The main activity at the center is learning English. This communication tool represents a very important piece for our young people, since with it they can begin to communicate within their environment and feel more secure and independent, without a need for interpreters.
Although the main essence of a language is to give us the possibility to communicate with other people in a higher or lower degree, the project focuses on their learning in a structured and academic-based way. The main purpose for this approach is the need of these vulnerable young people to reach their actual academic level as soon as possible and thus be eligible for the same opportunities as any other young European. Many of our students come to the center with a high level of illiteracy, not only of the English alphabet but even of their mother tongue. Although all our classes are separated by levels and work is done as personalized as possible, this initial level requires special adaptation to the needs of the student and a higher investment of energy. The project considers this first stage crucial in that, if young people do not reach a minimum level of literacy, they will have a high probability of not being able to enter any educational program, whether formal or informal.
When they begin to acquire minimum levels of literacy, they are given new vocabulary and grammar, following a specific curriculum that helps to give structure to both students and different teachers.
This academic learning continues with one of the dreams and goals that the project had set for itself since its beginning: preparation for taking official English exams through Cambridge. Since July 2017, 85 students have carried out these exams and, among them, 16 have achieved the B1 level, 44 the A2 level, and 17 the A1 level. From the time these young people arrive at the center, their educational development is already very important, but preparing for these official exams increases their confidence and focus not only on their aptitude of English, but also, even more importantly, in their personal attitude of positive achievement. This experience gives them the opportunity to mingle with young Greeks, while their exams are objectively scored without any favoritism or compassion for their legal situations. Further, many students who have received their certificates have been able to use them for important matters such as routine asylum interviews, as well as English level assessment interviews once they have relocated to other Europeans countries and to obtain qualified jobs.
Even though English is the reason why most of our students have an interest in attending the center, the main mission of the project is really to empower these young refugees by transmitting life values and other practical knowledge. In addition, we try to provide them on a daily basis with tools to help them increase their confidence and self-esteem needed to achieve any goal they set for themselves, thus becoming independent people of our society. For all this, we consider that it is of vital importance to provide them with a safe and healthy space where they can learn to respect each other despite many differences. The project is guided by several principles. Among them:
- Achieve wide diversity, regardless of gender, nationality, religion, ethnicity and culture. We firmly believe that an important part of that education and personal growth goes through sharing
time and experiences in a multicultural environment, thus reconciling many young people with negative perspectives as a result of cultural differences and / or historical conflicts.
- Promote the feeling of belonging to a family. The project allocates an enormous effort in creating a healthy and strong relationship between students and teachers. Because approximately 75% of students are unaccompanied minors, it is imperative that the center’s staff and volunteers build supportive relationships with the youth. All students, whether unaccompanied minors or those who reside with at least one relative, can then adapt to this safe environment where they can “let down their guards,” thus nurturing this sense of family, resulting in an incredible change of attitude and purpose that allows them to focus on classes and motivates them to stay connected with their new classmates and teachers.
- Understand the history of the project and how it has been sustained since its inception. Although students attend the center completely free of charge, we continuously emphasize the importance of being grateful and giving thanks through their efforts, their respect, and their commitment to all those who help keep the center running every day. Unfortunately, many of them arrive with the misconception that by wearing the label of a refugee and victim, they should be offered everything they want. From the project’s perspective, we encourage the
students to strengthen their own sense of agency, self-empowerment, and independence, and to not solely rely on government support or charitable outreach.