“Learning helps people look forward”
There are around 12,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Greece, with most fleeing violence in the Middle East and South and Central Asia. Thousands now live in overcrowded refugee camps. Without the legal rights to travel deeper into Europe, integration is key to ensure that refugees are able to build successful new lives for themselves.
Echo100Plus was founded when the scale and intensity of the growing economic and social crisis in Greece became apparent. The charity now works to provide education and skills to refugees living in and around Athens to help them integrate into their new lives. We spoke to the charity about the work they do and their Head of Education, Helena, told us of the need for educational materials and how books are playing a part in a brighter future for refugees across Greece.
Our focus is on employability – getting people to start a self-sustained life as quickly as possible, so we try and fast-track them into getting a certificate for English or Greek.
“Those certifications are key. Even if it’s just basic Greek, for manual jobs you have to be able to communicate. But we have students from all education levels. We have people who are aspiring to study PhDs and people who previously haven’t had much access to education.
In terms of psychosocial support, I think it’s important that people are given an outlet and learning helps people look forward and it gives people something to focus on when other things around them are incredibly difficult. Getting out, going to something, having a routine, seeing friendly faces, making contacts and starting the integration process is vital. Books are a great way to connect with other people.
One of our key demographics that we try to serve are younger single men, due to the fact that they are often excluded from aid or education programmes that prioritise women and children.
For them, access to education can be transformational as it allows them to focus on their future and gives them hope.
During the lockdown, I remember delivering books to the camp on Leros because students were asking for books to read during that time. Many of our students were living in refugee camps and didn’t know when they were going to be able to leave so reading books was an outlet. In Athens, We also had students who are attending our language programmes coming to collect worksheets and use the library. So many of the teachers here say they have never taught a community with such a thirst for learning, and the resilience to do it with whatever resources they can access.
In the donation of around 2,000 books from Book Aid International, we received quite a lot of fiction and graded readers, which are so valuable. Being able to give an adult a graded reader and not a children’s book to learn from is very powerful and can really help the language learning process. This is so important because it’s vital that people can speak English for survival, either in Greece or further afield if they decide to leave.
The books are vital.
Unemployment in Greece is extremely high, especially for young people here. There’s been an 8-year economic crisis in Greece, so people do try and leave. It’s very difficult to find employment, but many of our students have found it in supporting other refugees, as translators, as mediators and working in hospitals etc. If you are able to learn English and Greek, you will be more able to find a job, so the books are vital.”
With thanks to Oxford University Press for their support in funding our important work with refugees across Greece.