Wendy first came to HSA as a general volunteer… and ended up coming back for several months to teach English language to men and women in the camp. When asked why she decided to return to HSA, she states that “The people were still here and the need was still here” The need to receive help, in the form of clothing or education, but most importantly the need to be validated as human beings. For her, volunteering comes down to something as simple and pure as “humans helping fellow humans”.
“I was inspired by people being here longer”, she says. She was also impressed with how organized Kara Tepe camp was, and with the atmosphere of trust between the families and the volunteers. Often, the women don’t think twice before handing you their newborn to hold while they choose clothes, and the kids come rushing to hug you. “If James Bond has a license to kill, our volunteer badge is a license to love.”
The blooming friendships and the sometimes overwhelming experience of making a difference in the life of the people who need it the most went a long way. After a month with HSA, Wendy left the island knowing she would come back. She organized her life in the UK and undertook the TEFL training so that she could come back and share her passion: teaching.
In the classroom
After teaching daily for 3 months to the adults residents in Kara Tepe refugee camp, Wendy has become a very important character in the camp’s life. “She is the spirit and the smile of the school”, says David Triboulot, HSA coordinator in Greece, to which Wendy answers that bringing a bit of joy in the residents’ life is her mission. Teaching English is way to connect and give the refugees a chance to have a voice about what they are experiencing.
Hence, the lessons are really light-hearted most of the time. The school has two levels: the beginner’s class, which is called ‘ABC class’, and the intermediate class. “We have a new classroom, with a whiteboard and modern furniture; HSA provides resources for printing and I’ve became friends with all the stationery stores in town!’’ The students do all of the four areas of the language: speaking, listening, writing and reading. In order to make the learning experience interactive, Wendy likes to bring props into the classroom, and we make sure that the lessons are accessible and attractive by not imposing stressful exams onto the students.
Wendy had been a classroom teacher in England for a long time, but teaching English as a second language is another experience. Working with refugees is especially fulfilling because the students are motivated and very receptive. “If you’re a classroom teacher and you’re fed up with your students not paying attention, Kara Tepe is the place to be!” The students literally won’t leave the classroom at the end of the lesson because they are asking questions, and eager to learn. At the end of the day, you can see the enthusiasm in Wendy’s eyes when she tells us about her lesson of the day, as if she was a student herself: “Today was so much fun, we brought clothes from the distribution point to learn their names and one man tried a dress on!’’
A team spirit in a beautiful environment
A definite plus for Wendy was sharing the experience with the international team. As volunteers often get to rent shared accommodations together, go for dinner or just walk together to the camp in the beautiful surroundings of the Greek island, it is easy to make new friends. Because they committed to helping refugees like you, you can rest assured that the fellow volunteers have a lovely heart and interesting ideas. “Now I’ve got invitations to visit friends in so many places!’’ Furthermore, the international volunteers can spread the refugees’ voices further than Greece and across the world.
Language being a keen interest of Wendy’s, she talks about the diversity of languages among volunteers. “Even if the working language in HSA is English, in smaller groups people could be speaking French, Greek or Arabic! We are constantly learning words in differents languages, and learning about new places at the same time. ’’ She also says that, in a way, hearing so many different languages that you can’t understand make you grasp a bit of the refugee’s experience, and empathize better with them.
HSA mainly works in the Greek island of Lesvos, which is a paradisiac location. The natural environment of the island, with the sea, the sky and the flora, is something that make your everyday experience very enjoyable, and is also something that you share with the refugees. Wendy walks to camp everyday, on the road along the sea : “It’s a beautiful, magical place’’.
In the end, Wendy see her involvement with refugees as a way to make up for the part of the world who don’t care. “If it was the other way around, I would want people to come help me and show kindness.’, she finally says.