The many restrictions on mobility and public gatherings, which have been implemented in Greece for almost a year now, have led Za’atar NGO to adapt its organization, transferring all of its educational services online in order for beneficiaries to keep improving their language skills – a key-factor of the process of integration into a foreign society.
Five language classes are currently delivered via Zoom by an international team of dedicated and enthusiastic teachers. Throughout March and April, bilingual sessions of a CV workshop were also offered to meet several requests. All those educational activities, adding up to our in-person legal and social services, correspond to a total of more than one hundred free hours of language classes taught to some fifty students each month.
In a constant desire to adjust and improve its practices, Za’atar NGO’s team has launched a revision of its Teachers’ Handbook, guiding our teachers in their first steps and progression, in order to take into account the evolutions implied by the virtualization of classes. Current teachers were invited to share their experience and methods. That is in this framework that one of our Greek teachers, Marleno Nika, student in Greek Language and Linguistics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, wrote an insightful reflection on his teaching journey at the Orange House.
Titled “How to Bridge the Gap Between Teacher and Student”, his text reminds us all that “Our idea of teaching and learning, as well as our understanding of what a classroom is and how it functions are highly influenced by our cultural experiences.” A fact that, according to him, should not limit teachers but, on the contrary, stimulate their creativity and challenge their own conceptions and methods.
As Marleno writes it with great relevance, “(…) we must understand the prerequired sociocultural knowledge needed for a person to follow the classrooms we teach and communicate with our students, in order to understand their ideas on teaching and learning. (…) Our job is to bridge the gap between what students want to learn and what they have to learn, what they already know and assume and what they need to know, in order to navigate inside a certain language community.”
Relying on its international team of volunteers and employees, constantly questioning and improving their methods, Za’atar NGO has always made of cultural awareness and dialogue a key determinant of its practice and success.
Ten years ago, in March 2011, in a hope for change and progress in individual and political rights already expressed in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya at the time, peaceful protests started taking place in the south of Syria. In a context of economic and environmental crisis (1), disillusion with Bashar al-Assad’s leadership, in place since 2000 after having succeeded his father Hafez, president for the previous thirty years, the protest movement was quick to spread throughout the country.
Non-violent demonstrators were met with guns and tanks.
Six months after the first marches demanding political progress, economic reforms and social change, the situation had turned into a civil war, opposing civilian armed militias to the national army. Voices started raising on the international stage, asking President Bachar al-Assad to put an end to this dangerous escalation of violence. National and international attempts to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict failed one after the other as the country sank into horror and destruction. In 2013, the Syrian power was accused of attacking its own people using chemical weapons. That same year, a new actor emerged, illustrating the diversity and complexity of forces intervening in the conflict – the Islamic State in Irak and the Levant or Islamic State in Irak and Syria.
From mass protests to a civil war, the Syrian conflict had turned global in less than two years, devastating a country and its people.
After receiving hundreds of thousands asylum-seekers and refugees successively fleeing conflicts and violence in Lebanon, Palestine or Irak, Syria started seeing its own population run away. To this day, according to the UN (2), they are 6.6 million Syrians to have left the country, with an additional 6.7 million being displaced within its borders – which correspond to half the entire population. If European countries soon worried about a “Syrian refugee crisis”, the main host countries of those displaced populations remain neighboring Turkey, currently home to 3.6 million of Syrians, Lebanon, Jordan, Irak and Egypt. While some have managed to find asylum abroad, the majority of them are still living in camps, whose precariousness and poverty have increased due to the global pandemic.
For the 13 million Syrians who have not had the possibility or means to flee, Covid-19 is the last challenge of a long list of daily struggles to survive in the ruins of their country (3).
A decade after the beginning of what was briefly called the Syrian Revolution, while the country is still divided and the prey of international interests, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates the death toll to reach 388, 652 people.
Ten years have passed, millions are gone. And war remains.
(1) Between 2006 and 2010, Syria went through the most severe drought of its contemporary history. See Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Syrian Civil War”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 17 Jul. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War.
(2) UNHCR, “Syria Refugee Crisis Explained”. 5 Feb. 2021. https://www.unrefugees.org/news/syria-refugee-crisis-explained/#:~:text=More%20than%206.6%20million%20Syrians,%2C%20Jordan%2C%20Iraq%20and%20Egypt
(3) UNICEF, “Syria conflict 10 years on: 90 per cent of children need support as violence, economic crisis and COVID-19 pandemic push families to the brink”. 10 March 2021. https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/syria-conflict-10-years-90-cent-children-need-support-violence-economic-crisis-and
An article written by Aude Sathoud, in discussion with Marina Liakis.
In an ideal word, there would be no need for such a thing as an International Day for Women’s Rights.
In 2020, migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee women and girls have constituted one of the most vulnerable populations in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Deprived of schools for the youngest of them, who, in their majority, will probably not return, they have been touched by another hidden epidemic. In a context of generalized lockdown, mobility restrictions and social distancing, making even more complex the access to organizations and community support, domestic and gender-based violence has been on the rise worldwide.
In 2020, migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee women have also been frontline actors in the struggle against the pandemic as well as in the survival of economies which, without them and a great number of workers, male and female, composing the invisible though essential basis of our societies, would have collapsed.
In 2020, migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee women have been thousands to mobilize themselves and their communities in order to preserve their life and solidarity, cope with a situation increasing their vulnerability and isolation, and defend their rights while the world had other priorities.
On this Monday, March 8th 2021, the International Day for Women’s Rights is not a luxury – it is a necessity.
It thus is with a renewed belief in both their ideals and power to change the real that Za’atar NGO’s leadership and team worked throughout 2020 to offer refugee and asylum-seeking women a place to live, take a breath, meet and build, a place to grow and then leave, in their Athenian shelter on the first floor of their community center, the Orange House.
Coming from Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon or Iran, they have been welcomed and supported in this singular and difficult period for us all and even more for people on the move. Benefitting from the holistic approach and personalized support developed by our team of psychologist, social worker and lawyer, they were able to all remain as active as possible – studying at school or taking part in a professional training, finding a job in the summer or between the lockdown periods, and following language classes at the Orange House.
If one of our residents got infected by the virus in the first weeks of the epidemic, and had to spend two weeks in the hospital – a complicated experience for any foreigner and especially asylum-seeker, she was grateful for the kindness of the nursing staff and support from the Orange House’s team and the other residents, with whom she fortunately reunited, recovered and relieved.
In 2021, Za’atar NGO is committed to carry on working to make this complex and beautiful world a better place for all women and girls, so that one day, perhaps, the 8th of March is just another one of those days when we look up at the sky and smile, waiting for spring.
Our registry of volunteers for the month of March 2021.