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.
Gabriella and The ECHO100PLUS Team