This summer, I was lucky enough to be awarded the Go Abroad fund which enabled me to travel to Lamia, Greece and volunteer with the charity, Happy Caravan, who run a school offering English, math and art classes in Thermopylae refugee camp.
Over the past few years, I have felt extremely moved by the plight facing refugees, particularly those fleeing from Syria and wanted to spend some of my summer volunteering with an organisation who made life in one of the camps slightly more bearable.
The refugee camp itself is based in an old hotel and the school in what used to be a restaurant. Money and resources are limited for the refugees who live at the camp and the children have access to limited education provided by the Greek government. Happy Caravan was established by a Syrian refugee and has steadily grown over the past year to accommodate up to 100 children each weekday.
The day is split up into 4 parts. The first is for children aged 2-5 years old and usually consists of singing, games and art. The second is a more structured lesson for children aged 5-10 years old where English and maths is taught. The third is for the older children, between the ages of 10 and 15 and consists of more advanced English and math classes. At the end of each day, there is also an activity for the children, such as painting, a sports game, a film screening etc. There could be up to 40 children in each class and more at the after school activity so each volunteer was responsible for ensuring all the children were safe at all times. I had the opportunity to lead English classes as well as math classes. I also supported other volunteers while they taught their classes.
Before embarking on the journey to Greece, I was worried that I was not sufficiently experienced in working with children who had experienced trauma and that the language barrier between myself and the children might make working with them difficult. However, these fears melted away almost as soon as I arrived at Happy Caravan. One of the most harrowing things about working with the children was the realisation that children need the same things no matter where they are from or what they have been through. All the children wanted was someone who was open, willing to play and listen to them. Some of the children had extremely good English but some did not. However, it was never an issue and we were able to communicate in other ways. I even picked up some basic Arabic by the end of my time volunteering.
The experience was a profoundly worthwhile one and I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to spend time volunteering with Happy Caravan and getting to know the children in the camp.