Habibi Center is a non-formal educational project in Greece that opened its doors on August 8, 2016. After two years of short-term planning and working as an independent project, the Habibi Center became officially registered in Spain as ‘Asociación Española Habibi Center.’ It is now a long-term resource for asylum-seeking children, teenagers, and young adults in Athens.
Our MISSION is to empower refugee youth through education and life skills and equip them for a brighter future.
Our VISION is to highlight the value and potential of refugee youth and to see this generation become active and independent members of society.
The aim of Habibi Center is not to merely offer educational courses but, most importantly, to encourage a safe and pleasant interracial atmosphere where students can learn to respect each other. Through working with others from different nationalities, ethnicities, and religions, Habibi Center is helping to make reconciliation possible amongst students from different communities, some of whom have had long-standing historical conflicts.
FOCUSING ON THE INDIVIDUAL
Habibi Center sees its students as individuals – each of them with a unique and special need, each of them with a different story and personality behind, each of them with different dreams. Therefore, Habibi Center has always worked for them – alongside the consent of their relatives or social workers and guardians if they are minors – thinking only about their very personal best, and not for the benefit of third parts.
THE MORE DIVERSITY, THE BETTER
The project has worked since its beginnings to build a healthy and safe space where youth from any gender, country of origin, religion, and ethnicity would feel safe and welcome. Habibi Center strongly believes that a huge part of the education and personal development of these youth can be only achieved if they first learn to live together and share time and experiences in a diverse atmosphere.
CREATING A FAMILY
It is extremely difficult for students to start to focus on their education when they do not have a minimum stability in their daily life and do not feel welcomed and safe in a place. That is the reason why Habibi Center puts a huge effort in trying to create a strong and healthy relationship between students and teachers. Therefore, Habibi Center sees appropriate to provide them with long-term stability and structure in order to build up the students’ confidence so that they can feel part of a family.
MOTIVATING YOUTH THROUGH ACADEMIC KNOWLEDGE
The project gives a lot of importance to MOTIVATION. To build motivation and keep it up, the project follows several key aspects:
- Habibi Center coordinates its teachers and volunteers with an overlap period in order for students to continue their classes in a structured, consistent and gradual manner.
- Classes are formed by students with similar levels to create healthy competition and avoid anyone feeling lost – if having a lower level –, or bored – if having a higher level.
- Students must attend lessons from Monday to Friday, be punctual, and do homework when requested, as only by doing that the entire class can keep the same pace and continue progressing.
- Habibi Center gives the opportunity to the long-term students of taking Cambridge Exams in the English Language. Achieving official certificates not only opens doors for their future, but these exams often help students to realise how hard they need to keep pushing to achieve goals in life and how powerful they can become if they devote their time and effort to studying.
Ever since its beginnings, Habibi Center has been financially supported by friends, family, and small groups. The project and all its members, including the students, are fully aware of the huge responsibility in managing the donations and, even more importantly, they are aware of the hope of those donors. The project believes that it is not the best educational approach for students to think that the service Habibi Center is giving them is totally free. Obviously, the project does not ask them for money. Instead, students have the responsibility of thanking both teachers and everybody else supporting Habibi Center in the distance through their respect, effort, and commitment.
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, teachers and students, to be able to create an appropriate learning environment.
On the 8th of August 2016, Habibi Center opened an educational space 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. The center was located 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. 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 10 am to 2 pm 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 of other NGOs with their educational programs. Thus, the activity of Habibi Center had 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 to restart the lessons in its new location. At the time, with the use of 10 laptops, it to be able to carry out English, Maths, Science, and German lessons through the brand new Virtual School, which allowed the only teacher on-site to support a group of 15 students with the lessons that other teachers had prepared and uploaded online from their remote locations.
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 but stopped 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 the English language. That goal was achieved in June of 2017 when for the first time 6 students were prepared to take Cambridge KET exams (Level A2). Since then, the preparation of both KET and PET Cambridge exams has been included in our curriculum and 4 exam dates have been added to our academic calendar: March, May, June, and December.
Following our principle of creating a multicultural atmosphere, 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, and 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. 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 to motivate and adequately accommodate to each student’s needs and way of learning. Moreover, due to their experience in preparing students for Cambridge exams, they were able to improve the material for the lower level students so that they would be more prepared 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. 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 those 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 loved 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 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 to accommodate the new schedule of our students.
The teaching quality is another aspect that the project has greatly developed. The students’ hunger 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. Therefore, 2 of Habibi Center’s full-time teachers have received the training and become CELTA certified. For this reason, the project has also changed the acceptance of new volunteers. In the past, the project would accept volunteers if they committed for a minimum of 4 weeks. Nowadays, instead, the acceptance of new teachers does not only imply the minimum duration, which is now 8 weeks, but more equipped individuals with teaching skills and the strong will to develop them.
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