However, once on the island, migrants find themselves trapped in a situation in which their basic human rights are not recognized. The refugee camp built by the Greek authorities and financed by the European Union, was originally designed to host 648 people but today has a population of 7.300 people. Among the total population, around 51% are women and children, including 300 unaccompanied minors without adequate protection. There is no space in the hotspot. People live in tents in the woods or in overcrowded containers. Food distribution is insufficient and queues up to five hours are a daily routine. It is estimated that there is a shower for every 200 people, but rarely is there running water. Waste accumulates inside and around the tents and the entire area is crawling with rats and snakes. The toilets, most of which have damaged pipes, have turned into a drain of open-air sewage that flows near and around the tents. There are two doctors for the entire population of the camp, and legal and psychological assistance are completely insufficient. The average time someone is in the camp is 6 months, with some held there for as long as 2 years.
In response to this emergency, in August 2018 we opened the first youth center of the island, offering a safe space and an informal education program to children and adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17 years. Our education center is called “Mazí”, which means “together” in Greek; this is the heart of our education system. We believe that Mazí, as a safe and supportive place away from the dark monotony of the camp, is a conducive space in which students can maintain their hopes and dreams, and develop new ones as well. Together, coordinators, teachers, volunteers, and most importantly, students, work each day to improve the world and our future with compassion and understanding.
Mazí is located close to the camp and it is open Monday to Friday. During the week, the activities begin at 8.45am and end at 6pm. We serve breakfast and lunch. The education program includes lessons in English, Greek, mathematics, art, history, geography, computer, biology, theater and music, but also workshops which focus on European culture, women's rights, and sexual education in order to cultivate ideas of respect for their peers and understanding of others. The students are split in two groups: the dreamers, aged 11-14 years old, and the achievers, aged 15-17 years old. Within these groups the students are then split according to their knowledge of English, but every activity and free moment in Mazí are opportunities to improve communication and social skills. The common hall is the heart of the center, where students can socialize, play games, read books, study and meet with members of our dedicated team of volunteers.
Saturday is the day dedicated entirely to free time. Students can stay at Mazí almost all day to just be a kid. They can play games, read a book, speak with friends, and play music. On Saturday night, we celebrate the end of the week with dinner and a small party. This is without a doubt one of our students’ favorite parts of Mazí. We have about 150 children registered in Mazí, trying our best to ensure equal gender and racial proportions. We strongly believe in multiculturalism and the value it has in our center. However, despite our efforts, the number of children able to enroll in our school exceeds the space we can provide. But we are here to make a difference, and despite these struggles, we continue to provide what we can.
Mazí opens everyday thanks to the never-ending contribution of long-term coordinators on the field, supported by a team of motivated volunteers. We have reached several milestones: our students’ achievement of language certificates, the realization of Through Our Eyes, the first photo exhibition made by our students, the great advocacy and documentation effort that brought Samos to the attention of the European Parliament and international media, and the high number of Mazí students that have benefitted from our education in their day-to-day life even after leaving the camp. Mazí, our first project, is the place from which our current mission and international organization was born.