This day-blog was written by one of our fantastic long term volunteers. Their primary role in Greece is teaching English and Maths to children and adults in one of the camps, they also help out with logistics when they are not teaching.
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As usual, there is an argument over who will ring the school bell. J hands it to M, who runs off round the camp, clanging it as loudly as she can. I already have an unruly line of five to eight year olds, but the bell brings more, galloping up over the coarse gravel. Skinny little R arrives last, yellow coat flapping and his red spiderman wellies on the wrong feet.
The school is a rectangular structure of metal poles covered in plastic sheeting, with a corrugated iron roof. We had to add a swathe of dark material down one side to stop it heating up like a greenhouse, and a carpet onto the wooden floor, to hold extra heat on cold days. We do have portable heaters, but putting them on can trip the electricity in the whole camp. Inside, school is split into two classrooms by a hanging tarpaulin and is made cheerful by washing lines of numbers, vocabulary sets and children’s work. There is a strict ‘no shoes’ policy.
Our first lesson is maths. We have already counted up to twenty and back again when S’s cheeky round pixie face peeps around the hanging tarpaulin. She scuttles to the back of the mat and sits up straight, arms and legs folded. She is grinning, her eyes sparkle with anticipated mischief and there is and a shiny, upside down sticker in the middle of her forehead which reads, ‘Fun!’ H appears too. Short, with tufty black hair, and a worried, handsome face, he was an engineering student in Iraq and took on the responsibility of trying to teach the kids while the community were in a previous refugee camp. It is a great help to have him around, as the kids pay more attention to instructions in their mother tongue. He also looks after two of his younger sisters here, as his mother is in Germany with their other sisters. At break he wants to chat. He talks about hiding up a mountain, surrounded by Isis, with no food. ‘Everything is for the children now,’ he says. He is 24 and thinks his life is over.
In English we practise phonemes. R is especially keen on ‘l for leg,’ and they all enjoy walking like robots to learn ‘r for robot.’ Five of the children who only come to school irregularly, wander in at various moments, disrupting the concentration level of the class. Further difficulties are caused by a group of children who are too small for school, throwing stones at the tent and trying to make holes in the plastic. It’s a relief when lunchtime comes around, although it takes ten minutes of cajoling and threats to get the kids out of school, and then it turns out that they have hidden J’s shoes. He puts his hands on his hips and pretends to be upset, and they laugh.
In the afternoon we start by practicing handwriting. P, blond haired, blue eyed and clever, takes his work seriously and writes in beautiful neat rows. R, who is always tired by the afternoon, scribbles lazily on his sheet. H. refuses to work at all, dives under the tarpaulin partition, and then tries to prevent a telling off by grabbing my hand and kissing it continuously, whilst giving the others cheeky sideways glances.
After the last break, they are delighted to learn transport vocabulary, and we nearly have huge sulks over who gets to colour in the picture of the ferry, but luckily, at the last moment, D. switches his desires to the lorry, and we colour peacefully, while singing along to the ‘months of the year’ song which can be heard from the other class. The day finishes with story time, which both classes come together for. Having finally convinced the children to move on from days of shouting out along to Monkey Puzzle, J reads out Rainbow fish to an enraptured audience, which includes H, who has arrived early for my adult class.
H is only 48 but looks years older. He is shaven headed and grizzled with dark, twinkly eyes. He can speak Kurdish and Arabic, but rarely remembers anything I teach him in English. His favourite joke is that by the end of December, I will be fluent in Kurdish whilst his English will remain the same: ‘December you Kurdish. Me no English!’ We practise telling the time and weather vocabulary. When we write the vocabulary down, Z, fighting her usual headache, grips the pencil for dear life, her hand shaking. Upon learning the word for snow, she shows me a picture on her phone of her house in Iraq on a snowy day, with her and her husband and the kids playing outside. Then she shows a picture of her house as it is now, with the roof collapsed in. ‘This is when I left,’ she says.
The teenagers have their own school down in the village, but some turn up to practice speaking after the adults have gone. We talk about their traditional celebrations throughout the year. They have fasting days in December, and April fool’s day, and a spring celebration outside with food and dancing. A, a clever girl with a her long hair sweeping sideways across her forehead and wound back into a bun joins in. ‘I don’t like August,’ she says, ‘because four years ago bad things happened.’ There is no discussion at all when I ask if they would prefer to live in the countryside or the city. The answer is the countryside, ‘because that is where the Yazidis live’. And they unanimously agree that they love being outside in the rain. Finally, while discussing who the best singer is, two girls stand up at the front and sing a song. It is a Kurdish love song about unrequited love. They giggle, forget some of the words, sing across each other, slowly gain in strength, and are utterly delightful.