Guest blog from Refugee 4 Refugees’ Co-Ordinator on Lesvos island
Every day, Refugee4Refugee volunteers gather children from three to 12 years old and take them on an excursion to our plot of land, where they are typically found singing songs, playing fun games and doing creative crafts, especially out of recycled materials.
The Olive Grove is the makeshift camp that, due to persisting over capacity, acts as an extension of the official Reception and Identification Center of Moria Camp, the largest refugee camp in the island of Lesvos.
Our NGO, Refugee4Refugees, has recently rented a 4,000 m2 plot of land in the Olive Grove (thanks to funding from Donate4Refugees) in an attempt to increase children’s accessibility to non-formal educational and recreational activities. This project aims to foster a “childhood spirit” through playful games, in order to mitigate the proven traumatizing effects of a long-term stay in Moria Camp, and build an educational foundation in basic academic subjects such as English and Mathematics in order to ease future integration into the European school system.
The day starts with everyone sitting in a circle and introducing themselves, then we propose some group games (e.g. duck/goose, mimics, dancing, races, etc.) and we finish up offering the children different stations to choose from: coloring books, puzzles, building blocks, bracelet making, jumping ropes, hoola hoops, etc. Furthermore, we often do craft days such as painting rocks, origami, finger puppets and alike.
The volunteers always try to introduce learning through games and soon we will re-launch our non-formal educational project, where we will teach basic Maths and English skills. There is a lot of exchange when the children decide to join us, whereby they also teach volunteers the games, songs and vocabulary they know and, even though we count with volunteer translators from Moria, it is amazing to find out different ways of communicating with the children when many of them do not have the same fluency in English.
They have a lot of energy and often ask the volunteers if there will be more activities in the next morning. New curious faces have been joining us every day, especially when their friends and family members are the ones to enthusiastically invite them to come. It is worth noting that we have gained the trust of the families through other projects, such as our Olive Grove garbage cleaning initiative twice a week, which have allowed us to become a loved and respected member of the community, and in turn organically increased the awareness and participation in our children activities.
We are currently building some new structures (e.g. deck, fence, porch-like gathering area, etc.) and will soon introduce ISO boxes so that we can hold classes and do the activities protected from the cold and the rain, which has been a problem in the recent past.
The land, divided into three levels, will not only provide an educational space (top level) and recreational area (bottom level), but will also introduce elements of permaculture, by introducing small-scale agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. This aims to also introduce an element of education through workshops with children and parents to learn about the environment and foster ownership and collaboration, for example through the maintenance of a garden and its harvest. For the moment we open from 10am to 13pm but, once we finish implementing our vision for the land, we intend on staying open for the whole day in order to create a space for the refugee community to enjoy.