by Jodie Spencer, AFE Project Coordinator on Samos Island
When one door closes, another door opens. As a community centre and teaching space, our beloved Banana House hasn’t been allowed to operate since September. However, we still had energy, resources and a commitment to help. Looking further afield, we launched a small project in collaboration with UNHCR-funded ARSIS, noticing a gap in the psychosocial support for asylum seekers living in remote accommodation outside of Vathy on Samos.
On our first visit, we were greeted by a very polite but slightly apprehensive group of people. We introduced ourselves as Banana House volunteers, willing to bring any classes or activities they might want or need. The response was pretty quiet, except the uniform consensus that English classes would be great.
Two days later we turned up with exercise books, whiteboards, worksheets and more. We separated into three groups and made some headway in understanding their English level as well as a very early understanding of our students.
Fast forward 8 weeks - you will see our youngest student (aged 4) run out to greet us, a progressively longer and more beautiful scarf by a keen knitting student, kettles boiled, likely some cake, some healthy and happy kittens, and some confident, eager English students. It quickly became clear that, for these students, far from home and isolated from Vathy, we had far more to offer than our English.
Now we have a team of three volunteers, myself, Hannah and Tom, who visit our students in ARSIS apartments three times a week. What started as just English lessons has quickly morphed into knitting classes, Greek lessons, backgammon, tea and cake.
Amid a global pandemic that has obstructed our usual work, this new project has revealed that we can nevertheless create a sense of community, dignity and fun during this time. It has shown us that we can recreate the Banana House spirit far outside its walls.
As we prepare to take continued action on Samos and Chios in the New Year, please consider donating during our winter campaign. Find out more at www.actionforeducation.org/to-the-future