In 2014 English teacher Jamie Anderson (28, from Troon, Scotland) started his journey travelling around the world by bicycle (www.bikeramble.com). Along his way he found City Plaza.
Why did you come to City Plaza?
A girl I met while I was cycling through Albania told me about City Plaza. She told me ‘you have to see this place’.
Originally my plan was to cycle through Northern Greece and on to Turkey, but in December it got really cold. So I made my way South on my bike and planned to travel to Crete to volunteer there. I came to City Plaza just to visit over Christmas.
I started to volunteer here and realised that I’d rather be volunteering with a solidarity project than anywhere else.
You organise the English classes at City Plaza, how do they run?
So there are 4 classes all with different levels, from the real basics to advanced. Each class is at least twice a week and we’re constantly making changes to the timetable to make the classes run as well as they possibly can.
The classes mainly revolve around conversation and we teach functional language as a priority. The idea of teaching functional language is to help people here to be able to integrate better, not just at City Plaza but in other European countries, wherever they live next.
Often students in the classes can’t read or write. And there are many women too who have never been in a classroom or used a pen.
Language is a tool, through teaching English we can teach the skills necessary for people living here to be able to express themselves freely, to say what they want to say without needing a translator for example.
We try to keep the lessons fun and light. It’s important that we create a comfortable space and environment. The classes aren’t compulsory, people attend because they enjoy being in the classes here.
Why do you think it is important for refugees living at City Plaza to learn English?
In every class there is always a mix of people from different places, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan. If there are problems in City Plaza the root is usually to do with the language barrier creating misunderstandings. If people can use English as a common language, they can talk about and solve problems together.
Learning English can give people living here independence. Not just to be able to communicate with each other or to see a doctor without needing a translator, but for their futures and outside of City Plaza.
What are the challenges you face running the English classes?
A lot of the students are teenagers. They love to talk! It can be difficult to get them to stop talking so much in their own languages. But as they gradually learn more and more in class I hope that they will at least be able to talk among themselves in English.
What do you enjoy about teaching at City Plaza?
I came here to help people living here and in the end they help me. They help me more than I feel that I could ever help them actually.
The best part of teaching here is that I learn too. What do I learn? About their culture. Their language. The cities they’re from. Where they spent time when they were children. Why they left their countries. What kind of life they had before they came to City Plaza.
They teach me about things that are not so easy to hear too. How their homes were destroyed. They tell me what makes them happy, what makes them sad. It helps me to understand their situation better.
Another thing I love is that the classroom is on the 7th floor. There is a great view of Athens from the balcony. Students like that too. Sometimes we stand on the balcony together after class and talk about what we can see.
What is a typical day for you at City Plaza?
(Laughs) There’s no such thing! A typical day doesn’t exist.
I think that some people really believe that you can get into a routine and repeat the same thing every day. They believe that a typical day exists. But I think that maybe means that they’re not looking hard enough. We all have the power to learn something new every day, to grow, to experience new things.
At City Plaza, as soon as I start my day and leave my room, I have no idea which direction my day will go in. Maybe I’ll be stopped on the stairs and have a 10 minute conversation. Maybe I’ll be drinking a cup of tea in the bar and a new volunteer will arrive and ask me questions about the English classes. Maybe I’ll be eating lunch with somebody who will tell me their story, their problems, their journey by boat to Athens.
You can never be bored here. It’s the best kind of chaos here, you can’t control how things will go or ever say ‘I’m going to do this for one hour’ for example. You can never be bored here.
A favourite moment in class:
Something that I always love to see is people who speak different languages having a conversation for the first time. English can be a way to bring people together and find a common way of communicating.
3 words to describe City Plaza:
Hope, education, inspiration
Why is it important that City Plaza stays open?
From the point of view of the language classes, here is a place where people living at City Plaza have access to education in a safe place. Indoors, with resources, with good teachers, in a classroom. These things are so important for learning.
In my classes I don’t just teach English. I encourage open-mindedness and freedom of expression. People living at City Plaza live in the city, they can go outside and use their English to exercise their independence. In the camps not only is there no safe place to learn, but it’s so isolated there.
If this place closed, people living here would have to go back to the camps. The people here have come from the horrible conditions of the camps. It would be awful if they had to go back. Here there is hope and there is a sense of progress towards a life of dignity after all that they’ve suffered. If City Plaza closed, people would have to go backwards.
City Plaza is not supported by NGOs and relies entirely on donations from around the world, for you why is it important for people reading this to support this project?
City Plaza is a very special place. The government will never support this project, it needs the support of people who believe that refugees deserve to be treated as humans, to not be subject to the inhumane conditions of the camps. It can’t happen that City Plaza would close. City Plaza has to stay open.
However small or big your donation, every little will help. Everyone at City Plaza thanks you for your kindness and support in helping us to continue to live and work together in our home, to continue to live here in peace, togetherness and solidarity.
Donate here: http://www.youcaring.com/keepcityplazaopen