who had so far been banned due to COVID restrictions. Last week, we all of a sudden had three boats with refugees from Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia arriving on some random islands close to Leros, and about 100 of them were transferred to Leros where they are now quarantined in a separate area of the camp. Whether these boats signal the start of a new wave of arrivals, which can – at this point – not be pushed back so easily anymore, is hard to predict, but for the time being, we will maintain our infrastructure on Leros, say hello and handle yet another new development.

Clothes Distribution
Clothes Distribution
Strollers for the Families
Strollers for the Families
COVID-Kits Distribution
COVID-Kits Distribution
Dates for Ramadan
Dates for Ramadan
Jun 3, 2021

COUNTDOWN TO OPENING THE HUB

Dear Friends,

I hope this is the last time I report to you about Covid, distance learning, and Zoom exams.  The Greek government has been efficient to vaccinate its most vulnerable citizens and age groups and is now offering vaccinations to all.  Greek officials ensured that the 35,000 people in camps on the mainland and islands would be part of the vaccination rollout.

Although schools in Greece reopened in Mid May, all higher education facilities such as colleges and universities remain shut to students, except for the graduating classes. At the Athens HUB, our dedicated teachers have continued their Greek (3 levels) and English classes (6 levels) online. Currently, we have 140 students enrolled in our language classes, of which 29 students of the higher levels are ready to take the ESB exams in the middle of June. The demand for language classes amongst the refugee population remains very high, and we keep adding beginner classes and students to our waiting lists. At the moment, we have

What else?

We continue to cook for STEPS Streetworkers at our HUB kitchen. The numbers of families evicted from subsidized accommodations are rising daily –forced to squat in squares and gardens, relying on a humanitarian organization to provide food and shelter. This is due to a tragic policy – that releases Asylum seekers into an unassisted future without cash support or accommodation once they receive Asylum status. Except for the Helios Program and some municipality services, there is a massive lack of integration facilities and strategy.

The Pandora Project!

In the spirit of offering the Athens HUB to partner organizations to provide services, we are pleased to introduce Emily – Founder of TPP, to you! In her own words, The Pandora Project works alongside humanitarian organizations and individuals to challenge the stigma associated with self-care within aid work, build resilience through training programs and provide a supportive humanitarian community that nurtures interagency peace and compassion for a sustainable future.

On the roof of the Athens HUB, we put up netting to provide shade from the intense Greek sun – a perfect space for outdoor activities, Yoga, and meditation. Emily has just started a pilot program to assist aid workers and volunteers deal with the many effects of daily stress on the body and mind.

The Social Hackers Academy!

As soon as we are permitted to open the Athens HUB again for students, our partners, The Social Hackers Academy, will start teaching two intense courses over the summer months to 24 students at the Athens HUB. The groups split into beginners attending the Basic Computer Literacy course and the advanced students for achieving the ECDLs (the certified European Computer Drivers License).

We thank everyone in our team for managing these problematic months so professionally, and we hope to come out of this pandemic even stronger than before.

Thank you, all supporters and generous donors, for believing in our cause to assist the most vulnerable amongst us to find their feet in a new place and make it their home.

In solidarity

The ECHO Team

 
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