ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration

by Echo100plus
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
ECHO HUB Athens: Prepare Refugees for Integration
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
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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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ECHOSTEPS UP!
ECHOSTEPS UP!

Dear Generous Supporters of ECHO!

I am writing to you from Athens, which is still on lockdown for many months and continues to do so. Unfortunately, the daily COVID-19 infection rate is still on the rise. The capacity of the Greek healthcare system is under enormous pressure to deal with severe cases. Especially in the urban areas, middle and high schools remain closed, as do all adult education and community centers. Despite these restrictions to do our work to offer integration services to refugees and other vulnerable groups, our dedicated team of teachers and volunteers has not sat idle. Our teaching staff continues with distance learning, with teachers and students meeting daily in virtual classrooms, powering through textbooks, correcting homework, and in some cases also preparing for exams in May! To students who cannot afford unlimited access to the Internet, we provide extra data to follow our Zoom sessions. We also lend laptops to students who have no other means to follow online classes. We try to be as inclusive and supportive as possible, hoping that our students will not miss out and follow the curriculum uninterrupted.

More exciting news: We are starting to recruit for a professional IT- program in collaboration with the Social Hackers Academy who will run computer literacy and certified ECDL classes in our computer lab. Recruitment of suitable candidates is starting this month with tests and interviews. We hope to be able to launch classes in our HUB by March, depending on the government's safety policy. Being trained in computer skills raises our students' employability, which is our ultimate goal at the Athens HUB.

Despite the pandemic, our team is on the lookout to maximize impact and use our resources to the fullest. Since the HUB is closed to students, our volunteers decided to use our facilities to support STEPS – a streetworkers' aid organization that, amongst other services distribute hot meals to the rising homeless population in Athens. Since the Greek government does not offer recognized refugees any accommodation support, the condition of people living in the streets is deteriorating. Sponsored by generous donors, our volunteers shop for groceries and prepare nutritious meals in the HUB kitchen several times per month for 50 to 70 people each session. Furthermore, we managed to distribute pandemic prevention equipment such as face masks, disinfectants, and gloves to homeless people through STEPS. Just imagine being homeless...and then imagine being homeless in a pandemic...where there is no 'stay home – stay safe' option.

Our volunteers also used the HUB spaces and resources to make small holiday gifts (a notebook, spices, and homemade cookies) for our students before closing the HUB for the Christmas break. Our volunteers were committed to making a kind gesture towards our students, to lighten the mood in these challenging times and remind them that ECHO is looking out for them.

Thank you again for choosing our project amongst so many other important issues to support.

In Solidarity

Gabriella and The ECHO100PLUS Team

ECHOSTEPS UP!
ECHOSTEPS UP!
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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!

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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!

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Organization Information

Echo100plus

Location: Vienna - Austria
Website:
Project Leader:
Gabriella Dixon
Vienna, Austria
$114,046 raised of $150,000 goal
 
386 donations
$35,954 to go
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