Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece

by IsraAID
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Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece
Holistic Support for Refugees Arriving in Greece

Following destructive flooding in western Germany in June that caused at least 220 deaths, staff and volunteers began responding in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rheinland Pfalz. The team is working in multiple communities on clean-ups and property rehabilitation, distributing necessary equipment, and assisting other organizations also responding. They are providing psychosocial support for children in affected areas, focusing on resilience and reducing stress through art therapy.

Refugee leaders and volunteers are integral to the response efforts in the country many now call home. Many of the refugees volunteering are part of Kompass, IsraAID Germany's refugee leadership program. Mohammad, a member of the Kompass program, is a refugee leadership facilitator responsible for mobilizing refugee groups to take part in the emergency response.

The group of refugee volunteers are participants in IsraAID Germany’s “Navigators” program, which provides young refugees with leadership training, integration support, and opportunities to engage in community service. They have joined German and international members of IsraAID Germany’s staff, including psychosocial support specialists, in the North Rhine-Westphalia emergency response team.

Bshesh, 28 years old from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, described volunteering to join the flood relief team as “a thank you to all Germany, as my life has been saved and I have been healed here. Here I could build myself a new life. And I am always ready to help, to show my gratitude towards Germany.”

Hamid, a stateless 33-year old based in Berlin and member of IsraAID Germany’s team, said:

“As I saw the pictures of the flood, I remembered how I arrived in Germany in 2015. At that time, pictures of refugees arriving here were all over the news and many people saw them and did not wait, reacting immediately to support us. I have learned from that situation and I wanted to do it the same way this time. Not waiting, but going out to help without hesitation.”

Hamid has been an IsraAID Germany employee since earlier this year, leading online language classes for refugees.

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In the aftermath of a disaster, a school is often anything but a place for education. It can be a shelter, a food distribution center, or a meeting place for humanitarian actors and community organizations, leaving the typical users of the building – the students – without a place to learn. Children affected by emergencies experience a rapid change in circumstances which can lead to long-term trauma. They may have been displaced, lost family members, or their parents may have been left without a source of income. And on top of that, now their daily routine at school is disrupted.

For refugees in Greece, education is more than learning skills for the future. It’s about integrating into society, now. Many children from refugee communities are registered in the public education system, but despite this, they are often not familiar with basic math concepts or even numbers. One significant factor is the type of classes they attend. Refugee and migrant children are sent to integration classes specific to their needs, aimed to rapidly teach Greek. But this means they’re missing out on other subjects. With extensive bureaucratic requirements, mixed migrant children in Colombia, many of whom arrived in the country recently from Venezuela, are left in a similar situation, often excluded from the mainstream system without much investment in their talents.

How can refugee and migrant children fully integrate without something as simple as good math education?

Over the last six months, IsraAID has been partnering with an Israeli start-up company, Imagine Machine, which developed Mathika, an online mathematics application to help children self-teach. Mathika is part of IsraAID’s joint pilot fund with the Pears Program for Global Innovation. It allows a teacher to track where they are and offer support, while also encouraging the child to move at their own pace, thereby reinforcing lessons that perhaps were lost. Through this program, our teams in Colombia and in Greece were able to boost children’s skills in this critically important subject.

Mathematics shouldn’t be a privilege, but a right.

 IsraAID Greece’s integration program involves much more than the Greek language. It addresses the gap between refugee and migrant communities and the local Greek community, the team’s biggest concern being the integration of children as equal members of society. Improving the math knowledge of refugee and migrant children, the Mathika pilot program felt like a gift to these children, another tool to help achieve integration.

Under-educating the children of today is failing to prepare the leaders of tomorrow. The best investment a country can make in its future is in the education for all its inhabitants, but without appropriate skills and training, displaced communities like those in Greece and Colombia are more likely to get stuck in the poverty cycle. Just being told that they can learn and knowing they have the option to challenge themselves can significantly boost children’s self-esteem. IsraAID’s educational frameworks around the globe seek to combat this issue, offering innovative solutions like Mathika.

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Over the last period, the IsraAID team on the ground in Sindos, Greece, has been working hard to support refugees and asylum seekers as they cope with disrupted routines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the last three months have been defined by an ongoing lockdown in the country, which has prevented the community center from physically opening. In lieu of face-to-face meetings, activities, classes, and sessions, the IsraAID team is offering a suite of online resources, seeking to fill the gap in service provision during lockdown.

Over the last month, the IsraAID Greece team also welcomed a new Country Director, Adar Zehavi. Adar is a trained social worker, who holds an MA in International Community Development from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and an MSc. in Migration and Ethnic Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

 

In spite of the ongoing lockdown, Sindos Community Center is continuing to offer remote programming for many community members on a regular basis. However, connectivity remains a significant barrier, and many participants lack the bandwidth necessary to participate fully with video or on Zoom. Despite, this challenge, over this period, the following activities and classes were offered:

  • YouTube channel videos were created and distributed—including more than 79 videos in November and December alone! (January numbers are forthcoming).  Video topics ranged from bedtime stories, to children’s songs, to yoga, cooking videos, relaxation and stress relief, and language learning for adults.
  • Homework packages in math and Greek were distributed for children twice per week, with feedback provided directly from the teacher.
  • Targeted information and registration support was provided for caretakers of school children, as the Greek school system transitioned to online learning.
  • Ongoing English, Greek, and professional development sessions—including one-on-one, as needed!

Thank you for your ongoing support of this program!

 

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On September 8, 2020, a fire broke out in Moria Refugee camp, located on the Greek island of Lesbos. Moria was home to some 12,000 refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and various countries in Africa, and was infamous for its harsh living conditions as the largest refugee camp in Europe. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has made the situation on the ground even more tenuous, with more than 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those who previously resided in Moria.

