The Education Center and School for Syrian Refugees in Greece

"The Syrian Refugee Crisis has been declared by the international community to be the largest humanitarian disaster in the last 25 years. It changes the face of the world, it changes the face of humanity and it's not expected to pass from the world in the next generation."

כיום חיים בעולם כ-60 מיליון פליטים ועקורי-פנים; גברים ונשים שנאלצו להימלט מאזורי מלחמה, מרדיפה, מעוני קיצוני ומאסונות סביבתיים. אנו נמצאים בעיצומו של משבר הפליטים החמור ביותר מאז מלחמת העולם השנייה. כ-11 מיליון מתוכם הם סורים שאיבדו את ביתם בשש השנים האחרונות. בין הפליטים קיימים ילדים ובני נוער רבים שלא היו במערכת חינוך כבר מספר שנים.
כל יום שעובר עוד ועוד נפשות, מתוכם מליוני ילדים וילדות, נאלצים לעקור את עצמם ממקום מגוריהם ללא עתיד ידוע. אלו שמצליחים לעשות זאת, חיים במציאות הישרדותית ללא אופק ודאי. לנוכח הזוועות המתקיימות ממש לצדינו בחרנו ביחד עם תנועת אג'יאל להושיט יד של שלום ולסייע בתחום הקרוב לליבנו – חינוך.

על הפליטים באי לסבוס: לסבוס הוא האי השלישי בגודלו ביוון. אוכלוסיית האי מונה 82,000 תושבים יוונים והיום מעל ל-6000 פליטים, 3000 מהם מתחת לגיל 18.


האי ממוקם 8 ק"מ מחופי תורכיה ובשל קרבתו אליה, היום הוא האי שממשיך לקלוט הכי הרבה פליטים. בתחילה שימש האי כתחנת מעבר לפליטים והחל מחודש מרץ 2016, בעקבות ה"דיל התורכי–אירופאי" (EU – Turkey Deal) הוא הפך לקו האחרון אליו יכולים להגיע הפליטים באירופה. באי פועלים שני מחנות שיחד יכולים להכיל עד 3500 פליטים. בפועל, כאמור, למעלה מ-6000 פליטים נקלטו בהם - הרבה מעבר לכמות המקסימלית. שגרת החיים במחנה הפליטים ריקה. מתוקף אמנות בינלאומיות להגנה על פליטים, הפליטים זכאים למקלט, אבל הפרשנות ל"מקלט" היא לרוב מאוד בסיסית. היא מאפשרת חיים, אבל בתנאים מאוד דלים וקשים. למרות שמחנות הפליטים ביוון נחשבים למחנות עם תנאים יחסית סבירים, החיים במחנה לא קלים: הפליטים אינם רשאים להשתלב בשוק העבודה, הילדים במחנות אינם הולכים לבית ספר נכון להיום. חיים באוהלים. יש מחסור במזון. היעדר תקווה ועתיד לא ידוע. בנוסף עולה מתח רב עם האוכלוסייה המקומית שהמהגרים שינו את אופיה. נוכחות הפליטים כמעט וחיסלה את תעשיית התיירות שיושבי האי התפרנסו ממנה בעיצומו של המשבר הכלכלי היווני.


It's Human to Make a Difference

The Education Center puts their goal to give assistance to the hardships of the refugees in our world and our area. The Education Center is a cooperative effort of the adult members of Hashomer Hatzair movement and the Arab youth organization Ajiyal in partnership with the Humanitarian Organization 'NATAN'. Ajiyal is an Israeli Arab youth organization that bases its pedagogy on belief in human beings and chooses informal education to impart its' values. The Ajiyal Movement sees in education a major tool to insure cultural mobility, and the main way to the advancement and the development of the Arab Israeli society. Ajiyal is a sister organization of Hashomer Hatzair and at a formal level it is a unit of Hashomer Hatzair.

