Refugee Camp by the Numbers

Numbers are an interesting thing around here.

There are currently more than 1,200 refugees on the island of Leros. Most of them live in the Hotspot camp, but about one or two hundred live in private accommodations or other housing set up by different organizations. At the Hub, we’re currently serving a little over 300 individuals each week, with more than 1,000 check-ins happening between Monday and Friday. Many individuals check-in for more than one class or activity throughout the week, thus increasing our head count.

Comparing the number of people that we serve to last year, our numbers have almost doubled. And, when everything got so chaotic in January with the arrival of 200 new people, we saw record numbers, until now. The difference between the record number of residents attending classes at the Hub now and the number of residents attending classes at the Hub in January is that now we know how to deal with such a large number of people. Many of us were here for the madness of January and have multiple strategies in place for dealing with large numbers of people.


Unfortunately, one of the strategies we have to implement is capping the class sizes each day. No more than 23 people can fit into the largest classroom we have. Anymore than this and it becomes very difficult to teach. 23 is already an alarmingly large amount of adults to fit into a small space, but then factor in crappy airflow, which makes the room extremely stuffy, extra people finding random chairs from around the school and dragging them into the class, an increased number of conversations happening throughout the lesson, and numerous people standing in the doorways, trying to remain within ear shot of the happenings of the classroom, it became a lot to handle.

When I was in Kenya in 2012, new policies had been put into place throughout the country to increase the number of students attending school. Kenya isn’t known for it’s great education system, so the country was trying its best to improve on its crappy system. Their plan ultimately backfired, with far more students attending classes than ever before, but fewer students actually learning. This is because the class sizes were increased, but the number of teachers were not.

This is kind of how I feel at the Hub when there are more students than chairs in the classroom. I really want the best for all of my students, but I would much rather refuse ten people from walking in the door than know that a smaller percentage of people in the classroom are going to learn if I let it get overcrowded. It’s crappy. It’s really, really crappy, but if there isn’t any structure, then the whole project takes a hit.

Obviously, I hate thinking about who I’m actually denying the opportunity to learn. The people who show up at the door don’t have much else to do throughout the day other than maybe worry, but it’s either them getting the denial for being too late, or the whole class not being worth teaching. This is the struggle when there are so many people coming to the Hub.

Other than a couple of sad feelings that pass over me, there isn’t much I can do about it.

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