October 02, 2020

After the Lesvos fire: Theirworld and our partners help refugee children to smile again

Children playing at the Tapuat Centre before it was turned into a temporary shelter for people made homeless by fires at the nearby Moria refugee camp

Photo credit: UNICEF/Greece/Iliaktida

The Tapuat education centre supported by Theirworld housed vulnerable mothers and children, while teachers have opened child-friendly spaces at a new camp.

When fire destroyed the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos on September 8, the Tapuat learning centre and its staff supported by Theirworld and our partners went straight into action. 

Tapuat was immediately turned into a meeting point for 400 unaccompanied minors, who were given food and water before being flown to the Greek mainland ahead of embarking on new lives in other European countries. 

The centre, normally only used in the daytime, then turned into an emergency accommodation shelter for single mothers and children. It is now hosting 220 people, including 140 children. 

Funding from Theirworld and the Dutch Postcode Lottery supported Tapuat to provide education and play opportunities, and then to expand with a second building which opened in July, doubling daily capacity to 800 children.

Naoko Imoto, Chief of Education at the UNICEF Partnership Office in Greece, talks about the efforts to help people affected by the Moria refugee camp fire

With educational programmes carried out by UNICEF and local charities, it has been an oasis for children, many of whom have fled conflicts in countries such as Afghanistan and Syria only to find themselves in the dreadfully overcrowded Moria camp. 

Once Moria was gutted by the fire, which made global headlines, teachers from Tapuat swiftly realised they needed to reach children who had travelled from Moria every day. Just five days after the fire they were providing play areas in a new refugee camp opened by the Greek authorities. 

Forming themselves into four pairs, they worked in tight spaces between tents, providing recreational activities. From nowhere, dozens of children appeared. 

Before the fire - young children excited to be in the new building at the Tapuat centre on Lesvos

Photo credit: UNICEF/Greece/Iliaktida

“The kids just love it,” says Naoko Imoto, Chief of Education at the UNICEF Partnership Office in Greece, who has just returned from a two-week visit to Lesvos. “It is really nice to see them smiling. The children really need this space to laugh and play with other children - that’s how they heal quickly.”

Theirworld and our partners aren’t stopping there. The next goal is to provide structured education for all 3,000 children in the new camp. 

“It is very important that the world doesn’t forget about these children, who have been through so much,” says Naoko. “They deserve a better future.”

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