18 June 2016

Educational activities for young refugees in the Balkans

SOS Children's Villages helps refugee children in Macedonia and Serbia

Co-worker from Serbia with children at Child Friendly Space in Tabanovce, Macedonia Photographer: Maja Simic

Since the Balkan refugee route was officially closed in March, the number of people in the refugee centres in FYR Macedonia and Serbia has been steadily decreasing. Nevertheless, SOS Children's Villages remains committed to helping children who are stranded in Macedonia and Serbia find normality.

Around 200 people – 90 of them children – are currently staying at the refugee centre in Tabanovce, in Northern Macedonia, where SOS Children’s Villages Macedonia is expanding its Child Friendly Space (CFS) to adjust to the longer-term needs of children and families.

SOS Children's Villages and UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, have developed an educational programme for children and young refugees who have had to leave their homes, their friends, and their schools behind. The programme includes language classes, music and dance lessons, art therapy, craft workshops, theatre and ICT classes for children, and entertainment activities for the entire family.

Teachers from around the world

At the beginning, there was concern about finding enough teachers for the programme. But both SOS Children’s Villages co-workers and refugees are volunteering to lead different activities. Mite, for example, SOS Children's Villages Macedonia’s emergency field coordinator, gives music lessons. He plays percussion instruments – once nothing but a hobby –, which has allowed him to develop a music programme that now also includes student volunteers from the Faculty of Music at Skopje University.
 
SOS co-worker giving Arabic language lesson to children in Child Friendly Space in Tabanovce, Macedonia. Photo: Katerina Ilievska
 
Aya is an Arabic translator for SOS Children's Villages in Macedonia. A refugee herself, Aya fled her hometown of Daraa in Syria in 2012 and found herself missing going to class. She had studied design before she had to leave her country. When she saw that many of the children stranded in Tabanovce also missed school, she proposed to give an Arabic language class for school-age children.
 
Malena, a long-time volunteer in the SOS Children's Village Skopje is originally from Ecuador and holds a certificate in art therapy. She is now implementing the most popular activity for children in the village – art classes.
 
There are also refugees who volunteer as teachers, but their difficult situations often do not allow for long-term teaching commitments. An electrical engineer from Afghanistan and a math teacher from Syria, for instance, gave lessons in Farsi and math for one month. But both recently decided to continue their journey with their families.
 
At the refugee centre in Preševo, Serbia, people are coming and going as well. There is an average of 100 people at the centre every day, 40 percent of them are children. The SOS Child Friendly Space in Preševo also offers educational and creative activities for young people. Hundreds of children have had a chance to experience happy childhood moments so far.
 
Technology for refugees
 
Art and languages are not the only skills young people can learn while living at refugee centres. At the SOS Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Corners in Gevgelija and Tabanovce in Macedonia, SOS Children’s Villages will begin offering daily ICT classes. The ICT Corner staff will teach about 120 children and young people how to use MS Office.
 
In Preševo, the ICT Corner is constantly occupied by children and young people. Although many of them seek distraction when using the computers, SOS Children’s Villages’ co-workers have been raising their interest in MS Office and other useful applications.


Read more about SOS Children's Villages work with refugees