In May this year the island of Chios opened its doors to a Refugee School for more than 100 children. For many of these kids who left their war-torn homes, it was the first time they had entered a school.
“Kids wake up super early in the morning because they are excited for school,” said Nicholas Millett to the Global Citizen community.
Millet is a British volunteer in Chios and one of the founders of the school, “They run to the teachers’ tent asking, are we ready for school yet?”
There are around 1,500 people living in refugee camps in Chios, and 30%-40% of these are children. The EU- Turkey deal signed in March has meant many of those arriving in Chios remain stranded on the island while their asylum application is processed.
“After the deal, I spent a lot of time with families — they tell you the stories. They left Syria for the future of their children, and they came to Europe because they wanted their kids to go to school and have the opportunity to go to school like any child should. But they don’t have that,” said Millet.
“I knew I had to do something. I wanted to provide a safe place for kids to go to and to restore their innocence.”
Partnering with the NGO “Be Aware and Share” (BAAS), Millett and the Chios Eastern Shore Response Team decided to open a school for the refugee children held in the camps.
It took them a month to get the project off the ground, and now they provide classes for nearly 150 pupils in English, Farsi, Arabic, mathematics, science, art, and skills training such as gardening and basic hygiene.
Run entirely by volunteers, the project places a strong emphasis on participation from the refugee community. All of the teachers are refugees who are professionals in their own country.
“These people have had their dignity stripped, through the war and the situation here. The school project is a forum where dignity can be taken back.”
“We have a table in the garden,” Millett said. “The kids were so excited to sit around a table because they haven’t sat at a table for so long. Now, they can sit around and eat as a community. They can just relax and be kids. This is a sanctuary.”
“We collect the kids from the camps and as they pass the locals they say "Kalimera" — "good morning" in Greek. All the locals come out of their shops to greet them.”
“We’ve only got half the kids in the city in school, so we hope to open another school,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Afghan, Iranian, Pakistani, or Syrian — before you are anything, a child is a child.”
*This article first appeared in "The Global Citizen" and if you would like to help out by signing petitions, sending emails, tweets to world leaders or to join rallies, click here:
*All images by Chios Refugee School Project
This is an admirable project- reflecting the best of our human spirit against the risk of us all bring consumed by our worst character traits. We need all of us to be acting positively to deal with the trajedies that threaten to consume the world. Even a small gesture- like the proverbial butterfly’s wings in the Southern Hemisphere causing a hurricane in the north.