Developed and operated by Greek entrepreneur couple Maria Calafatis and Stavros Messinis, SOLE Athens is the first school in the Greek capital that offers classes to refugee children stranded in Greece.
Hosted at the Cube Athens, SOLE kick-started with 13 amazingly creative kids from Syria and Iraq who have been stranded along with their parents in Athens for the past two months. Staying inside their rooms and with nothing to do as their parents are awaiting asylum approval, most refugee kids are “extremely bored at different Athens hotels.” With their future still unknown, for many children this was the first day in school after four years.
“It’s an experiment, the essence of startups is that they run experiments – they experiment with models, with customers and with people they aim to do service for,” said Messinis, the Founder of the Cube, one of the most well-respected startup incubators in Athens.
“It’s not a traditional school.”
Instead of using the classical methods of teaching, children/students form groups and develop a solution to one specific challenge or question in self-organized learning environments (SOLEs). Questions/challenges vary, like “What makes you and people happy?”, “Why are bees important to us and the environment?” or “How do we remember? Why do we forget?”
“With SOLE Athens, our challenge was to provide this with the absolute minimum of resources. We have no training material, no target language speaking teachers – Arabic, Pashto, Farsi, Urdu etc, just the will to put our minds to work and provide some mental stimulation for some underserved children,” notes Messinis.
At this stage, The Cube is paying for the basics such as electricity and venue, but having in mind the need for expansion, the team will fundraise to do this at scale.
However, the school does not benefit just the refugee children. According to the couple, the initiative offers hope to the people who organize it, who face their own crisis, a financial one.
“We live during hard times in Greece, the situation is very difficult for most businesses and maybe this is also a way to forget our own problems through giving back to others who were displaced by war,” says Messinis.
“I am a mother of two and going to refugee camps to help with our children is important education for them as well,” points out Messinis’ wife, Maria. “It helps our children realize that all kids are not as fortunate as they are, to have security and stability.”
Located in the heart of the Greek capital, The Cube Athens is a creative hub that hosts more than twenty startups and brings together people who are open to new ideas, love innovation and seek change through applicable initiatives. But, as everywhere in Greece, it has been a tough time, especially for entrepreneurs who face a future of political instability and still operate under capital controls.
This report was made possible through a grant from The Skyline Charitable Foundation.