Five political refugees from Iran and Turkey are trying to bridge the divide between Greeks and refugees with language lessons and literature translations. The collective is currently operating out of a tiny apartment, but hoping to one day open a cultural center.
In a tiny ground floor apartment in one of Athens' busiests central neighbourhoods, Victoria, a collective of five refugees, have set up a unique business, offering interpreting and translating services in Greek, English, German and Farsi, as well as language courses.
The five friends, who are political refugees from Iran and Turkey, began the business in April, and offer the language courses at the symbolic price of one euro per hour. Many pupils who attend classes at the little space are also refugees and migrants, but there are also quite a few Greeks among the students. The majority of them are young people, who like many of their fellow refugees, want to live and thrive in Greece, and not just simply survive temporarily in their new-found home.
The school is called 'Farzad Kamangar', in memory of an important Kurdish teacher, writer and activist who was
accused of being 'God's enemy,' and tortured and executed in 2010 by the Iranian government at the age of just 32.
Not just language classes
"This is not just a place for language lessons, but [for] our dreams [to] come true," said Ramira Hosseini, an English professor and Iranian political refugee who has been living in Athens for less than a year. "One day we would like to have translations of books by Ritsos and Cavafy in Farsi, and poems by Ahmad Samlu, Nosrat Rahmani, Kurdish Serko Bekas in Greek," he told Greek newspaper EFSYN. The latter are unknown to most Greeks, but are seen as three of the most important contemporary poets of Iran and Kurdistan.
Ribouar Kobadi is the heart and soul of the project. After leaving Iran as a political refugee 10 years ago, he studied in Germany and has been living permanently in Greece since 2012, working as an interpreter and translator.
A dream come true
"I dreamed of opening a school for children in Greece for years. In Iran, I had a children's rights organization, called 'Let the children live.' Unfortunately, however, the regime did not let it stay open. This was the reason I was forced to leave the country," said Kobadi. He added: "But I was lucky. Afterwards I found some people who shared the same dream as mine - Ramirez, Rizgard, Sarah, Said, Ahmed. We decided to start [an education project] here."
The first lessons took place on April 3. Now, the school has seven different Greek levels, two German, three Persian, four English classes.
Starting in September, the Farzad Kamangar school will offer classes for primary and secondary school children, with enhanced teaching professionals and methods, but without any extra costs. Children under the age of 14 do not pay.
'What we do is not just lessons'
Kobadi said they are paying tribute to Farzam Kamangar, the namesake of the school, with their work. "For us, what we do is not just lessons, it is also the voice of the teacher himself, so his name is not lost. He was imprisoned for four years, and despite pleas from Amnesty International to the UN, the Iranian government executed him. His writings, from Evin's prison, have been translated into many languages."
"We do not want financial aid in the form of simple charity; we want people to help us who believe in our ideas," Kobadi said.
Ideally, the collective would like to expand and create a self-contained space which could act as a cultural center, not just a school. Kobadi concluded: "We are here and have got this far without much help. Of course we are open to proposals, not just for financial assistance, but one thing we fear as being used. We want to avoid this. [...] We would be delighted if someone comes to help us, even with supplying books."
The Farzad Kamangar School operates at 38 Alkiviadou street in the Victoria area of Athens daily from 11 am to 10 pm. For more information, you can contact the school principal, Ribouar Kobadi at +306986234370.