In a first, international nonprofit organization The HOME Project has announced that 18 young refugees in Greece will get full-time scholarships to attend American Community Schools of Athens (ACS Athens) in the upcoming academic year. The HOME Project, which offers shelter and work for children and young refugees in Greece, coordinated with the Shapiro Foundation to make this scholarship program a possibility.
The foundation, founded by Boston-based Ed and Barbara Shapiro, has also recently funded the creation of new shelters and jobs.
The youngsters will be enrolled in an educational program comprising both English and Greek as foreign languages, mathematics, computers and creative subjects such as theater and music.
“The sponsorship of 18 scholarships is extremely important for us, as the education of these young people is a key pillar in supporting them, equally as important as safe housing and the provision of necessary goods and services for their well-being,” says Sofia Kouvelaki, executive director of The HOME Project.
For Dr Stefanos Gialamas, president of ACS Athens, “Today, more than ever, academic institutions must prepare students to transform society as architects of their own learning, guided by ethos.”
ACS Athens is a K-12 international school with an American background. Educational opportunities have also been made available to unaccompanied minor migrants, through the establishment of the Youth to Youth Program.
ACS Athens and The HOME Project established a partnership in 2016, seeking to further the school’s initiatives.
The HOME Project, which stands for “Help, Overcome, Motivate and Empower,” currently houses 200 children in 10 homes.
Here are some of their stories.
‘I hope I’ll be a famous actor’
Hello, my name is A. and I’m from Kuwait. I live in Athens, Greece, and I’m 15 years old. I came to Greece one year ago in order to go find my family in the UK. I speak three languages, Arabic, English and some Greek. I studied at the National Theater of Greece for an academic year. I like acting and feel confident when I’m on stage, believe I have the appropriate skills needed and really enjoy it. When I was younger, I used to watch many television shows and I dreamed that one day I would be one of these actors. When I reach the UK I would like to take acting classes. I hope I’ll be a famous actor in the future and my dream is very vivid.
‘I’m a fighter in life’
My name is A. and I am 18 years old. I’m from Iran and I’ve been living in Greece for the past 10 months. I decided to leave my country because I felt I had no future there. My dream is to become a UFC champion. It all started one night two years ago in Iran when I watched a video of McGregor and that was it! I said to myself: “I want to be like him.” And I started practicing a lot, at first with a pillow. I want to go to the UK to live my dream. Greece is just a stopover for me and nothing and no one can stop me. I will become a champion and set an example for all the kids out there that dream and feel helpless. They will say “Look what A. did. He left Iran and look where he is now.” I’m a fighter in the ring. I’m a fighter in life too.
‘My life has changed’
My name is A. I’m Kurdish from Syria and I have been in Greece for the past two years. I am 18 years old and I was trying to reach Germany. First, I went to the island of Rhodes, where I was imprisoned for two months. While I was there, I was not feeling well but later I met some other boys and started liking it. When I came to Athens, I met good people; I took English and German lessons and I participated in a play of the National Theater of Greece. My life has changed. In two weeks, I am leaving for Germany and I feel both happy and sad because I will miss a lot of people. However, I really want to see my family. I will not forget the Greek people and I hope someday I will come back. I want to continue my theater studies, finish school but also gain a feeling of wholeness by reuniting with my family.
‘I really love Greece’
My name is W. and I am 17 years old. I have been living in Athens for approximately eight months and for most of this time, I have lived in a HOME Project refugee shelter called Socrates. I speak Urdu, Panjabi, English and a little bit of Greek that I learned at the ELIX school. I like going to the gym, playing cricket and volleyball. I also like going out with my friends and taking photos of the city. When I was in Pakistan, I wanted to become a cricket player but when I came to Greece I realized how difficult this is. However, I want to learn Greek and stay in Greece. I would like to get a proper job and meet a Greek girlfriend. If I legally get accepted to stay here, I would also like to have a family here in Greece. I have an uncle in Italy, and I could go find him but I really love Greece and would prefer staying here.
