By organizing numerous events to support Happy Caravan and learning authentically about the realities of children in a refugee school, ISP students and faculty embraced this opportunity to come together as a community to do something good and stay true to the school’s mission statement, creating a change that is bigger than we are.
The most impactful experiences come from the visits to Happy Caravan by ISP students and teachers. Throughout this year during the breaks, ISP has sent four students and seven teachers to volunteer at Happy Caravan and are planning more trips in the upcoming months and next school year. As most of the students say when they return, this experience is nothing but life-changing.
One of the many reactions to the experience was a letter to the ISP community, written by Vivi, 11th grader who went on the trip:
Dear ISP community,
This letter is on behalf of all the little (and big) angels who live at the Thermopylae Refugee Camp in Lamia, Greece. Some have been there for two years and some arrived two days ago. Some are with their family and some have been left behind.
They know me as teeaacherrr (most often belted out with a huge smile and raised arms to be picked up) because most don’t remember my name or know how to pronounce it. But they remember my face, and that I’ll probably lift them up in my arms and give a big cuddle. They remember the apple pie rhyme I showed them the first day and they remember that I’ll spin them round and round like a helicopter. For them, teachers come and go, some volunteers stay for only a week like us and some have been there for a year. But they treat every single one of us like we’re their best friend and greet everyone with a massive smile and hug and kiss to the cheek.
I went on this trip to become a volunteer and help teach the refugee children English and Maths. But turns out, they did most of the teaching and I did most of the learning. Not only did we learn the skills needed to work with children of a traumatic past before departing (a skill which is unfortunately crucial for the upcoming teachers and leaders of the world as the crisis is affecting more and more people) but every moment I spent at the camp with the kids I learnt something.
When teaching them a hand trick I learnt that this was how they entertained themselves during the long days on their journey from Turkey to Greece by foot. I learnt that they all have a shining hope to go to Germany because they know it as the most prosperous land. I learnt that there are many different dialects of the languages they spoke and this limited their friendship groups. I learnt that if they offered us something to eat it was rude to refuse and even when they were going hungry they just wanted to share. I learnt that they don’t let their traumatic pasts define them and come to school with a smile of their face despite their situations. I leant that they miss their friends back home and the family they left behind. I realised they are the most resilient and strong people that I have ever met and probably will ever meet. I leant that they have hopes and dreams and aspirations just like any other student. They want to become doctors, architects, singers, teachers, and athletes and they have an everlasting desire to go to school (this is obvious by the continuous knocking of the students on the door wanting to be let in).
I learnt that, just like any other child, they get into fights and yell and pull hair and misbehave. That they’ll scream to get your attention and pout if they don’t get their way. But all it takes to make them happy is to give them a bit of your attention, speak softly and calmly, teach them something new, and make them feel loved.
As an international student who spent the majority of their childhood in a developing country (India) I’ve been aware of the refugee crisis as a global issue. At school teachers have shown us incredibly emotional and touching videos and stories, but it’s never sunk in until now. Until you hear the ten-year-old girl in a polka dot onesie sitting on your lap tell you that she walked from Turkey to the camp and is separated from some of her family. Until you hear her say that when she’s sad she wants her mum to give her a kiss but she doesn’t know where her mum is. All of the children have a story similar to this. Whether it’s the seventeen-year-old boy who is stuck behind in the camp whilst his family is in Germany because the judge won’t approve his papers or the two new Kurdish siblings who come to school with healing scabs around their mouth, massive blisters, and what seem like burn marks up their ankles. This trip really puts life into perspective; the way we live versus the way that they live. The negative stereotypes and connotations associated with them. Because now when I think of refugees I see the children’s eager faces to learn, their smiles and kisses and hugs, their tear stained faces when they fall down playing catch, and their cute little noses pressed up against the car window ready to greet us in the morning. I see their parents come to pick the kids up from school just like every other parent. Just like every parent at ISP.
Through this letter I want to show you why these kids deserve more. I want to show you how it doesn’t take much to make their lives that little bit better. The life that they deserve more of. Today you watched a video of me and the other students who went on this trip. You listened to our thoughts on our experiences and our thoughts on why we think you should experience it too. You even saw us surrounded by and cuddling the precious children of Happy Caravan and their never ending energy and smiles.
I’m not really sure how to form coherent and cohesive thoughts about my trip because it’s so much more than words could ever begin to describe.
Lots of love,