New education centre offers hope to refugee children on Greek island

Tapuat Centre On Lesvos Opens 1
Young children excited to be in the new building at the Tapuat centre on Lesvos (UNICEF/Greece/Iliaktida)

Coronavirus and education, Early childhood development, Refugees and internally displaced people, Theirworld

A project supported by Theirworld provides lessons and play for hundreds of vulnerable and traumatised children of all ages who are living in Moria camp on Lesvos.

For vulnerable children on the Greek island of Lesvos, school isn’t just a place of learning. It’s a safe space away from the overcrowded conditions they endure in the Moria refugee camp.

So there were plenty of excited smiles this week when the Tapuat non-formal education centre opened a second building, thanks to support from Theirworld. The centre – whose other building is also open after being closed during the global schools shutdown – can now provide lessons and play opportunities to hundreds of children.

“I am happy that Tapuat is finally open again,” said 11-year-old Mohsen from Afghanistan. “I am here for four months and in the beginning I thought Greek would be hard – but now I can write many words. I like that we are also learning math. 

“Our teachers care about us a lot and we would like to spend more time at Tapuat.”

The cramped refugee camps in the Greek Aegean islands are a temporary home to thousands of school-aged refugee and asylum-seeking children, many of whom fled from conflicts in countries such as Afghanistan and Syria. But fewer than 15% have any form of education.

Centres on the islands provide non-formal education (NFE) in settings outside the camps. They concentrate on teaching Greek and giving psychosocial support to traumatised children, which helps them to integrate when they eventually move into schools on the mainland.

In pictures: Tapuat centre opens new building

Theirworld’s work on the Islands is in collaboration with Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the global fund for education in emergencies – and made possible thanks to the support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery (Nationale Postcode Loterij). Support for the second building at the Tapuat centre came on top of a broader Theirworld project with ECW that was already allowing partner organisations to send 5,500 girls and boys to school on the islands.

The newly-refurbished Tapuat building adds three more classrooms to the centre, as well as a large communal space, a Mother and Baby Corner and a Female Friendly Space.

It will serve children of all ages – from infants and preschool up to 17-year-olds. The teachers are supported by interpreters who are mostly refugees themselves. The aim is to reach 700 children per day but the capacity is current reduced to 350 due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The Female Friendly Space will help young women aged 18 and above with psychosocial support, gender-based violence prevention and care, and Greek lessons.

“Everyone is really happy for the expansion of Tapuat, as more children have access to our programme, which provides basic Greek and English language, math and many recreational activities through life skills lessons,” said Argyro Aggeloglou, NFE Coordinator.

“Students enjoy the services we provide to them and feel relieved when they enter our centre.”

Seeing children re-entering classrooms full of excitement is such a hopeful message that wouldn’t have been possible without the valuable support from Theirworld. Naoko Imoto, Chief Education, UNICEF Partnership Office in Greece

Tapuat is run by the non-profit organisation ILIAKTIDA, a partner of UNICEF on Lesvos. Sofia Stamateri, Programme Manager of ILIAKTIDA, said: “The reopening of Tapuat, after the coronavirus restriction measures and the expansion of our project, allows us to support even more children currently living in Moria camp. 

“Every child deserves the protection, care and access to knowledge that we are daily trying to provide. The operation of Tapuat, thanks to Theirworld’s generous contribution, is really crucial for us but mostly for all the children that are eager to visit us.”  

UNICEF said the reopening of the centre and its expansion was the agency’s first priority as soon as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

“For children and families living at the Moria Reception and Identification Centre, Tapuat has been a safe haven where they can learn, relax, play and feel empowered, providing them with a sense of normalcy and dignity,” said Naoko Imoto, Chief Education at UNICEF Partnership Office in Greece. 

“Seeing children re-entering classrooms full of excitement is such a hopeful message that wouldn’t have been possible without the valuable support from Theirworld.”  

Theirworld produced a report in April that concluded 20 million euros are needed to safely keep open educational programmes on the Greek islands that are operated by UNICEF, UNHCR and local aid groups for another two years. 

Last month Theirworld was awarded 1.35 million euros ($1.53 million) to fund emergency education for refugee children during the pandemic, in partnership with Education Cannot Wait. 

More news

See all news