Author Archives: Stephen Paul

Over Coming Language Barriers through Non-Formal Education

Category : Stephen

Overcoming language barriers through non-formal education.

By Stephen Cooper
Over the last 3 months I have been a volunteering on a project called “Time to Be Welcome” based in Athens, Greece. I have been delivering non- formal education activities to young refugees at a shelter run by a local NGO which houses families that are vulnerable to human trafficking. Since I started volunteering in Greece I have really enjoyed working with the young children at the shelter. However, I have also found one major challenge and that is speaking the Greek language. So far, I know 6 words from the Greek language and it’s not because I haven’t been trying to learn it, but perhaps because of my dyslexia it’s quite difficult for me to learn new languages. I remember someone once told me that learning a new language is like teaching a baby to talk, you start with one-word sentences e.g. for most babies it’s “mamma” or “daddy” then you move on to two word sentences and so on. That is what I have been doing with the Greek language and hopefully by Christmas I will be able to speak basic Greek.

Every week when I work with the children in the shelter I find it hard to communicate with them. I do arts and crafts activities with them. I love going and seeing the smiles on their faces but sometime the language barrier is a problem. The children I work with come from several different countries and as a result they speak many different languages, including Urdu, Farsi and Arabic. Which unfortunately are all languages I do not speak. But since I’ve been there for quite some time now I have come up with some tools to overcome this.
The first communication tool I use with the children is I draw pictures that describe the steps in the craft projects we do. I do this by taking the children through the activity step by step, often having to wait for everyone to catch up so that we move forward together even if it takes more time. I also try to limit my drawings to a maximum of 5, however this doesn’t always work as some projects might take longer and require more drawings but what I’ve found is that the children can become less focused and less engaged when this happens. To overcome this, I use other approaches which I’ll go on to explain.

The second method I use which is also the one I most prefer to use is a step by step demonstration. The difference between this and the drawings approach is that here I am sitting with the kids and supporting them to follow what I am doing. Another great thing about this method is that it allows me to stop halfway through the activity if one of the kids needs help. The way I solve this is by just saying, “Let’s take a five-minute break.” This keeps the other kids busy and gives me the time to help the person who needs a hand. Then I continue with the steps. This methodology works best if you have a large class and can’t go around to everyone individually or if you’re doing a project that is larger than other ones you have done in the past.

Last but not least, I can always rely on my little helpers in the class. What I mean by that is some of the children I work with have a basic level of English which is super helpful in overcoming the barriers to communication as they help me communicate key instructions to the other children in their own language. This has also helped the children doing the translating because it helps them improve their understanding of the English language, as well as also just building a supportive colony.

It is difficult working with people who speak a different language but there is always away around it if you’re flexible. I hope that these tips help other volunteers who are facing language barriers in their work.

Peace Out ☺

My First Marathon in Athens for the British Red Cross

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My first Marathon in Athens for the British Red Cross

OK, this is a bit of a crazy story but here it goes …before I began my EVS in Athens about 10 months ago, the only running I had ever done was for the busses in London and to be honest I would often miss most of them. Therefore, running was the last activity I thought I would ever get into whilst I was here for the year volunteering on a community integration project for young migrants, asylum seekers and refugees called the ‘Time to be Welcome’ project. But that’s exactly what happened. Plus when I made the decision to run my first marathon in the country where the sport started, I had only been running on a regular basis for about 4 months and the actual training I did for it only lasted about a month. That was all. Now I know what you’re thinking – ‘that’s crazy, right?’ And I agree with you, but it was too big of an opportunity to miss and so I went for it, and here are a few of the reasons I used to justify my crazy decision…

1) I just loved running
When my friend and fellow EVS volunteer Rachael first got me into running I never imagined that I’d end up enjoying it as much as I have. And since I had been running so often I figured I might as well put my running skills to the ultimate test in the most meaningful race there is, and plus it was in the country where it all started.

2) I figured if you’re going to run …run for something
By the time I decided to run the marathon, I had been volunteering with the British Red Cross for 4 months and in that time I had delivered countless non-formal educational and recreational activities that supported efforts to integrate young refugees into Athens. Through this experience I learned a lot about the incredible work the BRC do on behalf of people in crisis; from training volunteers in first aid and responding to emergencies, to supporting pensioners’ mobility and family reunification for refugees, and so much more. In short I couldn’t have been prouder to run my first marathon for this amazing charity.