‘I always feel happy at ACS’
My name is A., I am 14 years old and I am from Syria. I have a brother here in Athens and I am participating in several educational programs. I love Greek people and I am very happy that I am here but I wish that someday I can go to Germany in order to see my family again that I have not seen for seven years. I like drawing, doing handcrafts and playing football with the other boys. In Greece, I have met many good people that work in the shelter I’m staying in, like Nikoletta, Andriana, Elli, Evi, Vivi, Vassilis, Grigoris, Nikos, Marina, Ahoura, Lefteris, Yolanda, Suzanna, Fotis and Sofia, as well as my guardian, Yiorgos, that all treat me really nice and give me everything I want. Our cook, Suzana is very nice and I like helping her in the kitchen. I would also like to thank Fotis, who has brought me gifts, like speakers and headphones. During the summer, I will start Greek and English lessons and in September, I will go to a Greek school. I always feel happy when I go to ACS and I want to learn Greek in order to be able to communicate with other children. At first, when I came to Greece, I was in Chios and I had a guardian who helped me complete my paperwork and get placed in a shelter. I really liked Chios and I love Greece. Next year, I want to celebrate Eid with my family in Germany, but I would really like to visit Greece again, this time with my family.
‘I feel safe here’
Hello! I am R.K. I was born in Cameroon. I left my country in 2013, due to social and economic problems. At first I went to Turkey and stayed there for five years with my twin brother. I was living there in a minors’ shelter, I went to school, and I had sports activities, mostly football. People from Turkey helped us a lot. After that, I left Turkey with my brother, and we came to Greece, to Chios island. We tried to leave Chios with fake papers, but we got arrested and we were sent back to Chios. After that, we were transferred to a minors’ shelter in Athens. I prefer staying in the house most of the time, because I feel safe here, and they provide me with everything I need. I want to reunite with my family (my father, my stepmother, and my three younger brothers in Germany). I hope to see my family again soon.
‘I was left alone, without hope’
I lived in Kabul in Afghanistan. We were a happy family of six. We had a normal life until people who were against improvement of our lives threatened us. We made the decision to leave everything: home, education, hopes. We crossed the border of Afghanistan to Iran and then to Turkey. It was tough, with a lot of fear and problems. For days and nights on end, we were walking with smugglers using a smugglers’ route to reach a better life without fighting and misery. We continued our trip from Turkey toward Greece’s borders but during the trip we were attacked and I lost my family. I was left alone, without hope. Then the smugglers took me to Thessaloniki and imprisoned me to pay money for them. I found a way to escape and I arrived in Athens. This situation was so bad for me, a teenager. I was desperate. I thought to myself: “In the past you had someone to rely on but now you are all alone. You have to stand on your feet. Life is a circle of happiness, sadness and experiences.” So we learn from experience, enjoy being together and don’t forget about our goals. I applied for asylum in Greece and restarted school under the Greek state’s scheme for refugee children. Z.E.
SHAPIRO FAMILY SHELTER
‘People here have a good heart’
My name is M. I am almost 17 years old and I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, which is named “brave cradle.” When I was around 16 years old I had to leave Afghanistan and now I live in Athens, Greece. When I arrived in Athens I didn’t know how to communicate with anyone, as I didn’t know the language and others didn’t know mine. However, people tried to help me. For this reason, I believe that people here have a good heart and are kind. Also, Athens has dreamy stories and beautiful views. In Athens, I found out who M is. I am a refugee and a talented girl at the same time. Greece is a country that helps me to improve my talents by studying. This summer I am studying English and guitar, and after the summer I will go to a Greek school. For my future I have the dream of becoming a professional taekwondo athlete who fights for peace and who lets other professional boys know that a female Muslim girl can also be a successful athlete. In addition, I would like to wave the Afghan flag in front of hundreds of people and right next to other flags of the world as a gesture symbolizing the bonding of countries. In the end, I am grateful to Greece, my shelter, my friends, my kind guardian and teachers for helping me to make my dreams true.
