JOINT PRESS RELEASE
A celebration becomes a lesson against racial discrimination
ATHENS, 23 March 2017 - With drawings, games and songs, Greek, refugee and migrant children in downtown Athens celebrated yesterday diversity, inclusiveness and respect, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March).
The celebration took place at the 51st Elementary School, uniting children that attend the regular morning classes with those attending the afternoon non-formal educational program for refugees and migrants, run by the NGOs Finn Church Aid and ELIX Conservation Volunteers Greece, with support by UNICEF and funding by the European Commission's humanitarian aid department. More than 250 children from 6 to 17 years of age participate at the non-formal educational classes, which operate in the framework of the Open Schools Program. The program is an initiative of the City of Athens, which is implemented thanks to the exclusive donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
Through lively discussions, the children delved into the history of the Day. With the assistance of community teachers, they exchanged experiences from their common life in the city. “Through the Open Schools Project, the Municipality aims to create strong poles of attraction, bringing together Athens’ residents at a pleasant and familiar environment. We are very happy to see children of all nationalities sharing the right to creation, which belongs to everyone,” said on the occasion Maria Iliopoulou, Vice-Mayor for the Child at the City of Athens.
“The future development of refugee and migrant children is tightly linked to the type of welcome that they receive,” added Laurent Chapuis, Country Coordinator of UNICEF’s Refugee and Migrant Response in Greece. “Stereotypes and bias, which may lead to unfair treatment, hate speech or even racist violence, have a heavy toll on the children’s hopes for the future, trust to society, educational and social outcomes, physical and psychological safety and wellbeing. The event organised today, also builds on the work that the Hellenic National Committee for UNICEF has been doing to fight these phenomena”.
The students that attend the non-formal educational program at the 51st Elementary School come in their majority from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. For many, access to education has been disrupted since the displacement from their countries of origin, on average for almost three years. This is the biggest non-formal education centre in urban Athens, with children coming from as far as Piraeus and Elliniko, for courses including Arabic, Farsi and English. “The centre provides a valuable service to refugee and migrant children living in urban accommodation, who still have limited formal education opportunities,” said Judith Wunderlich-Antoniou, General Manager of the non-formal educational program at NGO ELIX.
“Special priority is given to mother tongue learning, which is essential for children to form a foundation of their cognitive development, to communicate better with their families and peers, to maintain their identity, and to rebuild their countries of origin in the future. At the center, the children also learn important life-skills, such as cultural diversity and human rights”.
The Open Schools Program, in which the center operates, allows for 25 school buildings and their courtyards in the Municipality of Athens to remain open, with a guard, after the end of the morning shift and on weekends, in order to host free activities for Athens residents.
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