Currently, refugees who lived in Moria are living on the streets surrounding where the camp, behind police barricades, where Moria used to stand. Vulnerable populations from Moria—specifically single women and families, have been moved into a new temporary camp adjacent to the Kara Tepe Accommodation Center located nearby, which can accommodate 5,000 people. The 400 unaccompanied minors and separated children who lived in Moria, have all been accepted by other European countries, led by France and Germany, for relocation.

Amid the extremely challenging circumstances on the island, the IsraAID team is working with our partners on the ground, including the UNHCR, to distribute urgently needed non-food items to affected populations. The team has already conducted a distribution of tents and battery banks, led by refugee leaders from IsraAID’s programs in the community. We have also provided 1,500 hygiene kits with items such as soap, hand sanitizer, reusable face masks made at our refugee community center in northern Greece, diapers, and female hygiene items for those living on the streets and in the fields. In addition, our Psychosocial Support and Protection coordinators have compiled children’s activity packs for children under the age of 8 and a separate kit for those older, to distributed to 100 children living under these circumstances. These kits include arts and crafts materials, drawing paper and mats, and children-sized masks.

Osama (name changed to protect identity), a teacher at IsraAID’s school for refugee children on Lesbos, is currently stuck in the zone behind police barricades, where he and his family are sleeping on the street. Due to current restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there has been extremely limited access to this area, and Osama and his family have been without sufficient food and hygiene items over the past days. The IsraAID team has been in close contact with Osama over the last days, and succeeded in getting a box of essential items to him and his family. Despite the extremely dire conditions in which Osama is living, he has been active in supporting the rest of the staff on the island, and is encouraging them to keep providing as much assistance as possible to other refugees affected by the situation. The whole team is hoping that Osama will soon be able to rejoin the team physically soon to help conduct distributions and psychosocial support interventions.

Thank you for supporting IsraAID's work in Greece during this challenging period.

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Cleaning the center
Cleaning the center

In March 2020, the government of Greece temporarily closed all educational facilities to try to slow the spread of COVID-19. For the 115,000 refugees currently hosted by Greece, over 40,000 of whom are living in terrible conditions in camps on the Aegean islands, this news is particularly devastating. Adding to weeks of anti-migrant violence on the islands, growing tensions across Greece and confusing changes to asylum law, the nationwide closure, while necessary, leaves refugee adults and children without any access to educational, social activities, and mental health support. However, the shutdown doesn’t have to mean that learning and development must grind to a halt, as IsraAID’s team in Greece has rapidly mobilized to demonstrate.

IsraAID operates two facilities in Greece: a bustling children’s school next to Moria camp on Lesvos and a busy community center in the town of Sindos, close to Thessaloniki. Both facilities, as educational institutions, have also been shut down for the duration of the national school closure. But the work we have been doing continues.

Sindos Community Centre operates a full program of education and psychosocial support for refugees of all ages, ranging from early childhood development activities for toddlers and homework support for children to Greek and English classes, job preparedness training and cultural awareness workshops for adults. The 100 people who visit each day have suddenly found themselves without anything to do after we followed government instructions and closed our doors. Not wanting to abandon the community, our staff have been busy transforming our activities into an e-learning program, easily accessible to all our community members and the wider refugee population.

Our Greek diploma class, who will be taking national Greek language examinations in two months, have moved their lessons online and are studying via Messenger Video. Our English tutor is creating short grammar instructional videos to upload to our new YouTube channel. Our team of language teachers are developing worksheet packs for distribution and quizzes via Google Forms, for both adults and children. Via Whatsapp, our early childhood development staff are sharing videos, photos and tips for activities to help parents keep their children entertained at home. We’re also working on a ‘how to’ for CV building, so that community members can still focus on getting job-ready.

Isolation and boredom can quite easily take over during this time and our psychosocial support staff are working hard to develop communications and content to reassure and support the population. From meditation videos to regular content on dealing with stress distributed via our Whatsapp groups, our staff will endeavor to maintain positivity and emotional resilience amongst the population. We’re also working on translating guidance and instruction provided by the World Health Organization into Farsi, Arabic and French, to ensure the wider community is taking appropriate measures to protect themselves and their families.

Maintaining some kind of routine for the children is a priority and our goal is to minimize the disruption to their already fragmented education as much as possible. Teachers are busy working on homework packs to distribute via letterboxes outside the school, with exercises in Greek, Farsi, English and Math to keep the children busy. Students will also be able to collect activity packs, with fun puzzles and games to entertain them and some calming techniques, such as breathing exercises, to support their mental wellbeing.

Lack of hygiene and appalling sanitary conditions means keeping clean in Moria is almost impossible, but it’s important that residents do everything they can to minimize transmission and protect themselves and their families. To provide reassurance to parents and disseminate guidance on prevention and risk reduction, staff are carrying out regular check-ins with families via phone as well as producing posters and leaflets for distribution.

The situation for refugees in Greece was already at breaking point. The shutdown of services and schools across the country has left them more isolated and marginalized than ever. But the communities that IsraAID and our partners have built are strong and committed. So, while this new reality is nothing short of alarming, our strength and resilience, along with technological know-how, is already allowing us to find new ways to come together and learn.

Thank you for supporting IsraAID's work in this especially challenging time. 

E-learning - Greek Diploma
E-learning - Greek Diploma

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IsraAID

Location: Tel Aviv, Merkaz - Israel
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Twitter: @IsraAID
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IsraAID General
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Israel

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