Four continents come together in just one classroom

From outside, the building at the corner of Themistocleous and Katakouzinou streets doesn’t look much like a school, but inside students are milling about, books under their arms, talking in groups. As the bell rings, everyone files into the classrooms and lessons begin. Ioulia from Ukraine has the highest praise for her teacher, the school director Pantelis Pappas. «He’s not only a good teacher but a good person. I’ve learnt a lot in the short time I’ve been attending lessons here. When I go home I help my daughter with her homework. She also goes to primary school and I try to teach her not to make the same mistakes I do, particularly with spelling, which I find harder than the other lessons.» Ioulia, 32, studied economics in her home country and worked in its taxation bureau. Since coming to Greece two years ago, she has not worked but keeps house for her husband and 7-year-old daughter. Her only luxury is her schoolwork; what free time she has is devoted to homework. Although her teacher says she is one of his best students, she is not satisfied. «In order to learn fast you can’t be occupied by other problems. When you are, your brain finds it hard to learn new things.» Most of her fellow students work hard. Jafar from Albania is a construction worker, Sandra from Argentina sells silver objects, Samuel from Burundi works at a factory in Aspropyrgos. «They are all thirsty for knowledge,» said Pappas. «But first they have to make a living and only then can they think about other things. That is why when they miss a class it’s not because they’re taking a day off but because they’ve found extra work. A few days ago a student’s mobile phone went off during a lesson. It was a lady looking for three people to work at party that night. Right away three girls got up and left. We show them understanding. We often interrupt the lesson and discuss their problems; we try to help them as much as we can.» The teaching method used at the Parnassos School is analytical and based on the communicative method. The grammatical and syntactical structure of the Greek language is simplified and most words are illustrated with photographs. It is in no way a complete education in the Greek language, but it is a major first step. Each class consists of 25 students who, on completion of their studies, are presented with a certificate which has been recognized by the Greek state since 1955. Apart from lessons, there are also excursions. Last year the students visited Meteora and Plastira Lake. This year it is to Mystras. Hermes, 30, from Ethiopia can’t wait. «We had a great time at Meteora. I could never have imagined such a beautiful place,» he said. A devout Evangelist, he reads the Bible every day and goes to church twice a week. «I read the Bible in my own language, with the Greek translation alongside,» he explains. He has been here for two years and wants to stay. «I am engaged to be married and want my children to grow up here. I like the Greek language. When I’m not working (in a firm’s warehouse), I study. The lessons have made a big difference.» The lesson ends at around 9.30 p.m. The stores in Themistocleous Street have closed, the streets are emptying; everyone rushes off home, to get ready for an early start the next day. This article first appeared in the November 18 issue of K, Kathimerini’s Sunday supplement.