"Each day threw up a new challenge—that is to say, fight"by Alex Shilling / January 25, 2017 / Leave a comment
“You political types,” said the barman in my hotel on my first night in Athens. “You will help for a little time and then you will go.”
I had gone to Greece to teach English to refugees, predominantly from Syria and Afghanistan, at a camp about 40 minutes’ drive from the centre of Athens. The camp was based at the old Ellinikon Airport, the country’s national airport until it closed in 2001. It was partially redeveloped for the Olympics and refugees were housed in former departure lounges and sporting facilities, which is how I ended up volunteering at something named the Baseball Camp.
On my first day, I turned up at the Arrivals section of the old airport only to be met with a series of puzzled expressions. The problem wasn’t the language barrier—the aid workers almost all spoke perfect English—but the director had not been expecting me. We sorted it out, but it was my first experience of the structural chaos at the camp.
Twenty minutes later, I was teaching my first lesson to refugee women. I had prepared a little before flying out, but it soon became clear that, contrary to what I had been told to expect, this was a mixed ability class. We began with the alphabet and moved onto vowel sounds, finishing with some basic vocabulary—resorting to stereotypes, I chose clothes and shopping as the topic.
I thought the lesson had been a relative success, given the circumstances, which included nursery rhymes being played at deafening volume on a ghetto blaster in the classroom next door and small children ru…