A young Palestinian refugee on the Greek island of Leros, who arrived on a rickety boat from Turkey in December of last year, has set up a page called “Learn Greek” on social media to teach the language to children worldwide.
The amazing story of thirteen-year-old Sabri Madi was revealed by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), which has established an informal education center for refugees on the island called the Leros Education Center, or LEDU.
According to the UNHCR, Sabri arrived on the island with his mother Ghada, 41, and his younger sister Sojoud, 11. His father had gone missing in Gaza back in 2011, and daily threats against the family had ultimately forced them to leave for Europe.
Scraping together enough money to send just three, the family decided it should be Ghada and the youngest two – Sabri and Sojoud.
Soon after their arrival in Greece, Sabri started day classes at LEDU and quickly became fascinated with the Greek language and its difficult, intricate grammar.
“I love the sound of Greek words,” says Sabri, adding “I learn them very quickly.”
“Sink” (o nerohytis), “apron” (y petseta), “fork (to pirouni), “pot” (y katsarola) and “pan” (to tygani), are among the latest additions to his budding Greek vocabulary, which he shares with his social media followers.
The young Palestinian believes that refugees arriving in Greece must make an effort to learn the language, and he is determined to help them.
Sabri derives great joy from learning English and math at LEDU, where he works with computers, creates art, and plays sports as well — but his favorite subject is Greek.
Every new word which makes an impression on his young mind, popular Greek phrases and grammar rules which he finds interesting are promptly posted to his Facebook page.
Sabri also helps his cyber friends follow his lessons by translating and transcribing his newly-acquired knowledge into Arabic and making sure he gets the pronunciation just right.
His page has nearly 900 followers, mainly Arabic-speaking refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece. The likes and comments he receives show that Sabri’s efforts and initiative are deeply appreciated.
LEDU is run by UNHCR’s partner, an NGO called ARSIS (the Association for the Social Support of Youth), using funds from the European Commission. It aims to enhance the knowledge and skills of refugee students aged six to eighteen, to reestablish children’s basic connection to the educational process — and to even introduce the concept of schooling for the first time to youngsters who have not been able to attend school.
LEDU also offers homework support to some thirty children who attend one of the four ordinary primary public schools that operate on Leros. They are among the 150 school-age refugee children currently living on the island.
Anna Maria Palyvou, the coordinator of LEDU for the ARSIS organization, believes that by offering a safe learning environment, the school has helped hundreds of children like Sabri regain a sense of normalcy, be empowered, and acquire basic life skills.
Over 600 children have passed through the doors of LEDU in just the past year.
“Our role is not to replace formal education,” says Palyvou, “but rather to prepare these children for their smooth inclusion in the national education system, familiarizing them with the school process, as well as with the Greek language.”