Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? Sweltering heat, mosquitos galore, and blistered feet—but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This past week in Greece has been quite the adventure. Honestly, it’s been the exact same kind of adventure I’d hoped for ten months ago when I began applying for this grant. One full of sweat, sunburned skin and some sleepless nights, but also full of profound personal development, intellectual growth and new friendships.
El Sistema Greece is doing some incredible things here in Athens. I understand that can be said for many organizations around the world, but what I’ve witnessed thus far throughout my visit with ESG has really been life changing. The mission of ESG is “to provide free music education to all children who have lived the experience of leaving their homes in search of a future.” The organization has worked with children in six núcleos—including three different refugee camps—for the last two years. ESG aims to give these children social and educational experiences in order to improve their lives in the refugee camps and beyond, while also striving to prepare children for their integration into Greek and European society as a whole.
There are currently more than 60,000 refugees in Greece—20,000 of which are children. The three camps that I’ve been visiting this week represent individuals from several nations, but I’ve most commonly worked with Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghani children. The average stay at the refugee camps is at least 1 year and 8 months. At this point, most of the refugees currently in Greece arrived after the 2016 EU-Turkey deal. As a result, these families can only apply for asylum in Greece; however, they may be denied and deported to Turkey, which is considered a “safe country” for those families. (If you’d like to learn more about these facts and figures, please reach out! I’d be happy to share with you what I’ve learned about the refugee crisis in Greece.)
With its first class held in November of 2016, El Sistema Greece is a relatively new organization. Today, ESG has 18 musicians that regularly teach around 250 children at 6 different sites. Throughout the week, I’ve observed 20 hours of classes filled with children ages 2-18. Here’s a list of some of the things that’ve stood out to me thus far:
-In the violin group classes, students have been playing their instruments anywhere from 5 months to 1 year. That being said, children in the advanced classes have made some -serious- progress in that one year. While the aims of ESG are obviously rooted in addressing social issues, ESG does not sacrifice the delivery of high-quality musical instruction.
-The suburb teaching techniques exhibited in the choir classes I’ve visited have been breathtaking. I’ve witnessed excellent pacing, seamless transitions, and learned some incredible educational strategies that I will most definitely be employing in my own teaching when I return to the States.
-Across the board, ESG strives to provide a musical experience that encompasses a variety of repertoire from all across the globe. Teaching songs from Mexico, Russia, Japan, India, and more—the choir classes expose children to a variety of tunes that not only develop their musicianship, but also widen their worldview.
To conclude, another list (I love lists) of things I’m thankful for:
1) Bug spray—lots of mosquitos in Greece.
2) Literally all of the people I’ve met this week—El Sistema Greece staff, visiting pedagogy students from Paris Conservatoire, Josephine the marketing volunteer, and many more. They’ve all transformed what I thought would be a quiet stay in Athens into a great deal of fun.
3) The unmatched privilege of being born in safe country—while there have been many instances throughout my recent years where I’ve questioned just how safe I am going to class or a night out on the town with friends, I can easily say that I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve genuinely feared for my life. I will not hop onto my soapbox on this Northwestern* blog, but I begin to fathom the hostility and resulted heartache that must lead people to pack up their families, entire lives, and seek refuge in an unknown land.
*If you look to the bottom right of your screen you can see that Northwestern doesn’t endorse any of my views anyway—so we’re all good.