‘Before I came I was very afraid’
My name is Q. I am 17 years old and I am from Somalia. I came first to Anafi on September 17, 2017. Then I went to Syros, Leros and then Athens. I have been living in Athens for the past nine months. Before I came I was very afraid. I was in Turkey, where I was imprisoned for one month. I have been very happy since I came here, because Maria helped me. Now I live in a shelter close to Victoria Square and the person that I talk to is Maria. She helped me go to school and to the hospital when I needed to. Before I reached Athens, I couldn’t understand anything, I couldn’t speak English. Now I am waiting for an answer from the UK to reunite with my family in London. I am happy in Athens but I have not been with any family in the last two years and I miss them a lot. I hope that if I go to UK maybe I will see my family again. My dream is to go to the UK and then bring all my family there.
‘Athens is like my lost city’
My name is S. I am 17 years old, I was born in Iran and grew up there too but my nationality is Afghan. I have lived in Athens, Greece since 2016. I left Iran because of racism and academic restrictions. The best days of my life have been in Athens because I live freely and I study freely. I am very impressed with Athens because it is a city of civilization and democracy. I love Athens because I have interesting experiences here. I am happy that I live in Athens and not in Iran. People in Athens are kind and human. Athens is like my lost city, the city that I never had and have always dreamed of. Many refugees leave Athens for other European countries but I found myself half-lost in Athens. Sometimes I see fascists in Athens. I didn’t know the meaning of the word “fascism” before, because in Iran this word was never used in everyday life. Most of the people there and the government were fascists, so they didn’t call one another a fascist. Even though in Athens there are some fascists, most people here are very kind and accepting and cultured, loving people able to identify fascism whenever they see it. My Greek friends and staff at my shelter and officials in Greece help me to study. I like Athens. Athens is my home.
‘I like being at the beach’
Athens is a beautiful and huge city. I think that Athens is for all people. There are Muslims and Christians and people from many other religions. I like that people here are different. Girls have different hair color and many people have tattoos. I see that many people in Athens have dogs and they go on evening walks with them. I also see that many walls in Athens are full of graffiti and I think that it is beautiful and a special “touch” of Athens. An area that I like in Athens is Monastiraki. I like that it is always so noisy and full of people. I also like that in Monastiraki there are people who play music and dance. I see people there being happy and this makes me happy and joyous. Another place that I like in Athens is Syntagma Square. It is a very nice place to walk. I also like the Acropolis, it is a very nice place where you can see the whole city and take pictures. But I also like being at the beach and seeing the sun rise. I think that Greek people respect people from different countries. But there are also some things that I don’t like in Athens. I don’t like seeing people taking drugs and also don’t like that Athens is very hot.
‘In Greece there is peace’
Hi I am A., from Afghanistan, but I have been living in Greece since I left my country three years ago. Everybody knows that there is no peace in my country and that the Taliban are everywhere. This makes me feel fear very often as in the past, I have heard a lot of bombs explode. That is why I went to Iran. I traveled illegally with no identification and the police stopped me. They said, “Do you have an identification card?” And I told them, “I don’t,” so they asked for money. And then they let me go. That is why I made the decision to go Europe. Now, in Greece there is peace, I can go everywhere in the country, and this is good, I like it. The economy is a little weak but it’s better than being in Iran or Afghanistan.
‘Our boat almost sank’
My name is J.K. and I am from Pakistan. I am 17 years old. I was in 10th grade in Pakistan and was a good student. But then, there was some problem in Pakistan and then I decided go to Europe. First, I went illegally to Iran and stayed there for 10 days. Then I went to Turkey with many difficulties on the way there. In Turkey I stayed for one year. Then I thought of coming to Greece by sea; our boat almost sank. At first it was difficult but now I am happy because I have been granted asylum, I have a guardian and also live in a home.