there is an ice-cold headwind facing organizations, NGOs, journalists, aid workers, civilians, etc., working to protect human rights in the refugee context. Aid workers are charged with criminal action for saving lives, and journalists reporting on illegal pushback on Greece's borders are intimidated and accused of fake news. .https://www.ekathimerini.com/news/1202265/lesvos-court-rejects-charges-against-aid-workers/ In this case, 24 people – 17 foreigners and seven Greeks – were charged over their work assisting people whose lives were at risk arriving at Lesvos. Fortunately, this case was rejected by the Greek court after loud international protests – for now! But the message is clear: "Trials like this are deeply concerning because they criminalize life-saving work and set a dangerous precedent," (UN Human Rights Office) "Indeed, there has already been a chilling effect, with human rights defenders and humanitarian organizations forced to halt their human rights work in Greece and other EU countries."
While not directly affected by the Government's crackdown and not easily intimidated, it has not been fun working in this climate. Our partner organization HR360 has fallen victim to this witch hunt for their border monitoring activities at the Evros River and the cynic rhetoric of pushback denials and the shedding of responsibilities by both Turkey and Greece (and Europe at large).
Despite this chilly political environment the solidarity and cooperation between aid organizations to assist refugees are high and undeterred to keep going when and where possible. At the HUB our amazing team of teachers and volunteers keeps concentrating on offering high-quality services to our students. Since our last report in September, we managed to realize all our new projects and have therefore had a very busy term! Based on student feedback from our previous evaluation in the summer term, we added some intensive language classes to our regular program. The average number of language students is at an all-time high at 188. Overall, we are also noticing higher attendance levels than the previous months and fewer dropouts. We prepared 25 students for the December ESB English language exams. We are still waiting for the results.
Our volunteers, Farah and Salma, run two Computer Beginners' courses and we offer ECDL classes for certificates. With early opening hours between 7.45 am for early classes and closing at 9.30, the HUB is almost at total capacity.
We are very excited about our high-quality Vocational Training at the HUB: The 2n Coding program is up and running and is now in its third month.
We also added pilot training courses to our services: a 3-month Senior Caregiving training in cooperation with the German Malteser Hilfsdienst and host WeEducate, run by a former volunteer teacher, Sophie, and Matt (teaching the English language at the HUB) that offers globally certified TEFL teacher training program to members of migrant communities.
Apart from offering educational services to assist our students to fast track into employment and independent life in Greece, we give importance to offering community-building activities and field trips to our students who rarely get a chance to step out of their daily struggles. Getting to know and understand what Athens has to offer in ways of culture and history, is key to integration and identification to build a new home. As part of our cultural trips, we took students to the Ancient Agora of Athens. We are planning plenty more museum visits and field trips in the new year, which we are really looking forward to!
Thank you so much for making all of this possible!
The ECHO Team
We are very happy to announce that all 23 ECHO HUB students who took the Open College Network English exams in May have passed with flying colors! Excellent news to close the term for August - so that students, staff, and our volunteers got some well-deserved rest!
To celebrate the end of term our Greek language students went on an educational one-day trip to the island of Aegina! Students. Accompanied by their teachers they visited the Temple and the Museum of Aphaia, the Archaeological Museum and the archaeological site of Kolona, as well as the Historical and Folklore Museum at the heart of Aegina town. We closed the HUB for August to give both students, staff and volunteers a well-deserved rest.
Come September we launched the reopening of our HUB with a lovely Welcome Back Event. Our teachers and volunteers presented their language programs, IT courses, employability support programs, and other services. Old and new students could ask questions and inquire about schedules, language level assessments, and exam qualifications for both Greek and English courses. We also invited other organizations working in the refugee aid context to present their programs to Athens's refugee and migrant communities. The purpose of this event is to offer in an open day setting a one-stop information opportunity at the HUB that covers a variety of needs and concerns that our beneficiaries require: Where to find legal and bureaucratic assistance, mental health support, childcare centers, higher education paths, accommodation support, medical centers, sports, and recreational courses. We strongly believe in the efficiency of collaboration with other partners for referrals and synergies.
Our program for the fall at the HUB:
We started our new language courses with 192 students attending either English (on 6 different levels) or (Greek on 4 different levels) or both.
Our Tech experts are organizing a second intensive 4-month Coding Program to prepare participants for jobs in web design and coding.
We are launching a pilot project (4 to 6 weeks) in 'Elderly Home Care Training' in partnership with professional trainers at the end of October to open up another employability path for our beneficiaries.
Flavia Stagi, an artist in residence from SNEHTA www.snehtaresidency.org will work and exhibit at the HUB together with other partner organizations to produce a communal installation. We will host an opening event as a tool to bring the local community into our HUB and thus further the integration of our students.
Our competent team of volunteers and teachers have done an incredible job setting up our multilingual library which we will also launch and open to the community in November.
Unfortunately, we observe daily an increasing amount of people in Athens suffering from food and housing insecurity. Therefore we are determined to keep supporting the efforts of the STEPS street worker organization, with freshly cooked food, sandwiches, and food packages for the most vulnerable families living on the streets or in poor housing situations.
Our challenging program for the next months will keep our team busy and we look forward to reporting on developments and success stories of our students, soon.
None of this would be possible without your ongoing support of our work. We deeply appreciate your solidarity!
Gabriella and Team
Spring has finally arrived after some challenging winter months in Athens - managing Covid's impact and deteriorating living conditions for refugee community members. With it, new energy and exciting new projects at the HUB. Since the Pandemic has loosened its impact on our lives and morale, students gradually find their way back to the HUB. Our teachers are ready for in-person classes and encourage students to join them. Parallel, we still run our online and hybrid courses (half of the students attend from home) to accommodate students who find it challenging to switch back during the term.