3) To run in the footsteps of history
Part of my inspiration to run the marathon in Greece stemmed from the story of the Athenian soldier and messenger Pheidippides; who is also known as the Legendary Runner of Marathon. Centuries ago, he ran a long distance from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens in order to tell the people that the Athenians had won. The distance he ran between Marathon and Athens is about 26 miles (or 42km), and hence today’s marathon races have been created to commemorate that. I was so fascinated by this story that I had to run in the 35th Athens Authentic Marathon, to follow in the footsteps of Pheidippides and also because it was on the same route as the first official marathon in 1896. Plus I dressed up like Pheidippides for the race too.

On the day of the race itself, I was a bit nervous because I had never run a distance like this before but nevertheless I persisted. I did so only because of all the people who supported me on this crazy journey – whether it was through their words of encouragement or through their many top tips, and of course it was also because of their generous donations to the BRC. At first I only intended on raising £50 but by the end I had managed to raise almost £300. Without their support I honestly don’t think I would have made it to the finish line because it was one tough race. In fact, and I’ll end with this story, there was a point in the race when I was very doubtful I would make it to the end because my knees just couldn’t keep going. But to my amazement, at that moment of personal crisis it was volunteers from the Hellenic (Greek) Red Cross that came to my rescue. It was a moment that reminded me of why I was running this race for the BRC because it reminded me that the Red Cross doesn’t just help those in the most severe of crises, but instead it helps everybody in crisis everywhere, including a first time marathon runner whose knees had just given out. It’s why I’m so proud I ran my first marathon for them, even if it took me over 6 hours, and I promise I would do it again.

The thing about Greece

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We asked one our volunteers to tell us a little about their experience so far.

Check out the new blog to learn a little bit more about the current situation in Greece and about how some people are contributing in a positive way.

The thing about Greece – 5 Hellenic Hallmarks

I have officially been in Greece one month and I am loving it. At the risk of sounding like every travel blog ever: there is so much to take in! My senses are overwhelmed and yet, it is only the beginning. So to help you get a sense of what it’s like to live in Athens here are my top five peculiar particulars from my volunteer voyage.
1 They don’t flush the loo roll!
Here in Athens the toilet paper goes in a bin beside the toilet, not down the pan. Ew, gross or what! I hate changing that bin bag…

2 Cats, Cats and More Cats!
There are multitudes of cats and they have no fear of humans because EVERYONE FEEDS THEM! You go out at about 5pm and everyone and their granny is leaving food out for those feral felines. They are even brazen enough to beg at the table while you tuck in at your local tavern.

3 Nobody pays for public transport.
This isn’t even a joke. Nobody pays. Like ever. They are trying to bring in an electronic swipe card (like the leapcard) but the barriers are not in use yet. People don’t pay on principle. We shall see how this one unfolds…

4 Light a candle for your lungs.
First of all, people smoke indoors. Yes, they are part of the EU; yes, they have a total ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces and no, nobody gives a damn about it. Second, the sheer number of vehicles on the road and the constant traffic would give anyone the black lung. Lump that in with lots of cats, pigeons and people and you have pulmonary perdition.

5 Tagging is rife.
Every possible empty space is filled with graffiti: some good, some bad and some plain racist. It’s as if people will forget their own names if they don’t plaster it all over every building, and it’s not just in the ‘bad’ parts of town. In the middle of it all though you can find some hidden gems like this anti-racism artwork:

Photo: Courtesy of Adam Boyle.

And yet after all this wonderful weirdness my wanderlust is still not abated… #RatherBeCamping #Scoutlife #Rover #Time2bewelcome #ScoutingIreland

If you enjoyed this post, tune in next month when I meet up with some Greek explorer scouts for some awesome awareness and adventure!

With love,

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Although rending assistance to anyone in danger at sea is mandatory by international maritime law. 
Time to be Welcome stands by the Aquarius.
© LaMeute

#Time2Bwelcome #messengersofpeace…

'Lasting peace is a prerequisite for the exercise of all human rights and duties. It is the peace of freedom–and therefore of just laws–of happiness, equality, and solidarity, in which all citizens count, live together and share.' Federico Mayor #PeaceDay #Unesco #scoutsofgreece

test Twitter Media - 'Lasting peace is a prerequisite for the exercise of all human rights
and duties. It is the peace of freedom–and therefore of just laws–of happiness, equality, and solidarity, in
which all citizens count, live together and share.' Federico Mayor
#PeaceDay #Unesco #scoutsofgreece