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During February 2017 we began together the course of events that led to the establishment of a school for children of refugees on the island of Lesbos in Greece. The island of Lesbos is close to the shore of Turkey and therefore many refugees arrive to it. Only 48 out of 900 refugee children and teenagers that live in the island are integrated into Greek schools. The School and Education Center was created and built together with professionals who are refugees themselves. In the school, there are two classes: an Arabic class (for Syrian refugees) and a Persian class (for Afghani refugees). In the afternoons, we hold a variety of courses for adults.
The Education Center's guiding principles:
• An educational center that is based on the informal education atmosphere of the youth movement.
• From the community for the community – The Education Center was established in full coordination with the teachers from the community of refugees that lives on the island. We believe that our role is to awaken hope and positive action amongst the refugees themselves and not to create a relationship that preserves the position of weakness that they already find themselves in.
• Coexistence the Middle East – We aim to the fondemental humane basis that exists in all people, to the striving towards unity and goodness. We put great effort towards creating a beneficent and positive dialog among the nations.
• To invest greatly in every human being and in every detail – we believe that after experiencing trauma and months and years of survival, only the highest level of effort and aiming high will bring about a change in the quality of life for the people we work with.
• Education and not appeasement – only education that believes in children and sets a high bar for them to aspire to, can succeed and change something in the refugee experience of our students.

From the Diary of the Members of the Delegation:

On the first parents' day that we organized, 40 parents from Syria and Afghanistan came to sign up their children for school. The meeting was led by Abdullah from Afghanistan and Salam from Syria. We agreed ahead of time with the staff of teachers that we would sit on the side so that it would be clear that the school belongs to the community and exists for it. The meeting took place in Arabic and Persian. Towards the end of the meeting we noticed that all of the parents and children were beginning to look at us and then Salam came to us and one by one took us to stand in front everyone. After we all stood a bit embarrassed in a line, Salem began to speak. He stopped every few sentences so that Valid and Amir will translate into Hebrew and so that Abdullah will translate into Persian: "You see these people here? They are Jews from Israel and Arabs from Palestine who decided to come here to build together with us our first school. They are our brothers and sisters. Jews, Muslims and Christians - we are all brothers. We are one family. I want to say to our new friends thank you. Thank you that you are here with us. Thank you for these last weeks in which you worked and prepared this whole place with us. Together we will show everyone that the world can look different." When he finished speaking everyone in the room clapped and one of the Syrian mothers stood before us with tears in her eyes. We also had to dry the tears from our own eyes because the atmosphere in the room was full of the feeling that something historic had happened here. A moment of benevolence. Very slowly the parents began to leave and we stayed in the room with Salam. He came to us, hugged us and said "From this room we will begin to change the world."

Our Activity

Our main activity is the school for children of refugees that we activate in the camp. How does a day in our school look?
08:30 - We meet the children in their camp and and escort to the school.
08:45 - Breakfast in the school yard.
09:00 - First lesson - Language: English, Arabic / Persian.
09:45 - Second lesson - Science: Mathematics / Computers.
10:30 - Long recess
11:00 - Third lesson - Humane: Values and Behaviour / Literature.
11:45 - Short recess
12:00 - Fun lesson - Social games, group challenges and creative activities.
13:00 - Lunch
13:30 - Escorting the children back to the camp.
Together with the teaching staff we decided that the educational framework should be structured and with a high level of discipline. If there is something that we learned in our time with the community in the camp, it's how children need a stable framework to grow in. Since we have been here we meet more and more children that we see in their eyes that they have no educators to set boundaries for them. We discovered that many times humanitarian aid struggles with everything connected to education. We met many volunteers who came with an open heart and the goal to make the children happy and to make their lives better. Many times the will to do good for the children is leads to, in fact, appeasing them. When you meet children who do not have much in life it's easy to get used to appeasing them, giving them everything they want and permitting them to do whatever they want. The difference between appeasement and education lies in the ability of educators to say "No" and to set boundaries. A child who gets used to adults who try to appease with the goal to make him happy, experiences an unstable adult world, that is not consistent and lacking in confidence. We put an emphasis on a stable framework for the children. A framework with clear rules that will help the students to develop confidence and create a routine. The lessons begin on time, a child can go out during a lesson only by getting permission from the teacher. These children remind us that anyone who wants to be an educator needs to have deep roots that don't waiver in a storm, a trunk that can be climbed on without it breaking and a treetop full of leaves and fruit ,to linger in its shade and eat from its fruits.

