A Syrian refugee boy stands in front of his family tent at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece (REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis.
(photo credit: ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / REUTERS)
Every day, amid the idyllic blue waters of the Aegean, small rubber boats can be spotted between the coasts of Turkey and Greece. Intended for no more than 20, the boats are piled up with more than 70 refugee men, women and children as they leave Turkey in hopes of reaching the Greek islands, most commonly, the island of Lesbos.
The children arrive with their mental health in dire condition. They are acutely aware the sea they have just crossed is the final resting place of many of their friends, a graveyard for other children just like them, and this reality leaves them riddled with PTSD.
During the day, ferries shuttle tourists between Lesbos and Turkey and during the night, from the coast of one the lights of the other are clearly visible. Due to this proximity, Lesbos is currently “home” to more refugees than any other Greek island. Among these refugees, 30% are minors – 2,400 children, of whom 1,800 need schooling.
Because most of the students have had their schooling disrupted by the violent atrocities back home, they have not attended school for many years, or not at all, at such a critical age. In addition to this, once these children arrive to Greece, they are also denied an education in the Greek public school system. As a result, the only solution became to establish an educational institution that accepted these children no matter their previous level of schooling, their ethnicity, religious affiliation or country of origin.
The School of Peace was established on the island of Lesbos as a global school aimed to provide refugee children with the opportunity to gain an education. Established April 24, 2017, with only 30 students, the school had only two classes: an Arabic class and a Farsi class. As the school continued to grow and flourish, the number of students reached 185 from all the different backgrounds of refugees on the island. As a result, the School of Peace now has eight full classes: Three in varying levels of Arabic for students from Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, the Palestinian territories and other Arab countries; two in Farsi for students coming from Afghanistan and Iran; two in Kurdish for those with Kurdish backgrounds; and one for French Congolese students.
IN EACH of these classes students are taught the essential subjects that ensure a solid education to assist them in the future. These include: the mother tongue language (Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi or French); mathematics; science and biology; English language; fine arts, such as painting and art therapy; psychological support activities; and ethics/upbringing classes, which are taught once a week and teach various values and ethics.
All of these subjects are taught by teachers who speak the students’ native tongue.
Hence, the students feel more comfortable in the school environment as it renders similarities from schooling in their home countries.
In addition, the teachers are closer to the students because they understand their needs, strengths, weaknesses, and backgrounds, both culturally and linguistically.
However, with the increase in students we are faced with many challenges and hardships.
One of the main challenges is that in each class there are many varying levels.
This is primarily because many children come from countries or regions where schooling was no longer available after conflict. As a result, they are behind other students in their age group.
For example, there are many students in the older classes who do not know how to read or write in their mother tongue or in a foreign language. Consequently, the school struggles to figure out where to place these students.
The School of Peace is currently supported by two organizations. One is Ajial, an Arab-Palestinian organization. The other is an Israeli organization called Hashomer Hatzair. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that is very well-known, even infamous. It is an accomplishment that at this school, conflicts and grievances have been left behind in order for Palestinians and Israelis to stand side-by-side and work hand-in-hand to spread the message of peace, love and hope into the hearts of these refugee children. This partnership is also an inspiration for the children, as it sets the first example of cultural and religious understanding. These can then be transcribed into their everyday interactions with other students from differing backgrounds.
Today, 10.5% of refugee children found on the island of Lesbos receive their education at the School of Peace. This is not simply a number but rather a representation of the incredible accomplishments that are repeated every day at this school. The School of Peace’s fast growth and expansion has not only been seen in the growing number of students, but also in the students’ intellectual and critical thinking capabilities; their ability to mix and interact with all the different cultures around them; the formation of friendships across backgrounds; the visible improvement of students’ manners; and last but not least, their acceptance of the other religions found at the school. We discover the great wonderful world through wonderful accomplishments.
My name is Abed El-Rahman. I am a refugee from Damascus, Syria, and I have been a volunteer teacher at the School of Peace for the past seven months. I am an Arabic-language teacher for native Arabic-speaking students, and I am extremely grateful that I am able to help and support these refugee children through the power of education, and profusely proud of our school and all its accomplishments. In light of the difficult task ahead, the challenges we face on this island, the increased number of children in need of schooling, and the limited resources available to this cause – we need your support and help in order to complete our educational vision for these refugee children on this Greek island.
The International School of Peace was established by Hashomer Hatzair Life Movement and the Ajial Movement. It is in partnership with the IsraAid humanitarian aid organization. For more details go to http://hashomrim.org.il/en/syrian-refugee-education-center/The author, a refugee from Damascus wrote this as a letter and is a volunteer teacher at the International School of Peace
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