Oct 12, 2020

The Time for Change is Now!

These past few months have been a global challenge. In the age of Covid-19, with the uncertainty and demands the pandemic has forced on us, we had to find a way to cope with the situation but also accept the fact that things have to change. This can very well be a time of opportunity.

During a crisis like this, organisations like Echo100Plus are overwhelmed with day-to-day surprises, urgent short-term demands, and a gnawing sense of uncertainty. But the job is possible and absolutely necessary, maybe more necessary than ever before.

We spent the summer having classes only with our former students hoping that the Covid-19 cases would go down so that we would readily accept new students in September. We started classes again, with caution. There is important information in all languages in the HUB as well as free masks which are now obligatory for everyone’s safety. Hand sanitizers are available in every class and corridor as well as special disinfectants with which students clean their desks at the end of every class for the next students, and one desk is allocated to each person. It certainly feels different but that didn’t really dampen our spirits because the relationships we have built with our students are so strong that we were just overjoyed to see everyone again and start having classes!

When September came though, the Covid-19 cases had gone up in Athens. So, what could we do?  Gather all our voices… from staff, founders, volunteers, and others. This was the way of moving forward while trying to take everything into account and sorting out details and backup plans. Social distancing but student centricity was our main goal coming back.

We started classes, and some activities (football, boxing, CV workshop, photography classes) again tentatively, with all the safety measures that we imposed. Trying to focus on activities that could be down in few numbers or outside. We even had new registrations in a happy and safe way welcoming nearly 100 new students for both Greek and English classes of all levels. This was a very exciting moment for us, after not being able to register new students for so many months, we were delighted to be able to welcome so many after having had to turn people away during the lockdown months.

Being mindful of the rising number of Covid-19 cases and keeping an eye on the government’s actions, we decided to close down for a few weeks at the end of September because of a potential Athens-only lockdown. But this time we were prepared! Having seen that the online classes were no longer so affective and being limited by people’s internet access we had to find an alternative solution. This is how we came up with the idea of studying at home with ECHO100PLUS.  Our teachers prepared weekly material packs that we printed and had students came in to collect once a week from the HUB. The idea behind them was to keep students revising the curriculum and having homework set that they had to return once a week when they picked up their new packs. This allowed for direct communication between the teachers and their classes and helped people keep motivated in studying even without coming to daily classes. This way we minimized the mixing of people and risk of anyone getting ill, while still showing we were there for our students.

This week we are thankfully able to open up the HUB again and planning to do all the languages classes only in our lovely garden and a spacious veranda! We believe having the classes outdoor as well as spaced with everyone still wearing masks is the safest way for us to bring people back into the HUB. Luckily the warm weather persists in Greece, but we are aware that winter is coming and we will have to find an alternative. Our priority still remains keeping our staff, volunteers and students safe.

Reimagining the ECHO HUB Athens’ organization and operation has not been an easy task but the very nature of the current crisis is something we must see as an opportunity to reinvent who we are and to better focus on our mission. Adversity does not build character; it reveals it, and we are a team that is dedicated to one another and to our students. We continue to learn to adapt and figure out the safest and best way to serve our community the best we can!

Sep 11, 2020

Back to 'Normality'

Since our last published report, our volunteers sadly had to be evacuated from Leros and, like the rest of the world, the team and students went into lockdown and the HUB was closed. It seems, this was the best thing we could have done as luckily no one got sick, and our team was able to return to their homes safely. It was a difficult time for everyone but especially due to the fact that we had to halt all of our on the ground operations and couldn’t assist others going through this distressing time.

In order to prevent a complete lapse in education and activities, we transitioned all of our English, Greek, French and German language classes online. Students were able to join Facebook groups and have daily lessons with their teacher. We offered shared exercises, live sessions and Q&As. We reached as many students as possible, and had teachers from every corner of the world speaking to their students on a daily basis. Language groups were well attended, and we even had extracurriculars such as exercise videos (some prepared by one of our students), photography classes, yoga and relaxation, drawing and many more. It was important for us to maintain contact with our students and volunteers throughout this hard time to ensure we didn’t lose momentum. Furthermore, we wanted to offer a means of distraction and help tackle potential mental health issues during these distressing circumstances.

We wanted to give a sense that even though we were apart we were very much together in all of this. It was the perfect time for many of our volunteers to showcase their skills and share them with our larger community. The response from our students was very positive and we were happy to demonstrate our dedication through our online channels.

