Learning practical Greek

The people behind the weekend school in the neighborhood of Plato’s Academy, western Athens, understand the power of language. The migrants who attend classes there in Modern Greek are not so interested in abstruse points of grammar as they are in being able to express themselves, facilitate everyday dealings easier and improve their quality of life. And that’s the approach the supporters and friends of the school follow. The list of volunteer teachers includes quite a few teachers of Greek but also lawyers, graphic artists, members of Doctors without Borders, retirees and students. «One million migrants live in Greece yet the state hasn’t opened any schools. Instead, last summer they voted in a law stipulating that anyone who wants the five-year residence permit must attain a certain level of proficiency in Greek, which entails 100 hours of language lessons plus 25 hours of lessons on Greek culture. But while the government set those prerequisites, it has not opened schools to provide the teaching,» said Andreas, a founding member of the group. «The university asked me for -600 to do Greek at the University Club, and I had to have all my papers, residence permit and so on,» said Asad, from Syria. «I find it harder to write than to understand what is said. I learn the language at work, I hear it on television,» said Walid, who has been doing lessons for three months. I realize the great difference from formal education, the transmission of knowledge that you often wonder whether it will be useful. In total contrast, the weekend school participates in events concerning forgiveness of the debt of undeveloped countries, informs migrants of the new laws and of their rights, and gets involved in anti-racism festivals. The school is in its third year of operation, without government support. «We have applied for state funding, but we haven’t pursued it too vigorously, because we know very well how these things work. The minute they subsidize you they want to control you. And we don’t want to alter the nature of the school. This is our great achievement, that we have remained faithful to our original nature and approach,» Andreas said. People from every corner of the world are here, united under the flag of self-determination and mutual support. I left reflecting on a comment by Isam from Damascus: «Someone who has will power can handle any difficulties.» (Information: 145 Argous Street, Akademia Platonos, tel 210.513.0373, 210.330.6286.) (1) This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s supplement K, February 18, 2007.