#OUR HEROES: Marika Gavrielatou_Nok-Nok, the Children’s new Friend

I have always found change difficult, and especially when it’s unforeseen and catches you unprepared. That’s why when we were told that the educational lessons in the camp were temporarily suspended due to the coronavirus, I felt that I couldn’t do my job: being among children. After all, our presence in the camp is equivalent to joy, positive energy and constant in the daily life of our students through our educational activities.

Even under these conditions, our team found a way to keep in touch with our young and adult students through… Nok-Nok! Our new friend is a postman in Kato Milia refugee accommodation structure and appeared to fill the gap in the hearts of children upon the closure of schools. Nok-Nok was preparing gifts for each student every week. Every Friday, early in the morning, when everyone was still asleep, Nok-Nok was passing by the children’s homes and left outside each door a package with educational material for learning Greek, English and mathematics, but also with paintings, fairy tales and comics without endings as every story stopped at the best point, so that the children would be waiting for the sequel. But the role of Nok-Nok did not stop there. After a week he reappeared. This time to make sure the young students had completed their homework and were ready to deliver it to their new friend. How? But in secret! Students had to leave their “homework” outside their door and Nok-Nok appeared only when they could not see him. Nok-Nok enjoyed receiving their exercises, he left new gifts and disappeared as suddenly as he appeared.

Having this plan, we started to prepare the necessary material, adapting it to the cognitive level of each student. This time-consuming process was combined with a staggering concern that our students would not show the expected zeal; as a result, the first week of preparations passed with mixed feelings. After the first distribution of the material, however, things changed. We prepared this little surprise for the kids, but they reserved an even bigger one for us in the way they responded.

Before I continue, I have to admit that most of the kids immediately understood who is Nok-Nok, something that gave us the opportunity to receive a lot of smiles. Every Friday morning, our friends who woke up early waited impatiently for us to deliver their homework and receive new. They shouted “papers, papers!” and they immediately ran to fill in the new material, to return it to us on the exact same day. Other times they waited patiently outside our office, hesitantly opening the door, asking, “Aren’t we going to get papers today?” and their faces lit up when they saw the packs of papers. On the other hand, the children, who woke up later in the day, made sure to send us thank you notes and pictures hidden among the exercise papers that came back to us.

In fact, a 13-year-old schoolgirl wrote the following note in colorful letters: “I greet you too, beautiful angel. I’m so glad I got your message. It was perfect. Thank you so much for thinking of us! I’m waiting for more!”

In these difficult conditions of the lockdown, both for us the teachers and for our students, Nok-Nok was the most enjoyable note. Seeing children’s smiles every time they received the material, their eager, how they gathered in groups at various points in the camp and worked together to solve their exercises together, the timid knocks on the door to ask questions and then run home to fill in the correct answer, they filled us with so much joy.

In those moments I forgot the lockdown, the social distancing, because I realized that with something as simple as five pages of mathematics, cryptic crosswords, and paintings, we softened the anxiety to the fullest, and perhaps the fears of the children created by these particular conditions. That, after all, was our goal: to make this period as easy as possible for the children. Not to lose the rhythm of their daily lives, not to lose their contact with education and to remain mentally healthy.

Children’s smiles should not fade, but smile bright. In the refugee camp of Kato Milia, I saw it happen during this period, thanks to the dedicated and methodical work of my colleagues.

I am Marika Gavrielatou, I am Senior Education Officer at the Kato Milia Refugee Open Accommodation Center. I am working at the Child & Family Support Hubs project, which is implemented by SolidarityNow with the support of UNICEF and IOM Greece and funded by the European Commission.