The youngsters’ eagerness to attend lessons dissipates parents’ fears

The children were «literally hanging on the schoolyard fence, even in bad weather,» said Olga Katsiani, a social worker and animateur who worked for three years in PEM’s mobile support units. «They would run after the van to welcome us and when we had to go they would hug us and stop us from leaving.» The laptops, board games, felt-tip pens and other materials for Greek lessons were like gifts brought by the vans during the week and at weekends to children in remote mountain villages in Thrace. At first the parents had some reservations, Katsiani explained, but when they saw how friendly, accepting and respectful of their different culture the lessons were, they happily sent their children. «We provide a break in their routine, given that the villages have no more than five families, and the city is two to three hours away,» said Katsiani. The mobile units used to cater to 300 children in 23 isolated villages, and twice as many in summer. «The children would always eagerly ask me when they would be having a lesson,» said Irfan Kourou, a driver for the mobile units, who comes from a mountain village in Rodopi. He praised the project: «It helped not only with the language, but also to make inhabitants of mountain villages open up, be more sociable, since we don’t usually see visitors.» He said his own Greek improved thanks to his work with PEM. «The children are really keen on the program. They keep asking when lessons will begin again,» he said. «Without them we’ll go back to where we were.»