Project update – Serres, 1st April


Our sister project with the Yazidi community came to the end of its third and final month in their temporary hotel accommodation last Friday. These weeks since the new year – of a routine of daily English classes, a good learning space and good living conditions – have been motivating for students and teachers alike.

We received news that they would be returning to the camp now that the containers have been fully installed. This has been a relief for the local Greeks, who rightly suspected that the ‘two months’ they had been told would inevitably be extended and who were worried about the consequences for the tourist industry in their small town, on which they all rely heavily. The feelings about the move seems to be mixed among the Yazidis, but many are happy to return to the bigger town – with more services and more affordable shops. The camp has vastly improved, with furnished containers replacing the old, cramped and uninsulated tents that they were in before being finally evacuated to the hotels when the freezing weather hit before Christmas.

We hope too, that now the children are back in the town where things were in the process of being set-up for their entry into the local schools, they will – finally, after over a year in Greece – be able to access formal schooling.

It was good to have a little notice to be able to do something a bit different to draw a line under this time. On the last day, instead of class, we did a litter pick along a big stretch of the beach as a gesture of thank you to the local residents, and then headed back to the learning cafe to wash hands and celebrate with some food, drink and music. The students also made some thank you messages for some of the people in the town who have helped this project to happen.

Throughout the last week our advanced level students also helped out even more than usual, and took over the teaching of the younger groups to enable the classes to continue while freeing up more of our time to make a start on tackling some of the inevitable logistical and bureaucracy work involved in moving the project once more. For the next couple of weeks, both they and us will be in transition and re-set-up mode, as they settle in to their new temporary homes and we try to find one. Everyone is hoping that We Are Here English classes can continue, but across Greece things are becoming more restrictive, and we are still waiting to hear if we will have access to the renovated camp.

Before we left, we did another distribution of learning material for each family and we have left our students with some folders of homework to keep them busy over the next couple of weeks ( or at least the more studious ones, some of them will certainly spend the next fortnight celebrating being opposite a local football ground again..) , while we wait to hear about access. During this time we will organise ourselves in a new town, and also take a couple of weeks out to recharge batteries, visit family and to attend a week-long teaching conference in the UK. We hope to be able to continue lessons soon, with renewed energy and some fresh teaching ideas.

We must never forget that, when homesick hits, we can catch that low-cost flight and head back to the nest for a dose of home. It is sadly ironic that, as European volunteers, we- with enough willpower- have the luxury of dancing freely across the planet to follow our heart and our dreams, but we are working to help people who for the most part dream of being in one place, safely, quietly, with their family. Right now many of them have various members of their immediate family spread across four different countries – Syria or Iraq, Turkey, Greece and then either Germany or another European country.

The reunification of at least some parts of the family is finally inching closer for some. Those waiting in Greece have a registration number and, little by little, these numbers are listed online. This gives a warning that the person or family can expect a call any day to be summoned to Athens to hear which country has been selected for them. They then wait for an interview with the selected country, then wait for the response, and then wait again for the transportation. From the call to the time of leaving can be a period of several months for people in yet another different location, and also a time of intense worry, waiting for the final outcome after their months and months in Greece.

After a year long countdown, when the moment finally draws near, it is destabilising for many. A step into the next phase of unknowns, the anxiety and excitement is palpable, and catching.

For the Yazidi community, who find so much of their strength in the fact that they have made the journey this far journey together, this move and rebuild in a new country will bring perhaps even more challenge than for most. It is almost impossible to overstate how much they thrive living in extremely close proximity to eachother. It is telling that one of the reasons they are looking forward to the return to Serres is that their containers will all be next to each other.

Spending time with them – laughing, eating incredible food and drinking incredibly sweet tea – it is so easy to allow yourself to forget just how much this community has been through in Iraq before arriving on Greek shores. To forget that they are survivors of a genocide that is still ongoing. What has been felt, by every person who has worked with them, is a sense of the true meaning of resilience, of community, and the capacity to feel and inspire joy despite extremely difficult circumstances.

As they approach the what we can only hope is the final stage of the migration phase, this strong, solid, peaceful group unity risks being lost. They will be facing a sort of Yazidi Diaspora as their small community is allocated to different countries across the world. As one father said, like small pond fish let out into the ocean.

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