Zizzis works as an English teacher in Mosaik’s support centre on the Greek island of Lesvos.
Lesvos is home to approximately 8,000 displaced people who remain here as they wait for their asylum requests to be processed. Much humanitarian aid in Lesvos focuses on basic needs such as food, shelter and clothes but there is little for people to stimulate their minds and break the tedium.
Mosaik therefore exists to provide a space away from the camp and give access to classes, workshops other events.
Zizzis tells us more about his work and how he believes education and access to books can enable people to keep learning and living while they wait.
I’m from Athens but I lived in Paris for 10 years. I decided to move back to Greece with my family and chose to come to Lesvos. I came when the refugee crisis started in 2015. Given that the economic situation on the island was difficult, it seemed logical to work with an NGO.
I find working with refugees really interesting – I get to know people from around the world. It is incredible. In the three years I have worked with refuges I’ve met people from every corner of the world – and not only refugees! Also NGO people come and go.
None of our students stay here for very long. Lesvos is a transit centre so we don’t have the same students for more than six or eight months. And yet when they leave they are completely different.
Initially, it is not easy for them. They want to leave Moria [the refugee reception centre of Lesvos which they cannot leave until they have been granted asylum]. But bit by bit they get to know us, they get used to Mosaik and they relax.
They come to the lessons, the workshops and the activities and all of a sudden you realise that these people are absorbing enormous amounts of information and knowledge. Coming here, they find a community and some kind of normality. They get the feeling that they belong somewhere again.
Before we had books from Book Aid International we were struggling with photocopies – we didn’t have any materials.
We didn’t have the money. I bought my own books initially. But after the donation from Book Aid International I had a lot of materials in the library that I can use in my classes. It’s much easier for me to teach English now.
Once the primary needs of food and shelter and food for displaced people are met you need more.
You need something to remind you that you are a still a human being. So I think that books and literature are essential for refugees.
It helps them remember that they are free human beings with independent personalities.