Today was my first encounter with some of the children I will be working with. Second tree provides educational services to two camps near Ioannina, teaching English and Greek as well as a pot pourri of other topics and approaches (including, when my time comes, theatre.) Today, four of us volunteers went to Agia Eleni, driving there in a battered minibus-cum-van belonging to Second Tree. It is about four miles away, and can be found, unsurprisingly, very close to a huge Lidl supermarket; so far as I can see, catering to the refugee market is a large part of its business model.
The camp itself is relatively civilised, having been an orphanage in a previous existence, and therefore equipped with the right permanent infrastructure, including a reasonably-sized school hall, complete with stage. (Notably, when I asked one of the senior girls if she knew what theatre is, she replied immediately, “Of course! It’s here!”)
One volunteer, Ellie, took the four classes in rotation for English, while Abi, a new graduate from the UK, assisted by Carolina from Milan, taught the same groups something called “Activity”, which takes a particular theme, and looks at that in a variety of ways. The current theme is The Natural World, and this week’s lesson, slightly differentiated for the four ability levels, involved various games involving pictures of animals. My role was to observe and make comments, via some written crib sheets I had been given.
Most striking – even slightly alarming from my point of view – was the chaotic nature of much of the lessons, with children running around the space, and barely in control of their own emotions, one moment shouting and screaming, the next in a ferocious sulk. There were moments of focus, sometimes lasting for a few minutes, depending upon the particular class, and whether they were momentarily engaged by a particular activity. Not that I am blaming the teachers; nor do I think that I would have fared any better. My time will come, and then we will see.
Second Tree are aware that classroom management is an issue, and they have some strategies to address this: a five down to one countdown to enforce silence when things get too noisy, and a three strikes and you’re out policy for consistent misbehaviour (backed up by some rigorous record-keeping.) But these are not answers in themselves, and can cause difficulties in themselves. For example, those excluded during a lesson roam around outside, and add to the general mayhem at the door.
As to whether these children will (ever) be ready to perform, the answer is absolutely not. Except regular readers of this blog will remember that I have said this before, and that, sometimes, miracles happen. It’s just that this particular miracle is more on the level of divine resurrection than turning some water into wine.