A grassroots response to the refugee crisis in Greece.
Action for Education (AFE) was established in 2018 by a group of long-term volunteers working on the Greek island of Chios. Having taken over the management of the education projects started by Be Aware and Share in 2016, AFE remains committed to supporting marginalised communities in Greece.
Over the past 18 months, we have maintained and grown the reach of our work, establishing ourselves as a respected entity within the Greek non-profit and grassroots sectors.
Whilst thousands of asylum seekers continue to live in makeshift camps on the islands, and those on the mainland continue to face huge barriers to continued learning and integration, we will not stop working to meet basic needs and run our critical safe spaces that foster empowerment and build community.
The Refugee Education Chios project, started under Be Aware and Share in 2016, began as an urgent response to the appalling conditions endured by children and youth on Chios. Over its first year and a half, it grew from one centre to three, providing a holistic non-formal education service catering for children and youth aged 6 to 22. Working with hundreds of volunteers, the High School, Primary School and Youth Centre buildings each offered the specialised, safe spaces crucial to building resilience and building community within an unstable and often hostile environment.
In January 2018, the project changed hands to Action for Education, receiving ongoing support from Be Aware and Share. Retaining much of the same long-term volunteer team, and building on the learnings gathered over its first year and a half, the projects celebrated their 3rd birthday in May 2019.
The challenge of providing long-term support to refugee communities on Chios means constantly re-evaluating the nature of our work. As the Greek state builds its capacity to host and integrate refugee children, we have been there along the way, supporting the authorities and helping children to access formal schooling.
In response to these slow but positive developments, in February 2018 we closed our Primary School, handing over to the Greek organisation METAdrasi. One year later, we also relocated our High School. At present, we run non-formal education for 15 - 18 year olds in partnership with METAdrasi in a learning centre close to the camp. Meanwhile, we continue to run our Youth Centre in the centre of town, providing not just an alternative space to the camp, but also vital access to services in the town.
In the summer of 2018, we launched a new project, this time in Athens. From our work on Chios, it is clear that for many, having spent months waiting for asylum interviews on the islands, Athens is a long-awaited and idealised destination. Unfortunately the reality is far more grim. A lack of social services, including housing, employment and education opportunities, make life extremely tough for many refugees moving to the mainland. Building on a partnership already existent on Chios, where we provide language classes at the Athena Centre for Women, we partnered with Action for Women to run the education pillar in The Halcyon Days Centre. Opening in August 2018, the education programme offers women daily classes in English, Greek and IT. This education programme, run in conjunction with the legal and livelihoods programmes managed by Action for Women, sees up to 150 women attending classes every day.
Then in December 2018, a new crisis came to light. Over the course of the preceding year, the island of Samos, three hours south of Chios, saw more and more frequent boat arrivals. The number of asylum seekers present on the island grew massively, reaching a peak of just over 4,000 in December. After a visit to the island at the same time, we resolved to support the situation there as much as we could.
In January 2019, a team of AFE coordinators and volunteers began setting up a new centre for youth on the island, drawing on our extensive experience on Chios working with the same age group. In early March, we opened this new education centre for 18 - 23 year olds. Since then, we have continued to expand the range of our services, opening two new centres: The Nest, in partnership with The Pedagogical Institute of Los Angeles, for children aged 2 - 7, and The Computer Lab, in partnership with Glocal Roots, to provide IT classes and computer access.
At present, Action for Education works with a team of over 50 volunteers across our centres in Greece, hosting welcoming and community-orientated spaces for up to 1,000 beneficiaries a month. As we grow and learn for the future, we invite you to share in an unfolding story and act with us for education.
In late 2019, we concluded our education programme in Athens, handing over the project in its entirety to Action for Women. We have since then re-focused our efforts on the deteriorating conditions on the Aegean islands. Since September 2019, the population has doubled, with 40,000 asylum seekers now trapped in camps made for just 6,000.
In response to these worsening conditions, in early 2020 we established another new centre on Chios. Set in a large warehouse, this non-formal education centre is complete with showers, 4 classrooms, a computer lab, barbershop, tailor shop, recreation area and extensive garden.
And whilst we work as hard as possible to increase the education provision for children and young adults on the islands, we are also fighting for an end to this geopolitical mess. The violent politics and ominous spread of coronavirus since March 2020 have demonstrated once again how ill-equipped and degrading the current EU migration policy truly is. Alongside a coalition of grassroots NGOs, we are leading the campaign Europe Must Act, to bring about long-term change, and advocate for the right of all asylum seekers to a humane and dignified passage into Europe.