The month of May was dominated by preparing some 50 students for the Greek and English language exams. Both students and teachers were under a lot of pressure to complete their curriculums in time and find extra practising hours in an already packed schedule. Teachers were supported by our native English-speaking volunteers who spent many one-on-one tutoring sessions with students to practise their speaking and listening skills.
Our team has grown! In addition to our lovely local volunteers who have carried us through the winter, we have finally been able to receive international volunteers at the HUB again! Julie from Ireland and Bana from Jordan (University of Florida), Cas from Holland (on Erasmus exchange in Athens), Eva from USA/Greece, and Farahnaz from Afghanistan.
We keep adding new programs to our schedule. Our volunteers run computer classes and assist our remote IT teacher in preparing for the ECDL exams. We are now in the final stages of setting up our multilingual library, which will be open also to the community around us. We hope the library will be a tool for integration with the locals. We are already brainstorming to start a book club and invite writers and poets into our space. Also, our cooking project for the homeless is going strong. Thanks to our supporters, our volunteers can prepare 200 meals per week which are distributed by the streetworker organisation - STEPS. Another exciting project we are about to launch is an open art class at the HUB seeking talent and offering some recreational 'down time' for our students. We also reopened our roof for all-inclusive Yoga – students and team practise alongside one another.
We have some stunning successes on the job front to report! In collaboration with our partners HR360, our employability services have found employment for 33 students at the Four Seasons Hotel chain. These are well-paid jobs, albeit only seasonal, but can lead to extensions and referrals to other hotels.
Other jobs at Domes Miramare, a Luxury Resort in Corfu, Teleperformance Greece, Zafolias Hotel Athens - just to name a few.
In addition, we are exploring new career paths for our beneficiaries and have run various information workshops in interpreting and caregiving for the elderly as a profession.
Our IT volunteers from INTECHgration ran a successful intensive Coding Pilot with ten talented students who are now equipped with skills to position them at an advantage to find employment in the IT world.
We continue to work closely with other partners and experts in Athens, sharing information and expertise. For example, UNHCR runs regular workshops from the HUB about essential safety issues and legal rights for our students. Furthermore, in our recently created Expertations talks, we invite representatives of open-minded companies, entrepreneurs, etc., to run information workshops about their work and potentially recruit from our students.
Without our supporters' ongoing help via the GG platform, all these services and activities would not be possible!
THANK YOU for making our work possible.
Since our last report in September, we have regrettably witnessed a significant deterioration in the living conditions of refugees and asylum seekers in Athens. This is in part due to the fact that the cash cards program was interrupted cutting off a minimal yet vital source of financial support. This was a consequence of organizational incompetence by the Greek government. The transition back after four months to the Catholic Relief Service to manage the distribution of cash cards is about to be completed and the first cards are being reactivated, thank God for that.
However, this suspension has plagued thousands of families with food insecurity and homelessness (further exacerbated by the cold and wet winter months, the raging Omicron variant and an overwhelmed health care system). If it weren’t for the solidarity and support of NGOs, religious congregations, and civil initiatives that scramble to fill the gaps and provide food and basic shelter, the situation would be disastrous. To help alleviate the deteriorating situation in Athens, our Athens HUB team cooks hundreds of hot meals per week which are distributed to the increasing homeless population. In addition, we have allocated funds to buy 30 food and hygiene packages per week that get distributed to the most vulnerable families through STEPS- a partner organization focusing on Street work.
Despite a myriad of difficult problems, we keep our spirits high and never lose focus of our mission: to offer a community space with educational and employability services to refugees and migrant communities in Athens. During the worst months of Covid-19, our English and Greek language classes took place online. However, in recent months, we started reintroducing in-person classes, as well as hybrid options of offline/online to be as accessible and inclusive of our students as possible.
Many of our students are in quarantine, frightened to attend physical class, or are otherwise busy. But we do everything in our power to make our students feel safe and to offer stable, uninterrupted coursework for a sense of security and continuity. At the HUB, we enforce social distancing and lots of fresh air; students and staff test daily, and we provide FFP2 masks to all. This is an enormous organizational challenge and is only possible because of our excellent teaching staff and support team! Later this year, we proudly expanded our English and Greek classes by adding more experienced staff who currently teach 176 students on seven different levels. We also sponsor our students and help them prepare for exams, from the intermediate levels to the certified language exams. We offer employability programs such as computer classes which are necessary to obtain the ECDL qualification, as well as a coding training pilot for advanced IT students. These are in fact run by members of the refugee community. In addition, we run a CV clinic and assist with employability and vocational training opportunities. With a grant from the Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs (our first-ever governmental funding source) explore developing new career paths for our students in Athens. Currently, we have two projects in the pipeline. The first is an informational workshop to empower and assist students to work as interpreters, which is run by a qualified professional. The second is to set up a professional home caregivers training course to care for elderly people or people with special needs. We are researching for partners locally and internationally to make this a reality. We believe this is an underserved sector with a lot of employment potential for our communities.
We received yet another generous book donation from Book Aid International for our library at the Athens HUB, which we want to open to the locals as soon as we have built a presentable stock! We are so excited to start unpacking hundreds of copies of novels, non-fiction, science, dictionaries, and many more– Thank You, BAI!
And THANK YOU to all our supporters on GlobalGiving – returning and new - we could not have gotten through these difficult months without your generosity! Thank you so much!
Gabi, Catharina, and Gabriella, and the ECHO-Team
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.
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
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