By: Mallary Becker
(Athens, Greece) — Maryam Sultani is 19 years old, she came to Greece from Iran in 2016.
“We have an enemy in Iran and Afghanistan,” she said.
Her plan is to go to Sweden after Greece. She wants to learn English because she feels it is absolutely necessary; to be able to communicate with other people, just that.
To help meet her goal, Sultani spends much of Her time at the Melissa Day Center, an organization tailored to women refugees and migrants on mainland Greece.
The Non-governmental organization(NGO) empowers women in safe space to with creative psycho-social support such as art and film as well as Greek and English education.
“Its an important thing for people to use to gain some independence.” said Jasmine Kirk a volunteer English teacher at Melissa day center.
“The girls at Melissa for the most part want to learn English because they don’t want to stay in Greece,” said Kirk. “They don’t know which country they’re going to end up going to. So, they want to learn English first so when they go to whatever country they get to then they want to learn the local language.”
As a refugee’s journey takes a long pause in Greece the next step towards integration resides in cultivation of a universal brand of communication that will help them succeed regardless of time or place.
Data shows that English is the third most popular language in native speakers behind Mandarin and Spanish.
Nonetheless, there are more people who have learned English as a second language than there are native speakers.
As the European nations are still the number one destination for refugee’s, nearly half of the population has a proficiency in English according to the EF English Proficiency Index.
People need to be able to communicate their needs. But, translators can only be provided to a certain extent of their journey.
The NGO Metadrasi is known for providing translators at asylum services, However, they point out they are only there for strictly for translations. They do not provide guidance, assistance or directions.
So, for the in-between moments such as shopping or taking a sick child to the doctors there is a huge gap.
For youth in general their motivations for learning English go beyond the traditional guidelines.
They are encouraged by social media and the internet which is based in English.
For young love, it gives a common language and a desire to speak more.
“There’s one girl that speaks English quite well because she’s in love with a Farsi boy and she speaks Arabic so English is their common language so she wants to keep learning English so she can keep talking to this afghan boy.”
“Motivations come in different places and it kind of fuels progress as well,” said Kirk.
The need to provide English education is taking on different forms across refugee centers in Greece.
Every aid program is not put together equally.
At the refugees’ initial processing center on the island of Lesvos, Education programs are handed from one person to the next making it difficult for a permanent program to succeed at the Moria refugee camp.
The energy at this camp is less on growing and more on surviving.
The capacity for residents is 8,685, but they are overflowing with 14,244 currently.
Aly Deovlet, is a volunteer from the NGO Help International working at Moria.
“Classes can start and end within a week.” She said, “there is no education system to pass on when we leave but it is something we are trying to start.”
“We spend a lot of time picking up Greece’s slack, ” she said.
Seeing the need to help new arrivals with English, The Suisse Crosse has developed a community center. Among other activities, they provide English classes to kids and adults in groups separated by native language.
At one of the more established Skaramagas refugee camp on Greece’s mainland, a supplement English education system has been established.
Eirini Adamopoulou is a psychologist working with the British Council at Skaramagas.
They have created a program that combines English language with life skills such as drama, art and photography.
She explained that her students take 3-4 months to adjust to the rules and culture that surround a formal classroom setting.
This is important because in October of 2016 the Greek Ministry of Education ruled that refugee children ages 6-15 should be placed in an after-school education program.
The Greek’s were upset because the children did not all speak the same language and were not on the same education level.
As refugee families wade through the asylum and relocation process, many have found their stay in Greece nearing the two-year mark. It has left them, and the Greek government with the reality of an educational program for the children’s future.
In the fall of 2017 the after – hours program is scheduled to end and the kids will be integrated where the students will start studying in Greek.
But for the majority of refugees who still dream of a financially-stable life outside of Greece, the need to improve their English to navigate the road to their future, will be an education they continue to pursue.
“I will learn svenska and then continue my education.”, Said, Maryam Sultini, 19.
Around October of 2016, International law states that every child has access to education.
Moria camp, on the island of Lesvos is 1 of 5 “hotspots” or reception centers where refugees are identified, processed and given health assessments as they enter the country.
Summer of 2015 over 1 million refugees entered Greece in hopes of continuing through the northern border.
The borders closed and European Union-Turkey deal was signed in March of 2016. This agreement stated that refugees coming to islands had to stay there until they are either relocated, sent back to Turkey or their home countries.
Although there is lack of a consistent program and pedagogy for language education the desire to learn English is still there. These trends in migration have been seen before, but not in this magnitude.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) act as a helping hand in the camps to provide assistance with food, medical attention, education and the basics of creating a safe environment.
However, these organizations come and go and so, do their volunteers. The minimum amount of time that volunteers are required to stay is two weeks.
Although some organizations have stepped up to provide community support based upon what the refugee’s find the most important.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the integration of refugee kids to Greek school’s due to concerns of health, levels of education and primarily the language barrier.
Kids ages 6-15 would now have access to Greek schools. However, this still leaves a number of children left behind. Kids who do not fit the age range and those whose parents will not allow them to go.
This is where NGOs play a large part in filling the gaps and getting kids up to speed in the world of education.
“It’s an important thing for people to use to gain some independence.” said Jasmine Kirk a volunteer English teacher at Melissa day center.
People need to be able to communicate their needs. Translators can only be provided to a certain extent of their journey.
The NGO Metadrasi is known for providing translators at asylum services, however they’re not going to be the ones there when a child is sick and needs a doctor.
Additional younger generations are motivated by social media and the internet as it was initially developed in English.
“Motivations come in different places and it kind of fuels progress as well.” Kirk stated.
“The girls at Melissa for the most part want to learn English because they don’t want to stay in Greece. They don’t know which country they’re going to end up going to. So, they want to learn English first so when they go to whatever country they get to then they want to learn the local language.”
Language is one of the most important tools that can help integrate refugees and allow them to continue with life as it was given to them.