Gekko Kids is the name of the school for unaccompanied refugee minors (and more) in Mytilini. It is the place where I am likely to be working for the next three months.
It does not sound, or even look, like a school, which is one reason I walked past it twice this morning, and putting myself in a mild panic as a result. From the outside, it is just a doorway on a narrow, crowded street, just like all the others. Nicer than most it’s true and with an arresting artwork painted on the wall, which I shouldn’t have missed (but – obviously – did).
But it is the inside that matters. It is just one building, seriously hemmed in by its neighbours, but Better Days (the NGO which set it up) has taken care to create a clean, orderly, welcoming environment. There are four small classrooms (the two I visited called Gandhi and Malala), each in theory adapted to a different teaching style, but all flexible and adaptable. The furniture is basic, but modern and in good condition. Not the largest of schools, by any means. They maximise their impact by having four separate shifts for different groups (including the latest in the day for adults.) Even so, there is a constant pressure for them to do more, because there is more that needs doing.
This was my first day, and I was struck by how calm and welcoming it was. I had the chance to meet up with some important people: Romane, the co-ordinator from Better Days; Deborah, in charge of the volunteers, and Irene, the school receptionist – as in all schools, she was the person in charge.
Best of all, I sat in on Deborah’s English class, meeting five young refugees, and watching them being led through a discussion of a newspaper article. We were visited by another girl who called in to say goodbye, as she had just received permission to go to Germany. She had arrived at the school with no English at all, but was now entirely fluent, despite also now tackling German as well. It was clear she would be an asset to any country, and was a reminder of what the school is all about: preparing children who had gone through so much for an exciting and fulfilling future, wherever that might be.