Well, the Hub reopened yesterday. It was the first opportunity for the refugees to escape from the Hotspot in nearly two weeks. While we worked for 16 days to give the actual structure of our school a facelift by painting it, we also did our best to revamp our schedule to better accommodate as many students as possible.
We reworked the layout of when we would be offering specific classes, and we also redid our van schedule so that we would be picking up more people on fewer trips to the Hotspot. I think we knew that making changes over the holiday break was ambitious, because it’s so difficult to communicate any schedule changes, but we felt the changes were necessary and would improve the daily structure of the Hub, so we took our ambition by the hand and just went for it.
Painting is simple. You close the school for a few weeks, you move the furniture, you put down the tape, and you paint. Restructuring lessons is an entirely different story. Our students are mostly Arabic speakers, but some of them speak Kurdish and some speak Farsi. They live at the refugee camp about a thirty-minute walk away from where the school is. Any attempt to communicate with our students in done over our facebook page or on paper schedules that we post at our school and in the camp, we also attempt to verbally communicate while the students are in the school with us. Due to communication barriers, none of these are great methods for getting all of the information from the school to the students, but we do the best we can.
Basically, after just a single day of being reopened, the pretty new paint on the walls was staring down at all of us volunteers, reminding us that some projects are easier than others to implement.
When I got home last night, one of the other volunteers looked at me and said, “do you think the Hub is going to be broken from now on or was it just for today?”
Her question summed up some of the feelings and frustrations I had been feeling throughout the day. Our little school/community center is small, just a handful of classrooms and a reception area, library, and kitchen. It’s not enough space for a large group of people to be milling about without any structure. With our new driving and class schedules in place, there was a larger-than-normal amount of confusion. No one knew what was going on because only a certain number of people know to check facebook for any schedule updates. Everyone was also itching to get out of the camp after not having anywhere else to go for two weeks, so this increased the number of people coming to the school. We also had 300 new arrivals on the island, meaning that there were 300 new people who were just arriving from Turkey and just getting established in the refugee camp. Before this week, refugees who arrived to the camp were not allowed to leave for 25 days while they were being processed. This period of time was tough on the residents, as they were caged for nearly a month with nowhere to go. But now, with the camp beyond capacity (nearly 1,200 people living in a camp built for less than 1,000) the 25 day rule has been lifted in an attempt to alleviate some of the stress of overcrowding. This is beneficial to the refugees, but tough on our school. Not only are there simply more people available to come to school, but being new, they don’t understand the structure of the place, or how things work.
All of these things added up to our school more or less being overrun throughout the entire day. Our new computer system required us to take photos of each person as they came into the school, so we could better track who is attending classes. This will make the school more efficient in the days and months to come, but made for a backed up check-in process, which had everyone standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the reception area for a long time. Once that was sorted, the classes were all jam-packed as people were trying to figure out how things actually worked. It was an overwhelming day to be a teacher.
The day, which I hoped would level-out as time wore on, only got more complicated as we progressed. With depression all too common in the camp, people tend to stay awake into the wee hours of the morning and then sleep until at least 11 in the morning, if not until 2 in the afternoon. This means that more students arrive later in the day, swamping the van schedule and keeping the school building full into the late afternoon. Prior to reopening, we volunteers had visions of the school being more peaceful in the afternoon, once English classes had concluded. This wasn’t the case. Things just continued to be chaotic and confusing throughout the remainder of the day.
By the time the day was actually finished, the main concern was that no one really understood why we exist. Our class schedules probably didn’t make sense to them, and the driving schedules were even more confusing. For the second half of the day, when I was finished trying to wrangle students in the morning, I drove one of the vans. This was especially horrible as each time I arrived to the Hotspot, there would be dozens of people waiting for rides and I had to try to explain to them as they fought to climb in over one another, who was allowed to come and who wasn’t. With most of them being Arabic speakers, my English meant nothing to them, and those who were left standing must have been frustrated, confused, and annoyed at me as I drove away. It was a horrible feeling, but one that I’ve felt many times before. Communication breakdowns bum me out–to put it frankly.
Arriving home at the end of the day, I felt fine, but I felt comfortably slumped somewhere between “disheartened” and “hopeful”. If these were cities on a map, I’d be the rural town smack in between them, an hour away from each. There is still so much to look forward to, there are so many things that can be done and the days ahead will determine how our new system is going to work. My disheartened feeling comes from attempting a fresh start and ending up confusing people. But we move on. Today is a new day, and we’ll give it another try.