Written by Rob Perry, who recently spent three months in Greece, in Mavrovouni Refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, providing English schooling for elementary-school-aged children.
At first, the children came for classes in tents which were identical to those that they lived in. Part of each of my classes included singing. I hoped to teach the children some English through songs, like Hello, Goodbye by the Beatles or Lean on Me by Bill Withers.
I still smile when I think of walking through the camp and hearing one particular 10-year-old girl from Afghanistan singing, “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.”
But due to COVID-19 fears, classes were cancelled for the last half of my time there. During this time we took homework tent-to-tent to each student. At first I was really disappointed, but this challenge wound up providing wonderful opportunities to connect with students individually, and also to get to know their families.
What prompted me to go to Lesvos?
Five years ago, I was privileged to join our partners for a visit to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. I remember how inspirational it was to see churches bring hope and help to the residents of the camp. And how humbling and uplifting it was to hear the incredible choirs in the refugee camp churches. However, the most impactful part of the visit for me was an hour I spent with about 30 youth from one of the refugee churches.
The recurring theme of this conversation, the thing most on these young peoples’ minds, was education. They dreamt of opportunities for higher education, but for many if not most, this would be a very difficult goal to achieve. NGOs and churches were working hard to offer educational opportunities and programming. However, in their setting, education remains a very challenging aspiration.
Since this visit five years ago, the importance of education in the refugee world has been reaffirmed for me many times, particularly with my time on Lesvos. For these children and their families, education is a bright hope, a positive way to spend time during monotonous and challenging days in the camp – but more than that – education is a key to having a fresh and positive start wherever in the world displaced people eventually wind up. This is true in Greece, as well as for the teenagers in Dzaleka.
And the same can also be said for young people who are impacted through IAFR’s other partnerships, such as the Beirut Nazarene church’s amazing school program (STEP), or the African Hope Learning Centre in Cairo, supporting Sudanese refugee children, to whom we have sent support personnel.
At IAFR Canada we continue to prayerfully discern where in the world God wants us to be, with whom he would like us to partner, and what major priority pillars he would like us to erect.
We are in the early days of discerning what our engagement with education for displaced people around the world can and should look like. We would love to invite you to join us in prayer as we discern how we can best partner with others and/or create our own initiatives to help meet this vital need.
Won’t you join with us in responding to the needs and desires of displaced children and youth? They are hoping and dreaming for a good future. They believe, as we do, that education is key to such a future. We at IAFR are enthusiastic about being a part of this solution.
Footnote: The partners Rob went to Dzaleka with were There is Hope and IAFR US. World University Service of Canada and There is Hope are the NGO’s doing educational assistance for residents of Dzaleka. On Lesvos, Rob was grateful to work with Beyond Borders and EuroRelief.
Our vision is to help people survive and recover from forced displacement. We do this together with the church, both globally, and locally in Canada.