"My name is Sofia. I came to Greece in 2007, just to see it and eventually I stayed. I married a compatriot and we had children. I fell in love with the country.
When I found out about the school bus escorts vacancy for the refugee children education programme, I immediately applied because it entailed working with children. I was not discouraged by the fact that it would be difficult to communicate with the children – since we don’t speak the same language – as I believe that love is a universal language. Of course there were some difficulties at first, the children didn’t speak Greek, I was trying to understand them and they were trying to understand me, we used signs and gestures. However, slowly, they learned, and I also learned a few words in their language. Gradually, it got easier. There were no real difficulties, I reckon. It is a job that you do only if you really want to and only if you love children.
It’s not important where the children come from. The fact that I’m a migrant played a part in the way I bonded with the children however, the most important thing is that it’s been several years since my own children last lived with me, they are in Georgia. The primary school pupils are the same age as my daughters. I have two little girls. So, the presence of these children helped me a lot.
I also got a lot of love from the parents. In the accommodation centre of Eleonas, where I started, I had 15 and 16 year-olds. Every day, I passed by each little house to pick them up for school and the parents always invited me in for a tea or a cup of coffee. They’d often invite me to have dinner with them. I never had the chance to go but their invitations were such a nice gestures.
It was hard when I left Eleonas to go to the accommodation centre of Schisto. It was a difficult transition for me and for the children alike. I’d bump into them in the street or I visited them at Eleonas and they were so happy. “Mama Sofia” is what they called me. Imagine, a 15 year old tall boy calling you “mama”. In Eleonas, I had 18 children calling me “mama”. This was a sign of their trust.
When talking with my daughters on Skype, I often showed them the students, and the children asked me about my daughters. They have learnt each other's names and were sending their love.
On the last day of school, at Schisto, 5 or 6 girls cuddled around me and they were sobbing, while a little boy was waiting his turn to hug me. I tried to hold back my tears. They were running away and then running back towards me, it was a very emotional moment. You should have seen how they pulled and dragged me. They event wanted to give me the sandwich they were having. They begged me to stay at Schisto, they even found a place for me to stay! They said “we will miss you, please come to visit us.”
I will never forget this little girl who never let me get close to her or kiss her. Cautiously, she started approaching me on her own and taking me by the hand. On the last day of school, she gave me so many kisses.
I would like to say a big “thank you” to my colleagues. I made many new and very good friends. I have gained experience, I’ve learnt so many things. I’ve learnt that if you want to achieve something, with a little bit of hard work, you can do it. And we did it."
In the context of the education programme for refugee and migrant children staying in Greece, and with support from the European Commission - Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), IOM Greece has provided transportation and school kits to hundreds of young pupils attending the Greek education system.