STAGE 1: IOANNINA (August ’16-January ’17)
After spending several months in different refugee camps spread in the Epirus region (Greece) carrying out all different sorts of tasks, the future founders of Habibi Center realised that, among many other needs of the camps, the education of the youth was one of the most overlooked necessities. Once the issue was detected, one of them started teaching English in Katsikas Refugee Camp. The conditions, however, were not the most appropriate ones. Those classes were given in a tent surrounded by hundreds of people who carried out many other different sorts of tasks. In addition, both teacher and students struggled without the proper school supplies. Therefore, an alternative had to be found to solve this lack of privacy and serenity required for both, teacher and students, to be able to create an appropriate learning environment.
In August 2016, the decision was to create an educational space outside of the refugee camps so that the youth could benefit from the autonomy, structure, and sense of normality of being outside of a camp. Furthermore, those journeys would push them to interact with the local inhabitants, having then a real feeling of integration to the Greek society. That educational space was located in Eleousa, a small village located on the outskirts of Ioannina as well as near Faneromeni Camp – a former camp exclusively for Yezidis – and also not too far from Katsikas Camp and the surrounding areas in which hotels hosted refugee families. Thanks to the invaluable help of local friends who let us use their empty shops for our educational purposes, Habibi Center transformed those spaces to provide English, Maths, Greek and German lessons, as well as Art and Theatre and Computer activities. Around 60 students could attend lessons from 10am to 2pm thanks to a hired bus, which collected the youth from Monday to Friday from different points around their camps or temporary accommodations.
STAGE 2: ATHENS (February ’17-May ’17)
By December 2016, many of the families of the students attending the centre began to be moved to Athens all of a sudden. In addition, the municipality of Ioannina started to integrate the rest of our youth staying in the area into Greek schools as well as the arrival in the area of other NGOs with their educational programs. Thus, the activity of Habibi Center substantially decreased and the project decided to move into Athens in order to keep supporting the relocated students, who were in the capital of Greece without any sort of educational program coverage.
In March 2017, the project eventually decided to rent and adapt an apartment in order to restart the lessons in its new location. At the time, it did not have much more than 10 laptops to be able to carry out the English, Maths, Science, and German lessons through the brand new Virtual School, which allowed the only member of the staff in-situ to support a group of 15 students with the lessons that other teachers prepared and uploaded online while living in other places in the World.
STAGE 3: ATHENS (May ’17-January ’18)
Thanks to the help of some new short-term volunteers joining the project, the English lessons were able to swap from the ones uploaded within the Virtual School for face-to-face ones. Moreover, the project continued providing Maths lessons through the Virtual School for the interested students, but stopping the German and Science activities due to volunteers’ unavailability to continue uploading material regularly.
One of the strong goals of the project since its start has been to prepare students to take official Cambridge exams in English language. That goal was achieved last June 2017 when for the first time 6 of our students were prepared to take Cambridge KET exams (Level A2). Since then on, the preparation of both KET and PET Cambridge exams have been included in our agenda on a regular basis in 4 different dates a year.
Following another of our main principles of creating a multicultural atmosphere, from May to the end of 2017, once the project was properly settled in its new location, it started incorporating again students from different countries – breaking the Yezidi exclusivity since the relocation of the project into Athens. In addition, for the first time, the school incorporated an unaccompanied minor from a girls’ shelter. She was not the only one as, little by little, other unaccompanied minors, both girls and boys, joined the school. With those new incorporations, the overall number increased to around 20 students.
STAGE 4: ATHENS (January ’18-September ’18)
The new 2018 started with a strong core of long-term enthusiastic volunteers. It made possible a more beneficial organisation of around 25 students – split in 3 batches with 3 different classes each one –, according to their level of English and age. The use of a series of specific books and material have given the teachers the right pattern about how to help the students increase their level of English consistently and with a clear and adequate structure. They also created and developed new ideas and activities in order to motivate and adequately accommodate to each student’s need and way of learning. Moreover, teachers got higher experience in preparing students for Cambridge exams, which helped improve the material for the lower level students so that they were able to take and pass those Cambridge exams as soon as possible.
As mentioned in the Stage 3, many of the new students have been unaccompanied minors. This increase has provided the school with a new and interesting challenge, which it has positively taken advantage of. Since then, Habibi Center has focused even more strongly on the need of using the project to recreate a healthy and close family. Some of that youth have been on their own for several years, so it is easy to imagine how they might feel when they become part of a space where they feel themselves beloved and safe.
Most of the new students join the centre due to word of mouth – usually through other friends already attending lessons. Teachers always assess them in order to put them in the class that suits them the most. In addition, teachers also explain the rules of joining the centre and the expected behaviour. One of the pleasant surprises with those new students has been that they already come with an awareness of those rules and with an accurate idea of what type of behaviour is expected, all thanks to the previous guidance of their personal referrals. That is a clear sign that the students have a sense of belonging to somewhere pleasant and do want to preserve it and take care of it.
STAGE 5: ATHENS (September ’18-Present)
The new school year started last September 2018. Thanks to the insistence of many parts, most of our students started attending official Greek schools in the mornings. Although the lessons continued being split in 3 batches with 3 different classes each one, the time had to be changed from the mornings to the afternoons and evenings in order to accommodate the new schedule of our students.
The teaching quality is another aspect that the project has greatly developed from the beginning and which is hugely proud of. The hunger of the students for learning as well as the will of teachers for improving the quality of the lessons have reached a point where the current long-term teachers have had to go further and increase their teaching formation – 2 of them have achieved CELTA qualifications. For this reason, the project has also changed the acceptance of new volunteers. In the past, the project would agree the involvement of any new volunteers as long as they committed for a minimum of 1 month. Nowadays, instead, the acceptance of new teachers does not only imply the minimum duration, but more specific individuals with higher teaching skills and the strong will to develop them.