It’s 3.30 in the afternoon and I walk under the Greek hot sun through Skisto camp, where hundreds of refugees and migrants have been living for more than 1 and a half years waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. Even before getting into the camp you can see and hear the children who live there running towards the metallic fence which surrounds the camp, waving and smiling at you. After a short walk through the accommodation area I approach our Mother and Baby Area (MBA). The only thing I can hear is a mixture of female voices speaking in broken English, laughter and children’s gibberish. Once I enter the room I see Stella, Save the Children’s language teacher along with the MBA staff surrounded by Afghan women with their children on their laps. They all look relaxed and in a good mood despite the unbearable heat outside.
Save the Children’s Education team has set up an informal class within the Mother and Baby Area where women can learn Greek and English. Approximately 20 women with their children attend the classes on a daily basis. “When I started teaching in the MBA I was a little bit surprised. Having women breastfeeding while attending the class is not an easy environment to teach in - not at all. I was writing on the whiteboard or trying to explain something and at the same time babies were crying, trying to move the board, to open the door, to grab the markers, or they just wanted their mum to hug them. Obviously it wasn’t an easy task! But I really, really wanted to do it,” Stella explains to me.
Several of the women from Afghanistan tell me that in their country many girls are not able to go to school either because of the ongoing conflict with armed groups or social pressure that pushes them to get married and have families very young. But many of them didn’t give up so easily. Farzana* is one of them.
She is a 23-year-old mother of two but this doesn’t hold her back from trying to build a better future for herself. “I stopped going to school when I was 15 because I had to get married and have children. My parents were very supportive and wanted me to study but then I couldn’t continue as I got pregnant and had to take care of the children. Anyway, also in Iran as migrants we didn’t have official documents so we could only go to Afghan schools. We could not attend the formal education system. Now I really want to study in a university and I want to become either a doctor or a lawyer,” she tells me holding her 18 month-old son in her arms. Since she arrived in Greece, she wanted to communicate with the local community but the language was a barrier for her. I can see Farzana’s will to learn in the way she looks at Stella while teaching; she is always concentrating and always the first to reply to Stella’s questions during the class and is constantly taking notes. At the same time, I can see Stella’s passion and persistence in teaching these women. Every now and then she uses her sense of humor to make them laugh and break the ice. As I’ve learned from Farzana most of them didn’t know each other before. “The classes are very useful and I really enjoy them because I meet other women. Since we don’t leave the camp often, it’s a good way to meet new people and learn new languages,” she tells me.
It’s almost 17:00 and I need to head back to the office. On my way back I think about what impressed me the most: the bond developed between our staff and these women. It is a two-way relationship which impacts our field staff and these women. Stella’s words confirm that: “We found ourselves incredibly touched by these women, who hold their babies on their breasts with one arm and take notes with the other. It is such a powerful image to see! Moments like this make me respect those women and more importantly, love them. Every time I enter the Mother and Baby Area they greet me with a “Hello teacher!” full of excitement which won’t fade until the moment I leave the class when we say goodbye with a “We love you teacher! I love you women!” When I am in the class I feel I am among friends.”
Save the Children is providing non formal education classes for refugee and migrant children of all ages through our temporary classrooms in the refugee camps in Greece, as well as providing school supplies such as pens, pencils, backpacks and books. Recently, in Attica, we started English and Greek language classes for women with children under 2 who come to our Mother and Baby areas.
Save the Children’s education programs in Attica are funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO).
*Names have been changed to protect identities