During the lockdown we were able to raise funds for safety equipment and products that were lacking on the island.  This included items such as masks, soap, hand sanitizer and additional PPE. The local team distributed these items in the hotspot to residents, to local care providers, and to other actors on Leros. We were very happy to be able to offer these much needed supplies for peace of mind and added safety.

Towards the end of June, a small team was able return to Leros and started sorting through our clothes warehouse, primarily replacing winter supplies with summer stock. Due to the lockdown, the residents of the hotspot and other housing facilities had not received clothes for months and were not at all equipped for the harsh Greek summer. Once the team had fully prepped the stock we were able to start our summer clothes distribution on the 20th of July. It ran until August 6th and in total served 984 residents on Leros. This included 257 babies and children (under the age of 16) and 34 unaccompanied minors. Due to the ongoing threat of the Corona virus, we were extremely prudent with the distribution, prioritizing the safety and health of both staff and beneficiaries.

For this reason, we moved it from the usual site of the HUB boutique, to the HUB garden. Here we were able to spread items out in the open air, all team members wore masks throughout and we invited residents to come in very small groups. These groups were all driven to and from camp in our vans to ensure people were on time, didn’t have to walk in the summer sun and acted in compliance with the first reception’s restriction rules.

On the 12th of August we were finally able to open the HUB again for activities and lessons. Our team gave then HUB a much-needed lick of paint and dusting after having been closed for so many months. We followed government guidelines on social distancing in classrooms and centers. This meant that we had limited numbers of students in classrooms, with desks 1.5m apart, mandatory mask wearing, and other such safety practices. With great energy and enthusiasm, we welcomed students back for English lessons and limited activities. Within a short period, we were able to add German classes and other extracurriculars such as photography, creative writing, music and outdoor activities including the very well attended and loved football session. We are pleased to see that during this time many of our old students had moved on to either the mainland or other countries. As a result, we are thrilled to welcome new students and register them for classes and activities.

Exciting times lie ahead for the ECHO HUB Leros as a new team, new students and a new schedule learn to navigate the new normal of living through a pandemic.

Jun 15, 2020

We are back.

Things were continuing to go well at the ECHO HUB Athens since our last report in February. Our student numbers at the HUB had `reached an all-time high of 959, we had a full and diverse schedule and class attendance at maximum capacity. Our team of volunteers was built of capable and fun team and wonderful teachers creating an atmosphere of learning and community. 

Then COVID 19 arrived also in Athens forcing us to shut down like so many of our partners in the field.

We luckily managed to evacuate all our foreign volunteers just in time before flights were grounded and borders closed. It took as about a week to digest the new situation and come out of the Corona shock. We ZOOM assembled all our teaching staff to try and find a solution on how to teach and reach out students at a distance. We ended up by moving all of our English, Greek, French and German language classes to online. The creativity and variety of the teaching material made available on different channels to our students by our teachers in these last weeks is impressive. We had teachers from every corner of the world speaking to their students on a daily basis. Language groups were well attended and we even had extracurriculars such as exercises videos (some even prepared by one of our students), photography classes, yoga and relaxation, drawing and many more.

It was important for us to maintain contact with our students and volunteers throughout this hard time to ensure we didn’t lose momentum but also offered something to help pass the time and help with mental health. We truly wanted to give a sense that even though we were apart we were very much together in all of this. It was the perfect time for many of our volunteers to showcase their skills and share them with our larger community. The response from our students was very positive and we were happy to show our dedication to them through our online channels.

We are back! It is now one week that we have reopened the HUB under strict safety rules. Only our language classes are on offer with a limited number of students allowed per class to maintain social distance from each other. We have followed all of the ministerial guidelines to ensure safety for our volunteers and students. Instead of the HUB buzzing with sounds of activity from art classes, debate groups, boxing and barbershop, the HUB is more muted, dominated by face masks (in all shapes and forms) and disinfectant sprays. In order, to accommodate as many students as possible we have split classes and doubled our schedule. Class attendance is still low as some students are hesitant to return to ‘normality’ for fear of infection. Today we received the good news that we are good to go to restart our football program next week, which is one of our favourite outdoor activities and a huge boost to our morale. With attendance numbers reaching roughly 30 per session the outdoor activity is the perfect way to start introducing group activities and to bring our students back together again. It’s very clear we’ve all missed each other a lot.

The ECHO100PLUS Team is fully dedicated to persevere in these difficult times and standby to restart a full program as soon as possible. Whilst always considering the safety and wellbeing of our team and students throughout. Watch this space!

 
WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.