Adult Education Program

When the children finish their school day, the building becomes a school for adults. In which are registered more than 100 men and women from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Congo and The Ivory Coast. In the beginning we decided that alongside language and crafts classes for men and women separately, it is also important for us to introduce mixed classes of men and women together. Almost immediately many questions arose about whether women and men should be taught together or separately. Some of the teachers (both male and female) claimed that in order to integrate into European culture, people should be accustomed to mixed gender encounters while others argued that the traditions of potential students should be respected and thus women and men should be taught separately. After long conversations we understood that it was not our job and it was neither the time nor the place to change people's cultural habits. We understood that our job is to give people a safe space to learn in the extreme realities of life they are experiencing now and to create an oasis of security and growth within a space of uncertainty and doubt. Together we realized that a natural process of connecting begins when people learn and expand their horizons and the ability to communicate with the world. We are building our schedule according to the changing needs of the various communities.

Afternoon Activities

During the construction of the school and in order to get to know the families in the camps, we launched the noon activities. At first we came with a mat and a little equipment and from day to day more and more special encounters were created. One of them is the embroidery group of Afghan women. It started one day when the mothers of the children came to see what we were doing. That evening we made a sample of a small bag, and the next day when the mothers came again we showed them the bag and asked them if they wanted to make one. They were excited and sat down. After they chose fabrics and threads we learned to sew and embroider together. Thus the embroidery group was created. I addition, we have a variety of other noon activities.

Our School Staff

Members of our school staff are Salem and Amani from Syria, Ramzan, Nikos and Katrina from Iran, Abdullah and Javad from Afghanistan and we, Jewish and Arab teachers from Israel.

We set up the school's staff, thinking that the school should answer the needs of the community. One is able to do so only if one’s design is done in full cooperation with the communities in the camp. We understood that the establishment of the school should not be executed by us but by the people themselves. When doing, the one who does is always the centre. Everything rises or falls with him/her. In a humanitarian endeavour too, the one who does for other people will always remain at the center. The only way to put the people in the center is to create for them the conditions which enable them to do for themselves. We established a local team of teachers, out of a desire to give the community the tools and the ability to be independent, and to put the people in it at the center.

Building the School

To erect the school building, we decided to join the global and economical trend of building with containers. Using two large containers that we attached and sawed, we created a 60 square meter structure divided into two classrooms. Outside the building there is a yard which will become an educational and experiential space. We plan to engage the children in its development and maintenance. The school is part of a larger community center currently being built by the Swiss Cross organization with which we are collaborating. We did not build the school alone. With our partners from the organization we contacted professionals in the camps - builders, painters, welders, carpenters, etc., and we built the school together with them. Nearly 30 professionals worked with us on the school structure. Every day we worked together, ate together and, without paying attention, became best friends.


Abu-Sumer and Wassis from Syria together with Yasin from Tunisia are welders who were responsible for all the iron work in containers. Muhammad from Syria is the electrician who installed the lighting system and the sinks in the classrooms. Opal, Ray and John are the Nepali carpenters who ran the construction of partitions, doors and windows. Yasin Maljir and Osam from Congo conducted the painting in the building. Abu Muhammad and Jalal from Syria laid down the concrete foundations and put up the fence. With them and with many others we whitewashed, sawed, sewed, and painted. Together with them we discovered that when people invest their energy in creating and building together, all the barriers disappear, the face softens and the heart opens. The process of joint construction revealed daily the self-worth that manifests itself only in autonomous action. Those same people with defeated faces, whom the press calls refugees, straightened up and found meaning - even if for a few weeks or only for a few moments. Thanks to them, we learned that doing with the people is much more meaningful than doing for them.

School construction process: