Hi, I’m Sammy! I’m one of the Action for Education volunteers based at the Youth Center (Yugi) in Chios. I’ve been here for three weeks, and I love it. If you're thinking about volunteering with AFE, or if you are just interested to know what it's like, here's one day in my life:
This morning, I woke up at 7:35am, a big pot of coffee already on the stove. All ten Youth Center teachers were crowded into the kitchen in our shared accomodation. We ran to Yugi at 7:56am to our 8am team meeting.
Then three people went to the bus to go collect our students at Vial Reception and Identification Center, while two of us set up. We have an hour to organize the coffee area, clean the toilet, clear the bins, finish the dishes, set up the chairs, and get the projector ready. Usually, we’d cut bananas, slice bread and set the table, but not today. It’s Ramadan / Ramazan right now - so most people are fasting.
This morning we listened to Spanish music while getting ready, as Beatriz was in charge of the tunes; she’s from Spain. Last week, I played my ‘morning playlist.’ It reminded me of my morning routine at my job: coffee, emails, and the same playlist on repeat. Every day was the same... and now!
“Good morning teacher!” Ah! They’re here, our girls. Group 7 is the women’s group; it is small. We tend to have about 15 girls. (To compare: Group 1,2,3,4, and 5 have about 30 males in each one).
We start each session with an assembly where we say, “We are so happy to see you.” This is the most important part. We want them to know that we care about them, that they belong here. The purpose of yugi is to create a safe space for those waiting on Chios. We want to create a place where it doesn’t matter what religion you are, or what nation you are from, there is a place where you are accepted. Sadly, this is not how they feel in Chios.
Today we are making Jewelry, making cards doing karaoke, learning English, or cooking. I’m the English teacher in Group 7. I spent the session writing a story with Shamima. We wrote a story about cleaning at Yugi - her idea! We learned two new words, ‘guilty’ and ‘impact.’ “Sammy and Shamima learned that if you don’t clean up your mess, it can have a negative impact on another person’s life.” Oh, it was beautiful. At the end she said, “Now we are both authors,” and held the pamphlet proudly.
Then I met with Amina. We reviewed the months of the year. She knows them so well now. I was worried she wouldn’t understand as in Afghanistan, they use the Persian calendar. Somehow, I’ve been able to explain. I want to teach her useful things, and when I realized she couldn’t even read the date on her phone screen, we started there. After spending two sessions going through and reviewing the months, to hear her list them off confidently, I was so proud of her.
Then it was time for lunch. Usually everyone eats together after saying thank you in all the languages of our students to make sure they all feel included: Arabic, Farsi, Somalia, and more. Today only a few girls ate with us, as a lot were fasting.
This month we’ll be celebrating Iftar three times a week at Yugi - thanks to support from Help Refugees. I am very excited to be part of their holy celebration. I may even try fasting for a day, just so I can better understand what they are experiencing.
I feel happy we can provide them this, especially the unaccompanied minors and those who are alone. They deserve to be able to express their religion, just like the Christians and Easter. In Chios, there was a parade and fireworks. It was beautiful.
After eating, we walk them back to the bus. I walk next to Amina, and she says, “I love Yugi. You my friend.” My heart aches. I smile, and say, “Yes, friends!” Then we get on the bus, and drop them off at Vial.
Today I only have one shift. Some days I have two. I love those days - so long and full of meaning. At my office job, I counted down until 5:30pm. Now, I don’t check my clock once. I feel enthusiastic and purposeful as I try to show these inspiring people that they are not forgotten; they are loved, they are valuable, and they have the potential to make the world a better place. Just like me. Just like you.