First Day at Skaramagas Refugee Camp, Athens

Five days after a seven year-old Syrian boy was found in the Saronic Gulf of the Mediterranean Sea bordering Skaramagas Refugee Camp, Ear arrived at the camp. The boy lived with his family. Surrounded by a fence, with passages sliced into the wire for open access, the camp sits on a slab of concrete, lined with rows of white shipping containers, next to the Skaramagas shipping docks.

Everything that happens during the sweltering summer in the refugee camp takes place in one of these small cubic containers. They serve as tiny houses for refugees, NGO offices, and classrooms.

Judy K teachng skaramagas 7.25.17.jpg We arrive just as some of the staff in NGOs that serve refugee children leave for vacation. It takes a couple of days to secure a container for EAR’s Judy Kranzler to train English teachers at Hope School and the NGOs that offer English classes. Judy lugged a projector, DVD player, and phonics books from California – supplies that will remain after a month of teaching her acclaimed kinesthetic and music-based methods.

In music class, Betsy leads a Maori haka exercise that is at once physical and musical. The trauma of living in conflict zones, and the closure of many schools in Afghanistan and Syrian due to deadly attacks, has left the boys unable to focus. The girls, more disciplined, show a love of singing. We are told that it is a good class because only one fight breaks out.

Little by little, we get to know our way around the camp, including the norms and mores of its Syrians, Afghans and Kurds. We learn about the role of honor in multi-generational settings, and adjust a plan for parents and children to pair up in class.

I have never seen a refugee camp – not in Bosnia, Croatia, France, and now, Greece – where logistics are easy. EAR member Tawfic Halaby will translate for the Arabic-Speaking Syrians and Kurds. We hire a handsome twenty year-old Afghan to fetch the children for class and to translate. He tells us that he is the only Afghan to mix with other nationalities. We are hoping that he will bring Afghan children to our English and music classes. One of the pleasures of this first day in Skaramagas Refugee Camp was meeting an eleven year-old Syrian boy who trailed us, translating. As is the custom in Middle Eastern hospitality, he brought us to visit his family in their caravan. They talked of waiting for papers to join the boy’s father in Germany.

At the end of the day, we see a dozen young men and teenage boys swimming in the shimmering port water at the edge of camp. This would be the likely spot where the seven year old slipped off a steep drop-off from the concrete into the sea, and drowned. Due to the searing heat, Middle Eastern seclusion of women, and fear, most of the 3600 refugees – families and unaccompanied minors – spend the day in their cramped caravans. The boy, gone missing between bedtime and 1:30 am, must have wanted to taste some kind of freedom he sensed was missing.

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Author: earefuge

I direct EAR (Expressive Arts Refuge) whose work focuses on refugee youth in Calais, France. At home in Oakland, California, I direct World Harmony Chorus.

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