Project update – Serres, 9th March


Our pop-up learning cafe project supporting the Yazidi community – currently not actually in Serres but in temporary hotel accommodation on the coast – has grown in size and strength. Over the first few weeks of the New Year, the Monday to Friday routine became established and more people joined the lessons.

In order to provide classes for as many people as possible between us, we coordinate with another volunteer group on the ground, Lifting Hands International (LHI), who provide language classes for women as part of a range of services similar to our community centre role in Nea Kavala. So although in all our photos, you will only see boys and men, the girls and women are also getting lessons, but are catered for elsewhere! With our previous stronger focus on younger children and with LHI running a women’s space, It had actually been the teenage boys and the men of the camp who had been under-served for quite some time, so it feels like a positive step forward to now be able to provide them with regular lessons.

We begin the day with classes for teenage boys. It’s a good feeling to turn up each day to set up the cafe and find the boys already outside waiting, ready to help carry in any bags, reserve their space with their notebook and then borrow a football to play together on the grass just outside the cafe while they wait for their class to start. Working with them in a classroom context gives a clearer idea of their strengths and gaps in knowledge. It’s amazing really just how much they have picked up or taught themselves, but is also a sad reminder of how much more they could do by now if they had had better access to education.

In the early afternoon we run a beginners class for ‘Babas’ – mostly for older men. Having been able to provide daily classes has made all the difference, and their progress and growth in confidence with using the language is noticable. Some have worked their way up from mastering the ABC in a small group before joining the classes.

Our last lesson of the day is higher level English for young men, with a chance to build on grammar, vocabulary, reading and writing skills. Several of the students in the advanced class used to volunteer as teachers at the community centre in Nea Kavala, and a few of them continue to help out with some of the classes for the lower levels, including supporting the beginner men’s group. We have also recently started ‘Science in English’ classes with the teenage boys, which is a great way to bring more variety to the teens while giving some teachers from the community a chance once again to share their skillset. .

The length of their stay in the hotel accommodation has been extended as, predictably, the construction work has taken longer than expected. This has many benefits of the community living in more comfortable conditions and has meant that our good set up with the learning cafe has been able to continue longer, but also means the children have now been so many months without any formal schooling. They had been due to start in the local schools in Serres before their camp was evacuated.

There are many, many children in this community, who are simply not getting acceptable access to education, and we are pretty restricted in the services we can provide for younger age groups, for a variety of reasons. There are also many people who would like to learn but are not easily able to access classes, for example those who are older, are in far away hotels, or who have young children they cannot leave. Knowing this community to be tight-knit and education hungry, with people willing to share resources and knowledge, we decided to provide some resources and encouragement for them to be able to teach each other, by preparing and distributing a ‘school in a box’ kit to each hotel.

The pack included a whiteboard and board pens, and a box with paper and basic stationery. To help with English, each family received an English -Arabic picture dictionary, and a folder with some picture vocabulary sheets of useful vocabulary, that we will build up over time.

We also distributed a pencil case kit for children and a ‘study pack’ with progress sticker book for each child aged 5-9, with worksheets for English and Arabic alphabet, and maths.

These boxes have been put into good use inside the hotels, with older teens and young adults taking on the role of running activities and teaching some of the little ones with the activity packs, and also with those with a good level of English running beginners classes for adults and children.

With recent donations that we have received for our book collection, we have also brought a share of the English graded readers from Nea Kavala’s library to the Learning Cafe and began a library lend-out system, something which has proved really popular. We hope to help all the classes to boost their progress and confidence with English through reading. Graded readers are books with the language simplified specifically for non-native speakers, are far more accessible and useful than regular books in English, and bring a motivating sense of progress and accomplishment for those learning a new language. We have a small selection of fictional and non fictional books, and are hoping to build up the collection

We don’t know what the next step will be once they return to Serres camp, but we truly hope to be able to continue our work with the Yazidi community.

With our presence, and with the classes, the mini library and material distributions, it is not just about providing an educational timeslot.

Having access to a class on a regular basis puts routine and purpose into a day, a week and a month that otherwise all rolls into one. It facilitates community, as a moment in the day when people can meet, learn and share together. It means being familiar faces in a situation full of change and instability. It is small but consistent progress in something tangible, to help fight against the numbing effects of a long time left in limbo. It is a gesture of friendship and sharing, to go some small way to representing another side of a Europe which at higher levels is showing itself to be so reluctant to reach out that hand to people who have already been through so much.

Thank you as always, to everyone who is helping these people through our project, by supporting us and helping to fund this material and these distributions. <3

If you would like to help us continue our work, you can support us here:

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