Beyond national identities, religions, and beliefs, we are all friends!

November 8, 2023 By 0 Comments

The Agios Antonios High School in Limassol participated in the repiloting phase of the NEW ABC project, where 25 students and 8 teachers collaborated with SYNTHESIS researchers to co-create activities. It is important to mention that the participation of high schools (and secondary schools in general) is a significant achievement, as due to an overloaded curriculum and limited time availability, it is very difficult to convince teachers and school departments to participate in research projects.

In a similar manner as in the case of Pallouriotissa High School that we presented in an earlier report, the activities were co-designed by and for students who attend the “transitional” class of the school. A transitional class addresses the needs of migrant minors who arrive in Cyprus at an older age and face more difficulties integrating into the school system due to language and cultural barriers. At Agios Antonios High School there is a fifteen-hour program for the integration of migrant students into public education. Most of the students came to school from September to December 2022, having an honest desire to learn. The students are mostly 15-16 years old and come from Syria, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Vietnam, the Philippines, Ukraine, and Russia.

Many of the students arrived in Cyprus mainly from Syria, fleeing war zones, often unaccompanied, having lost siblings and parents in the war. Some of them had never gone to school due to the war and the conditions in their home countries. Consequently, they found it very difficult to meet the requirements of the program, as they had never learned how to read and write in any language, not even in their mother tongue.

Considering the personal backgrounds of these students, the school put a lot of effort into their psychological and emotional support alongside their academic progress, setting this as a goal from the beginning of the school year.

The school was dedicated in their efforts to achieve the above goal and after the workshop we facilitated with the 8 teachers in which we introduced the activities of the original pilot from Italy, the school remained actively involved in the project.

Following that, the teachers presented the activities to the students. The activity that attracted the most interest was “A school to eat” because they felt that this activity would give them the opportunity to talk about their homeland through a topic that unites everyone: food. What encouraged the active participation of the students was their willingness to work with the whole school community and to collaborate with more students who don’t necessarily attend the transitional class.

Thus, in May 2023, the students, with the support of their teachers, prepared presentations about their home countries and presented them to teachers and students at the school. This was followed by a lunch with traditional dishes from the students’ countries of origin. The menu included dishes from Vietnam, Syria, Lebanon, China, Japan, Iran, Russia, Italy, and Cyprus. The event was organized jointly by students and teachers.

The event was touching and commendable as the students proudly presented their countries of origin in Greek and managed to communicate their personal stories to individuals who might not be familiar with their backgrounds and tend to make assumptions about them.

In this activity, the students conveyed a message against school bullying, against intolerance, against marginalisation by using slogans such as “CONNECTING THROUGH FOOD” and “DON’T BULLY… BE A FRIEND».

The students shared experiences, thoughts and feelings and became good friends with each other, a close-knit, strong team.

According to their teachers, apart from the evident academic progress resulting from the activities, there was also a noticeable improvement in their social skills and the level of their inclusion and integration into the school’s student community. Relationships based on understanding, generosity, and friendship developed among the children. Most importantly, it boosted their self-confidence and cultivated a sense of optimism for the future!