Ed Wade-Martins (right) with a participant in our practitioner training with ELIX in Athens, July 2016 (Photo credit: Themis Gkion, flowathens.com)
Being a part of our collaboration with ELIX on developing projects working with refugee children this summer had a huge impact on me. It’s strange to be back home under the blandness of grey English skies knowing that the Greek summer school is now well underway. The children are picked up from their camps and brought to a lovely little primary school not far away. They gather in a circle and sing together, play games and get to know what it feels like to be in a new kind of learning community. Each day they have classes and workshops learning Greek and English; they explore the creative realms of art, music and theatre and play sports in the playground.
It was enormously profound to see the children’s excitement and joy to be coming to school. Seeing the tentative gratitude of their mothers and fathers sitting on a bench in the playground watching their children play was almost heart breaking. Hearing the children’s stories of what they had been through I knew could be almost too much to bare. These people have lost everything including family and friends and now are homeless in a foreign land. Perhaps they’ll stay. They so want their children to go to school to learn so they can create a better world for themselves.
The project in Athens took place on many levels. We first met the fantastic team from ELIX, a charity that has organized volunteers from all over Europe to run positive projects for the last 30 years. They were so inspiring and they were also inspired by what we had to offer. It was a deep meeting of souls and we were excited by what was possible through collaborating.
We began by leading a 2-day Creative Facilitation training for the newly enrolled facilitators and teachers for the summer school. They soaked up the whole process, excited to be learning new techniques. They also met with their own creative edges exploring this journey in relation to themselves and their work. Afterwards they commented on how they felt like such a strong team and couldn’t believe they had only known each other for just a few days.
Together with the core team from ELIX we then designed the structures and a daily flow for the upcoming summer school. We set up teams to teach classes together and dreamt up workshops for them to deliver. We created goals and agreements for the creative communities they would be supporting and the team began to feel ready and prepared to begin the school.
That first morning was chaos. Meeting the children and families at the refugee camps and the process of registering the children hinted at the chaos and hardships that their community was dealing with everyday. We worked with translators in English, Greek, Farsi and Arabic as we gathered the children who themselves had travelled from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia to reach safety. The screams of joy when they finally arrived at school after walking through the heat that first morning made the whole initial process worthwhile. They dived onto the tables of art materials to create colorful name badges and greeted our team of eager helpers with smiles. We knew that something fantastic was beginning.
There were all sorts of challenges during the first two days, but the team stayed positive and flexible, and was able to hold a safe container to overcome the initial problems. We supported the staff in debriefing the initial phase and left knowing that those kids are in good hands and that they will have the most fantastic summer held in a loving learning environment.
At this time, this work is the healing that is needed in our communities. Crossing boundaries of language, culture and religion, children were being allowed to be children once again. These people are innocent victims of someone else’s war and their children seek the love and embrace that we hope for our own children. We cannot ever underestimate the power and importance of this work to heal the wounds that we carry inside.