As part of our emergency response to help refugees fleeing to Western Europe, SOS Children’s Villages UK, through our sister organisations, set up ICT Corners in Serbia and Macedonia offering free Wi-Fi, access to computers as well as a safe place to charge phones.
At the height of the refugee crisis two years ago, more than 150,000 people used the ICT Corners in just four months. And these computer facilities are still providing a vital service at SOS reception centres across Serbia and Macedonia two years on – helping young refugees to stay connected with their families and with their education as they make their treacherous journeys across Europe.
“The refugees here are interested in education, especially digital education,” said one of our SOS colleagues on the ground. “All our ICT Corners are working at full capacity. Some of them have also been turned into mobile classrooms. So when the refugees move, for example to Hungary, they can continue with the course. They can start any course anywhere in one of our ICT Corners and finish it in the next along their route. They then have a certificate they can use. They will need IT skills and languages no matter where they go.”
SOSUK has set up an improvised school at the reception centre in Preševo, Serbia
SOS Children’s Villages UK’s sister organisations are working in seven reception centres in Serbia, offering access to computers and communication at five ICT Corners. But it’s not all about technology. The reception centres also host improvised classrooms for children from grades one to four, lessons in English, German and Serbian, as well as art therapy. In addition, our SOS colleagues on the ground offer psychosocial support, family counselling, consultancy for unaccompanied minors as well as handing out hygiene products and much more. We are also doing similar work at two reception centres in Macedonia.
The main challenge is the different languages spoken by people passing through the reception centres. At any one moment, there may be refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Morocco and Algeria - and as far as Cuba - in the reception centre. SOSUK’s sister organisations have some interpreters, but they also rely on volunteers among the refugees.
Another challenge is the different views on life. Our co-workers have to be very flexible. The circumstances and the dynamics in the reception centres change on a daily basis and we need to respond to their changing needs.