To the school in the Ukrainian emergency village: “Win a lottery ticket with this job” (Antwerp)

There is a post office, there are planters among the living containers, a brand new sports field is being built and since a good month the school bell has been ringing several times a day. The OKAN school in the center of the emergency village for Ukrainian refugees on the Left Bank was established more than a month ago. Also in enclosures, but with a playground on a soft grass surface, with lots of games and large boards with pictures of nature and the Antwerp City Hall to give the children as pleasant a school environment as possible.

All 72 children were in the five classroom containers when we arrived. The stadium is empty except for one girl who is sitting on the floor and tapping her smartphone. “Maybe you live in the village and wait for the friends who are in class,” says principal Sarah Frens. OKAN School was built in the village to eliminate the long waiting lists for Okan. But today there are still about 270 children on the list for a place at the school. That girl may still be on the list and therefore not allowed to participate in the lessons. We let the village children play in the playground.”

Okan School came. Within two weeks, the people of Technicum High School in Eilandje and Sint-Anna College on the Left Bank joined Antwerp to start a school here as soon as possible. We were looking for teachers, split up the classes and tried to start as early as possible. St. Anna’s College now has three classrooms here and we have two at the moment, but that will soon be three. We already have one Okan class at the school in Ilandji, so we already knew a little bit about the situation.”

A few new fellows have been working together on the improvised secretariat for a month now. Sandra Jacobs, 52, puts a memory game behind her desk. Until a month ago it had nothing to do with education. “I am a photographer, but I have been looking for a new job for a long time. I won a lottery ticket because I was able to work here. I found a very interesting and useful job.

Sandra Jacobs © Nattida-Jayne Kanyachalao

The school needed one and a half teachers for each class, and a few secretaries and student counselors moved between Eilandje and Linkeroever. The school has only been open for a month, but apparently everyone has found their feet. He is quiet in Mr. Lucas’ class (27). Children learn to read the clock. Only one student of Lucas van Dams lives in the emergency village. The rest comes from outside. Lucas used to be a Dutch teacher, but he finds it difficult to teach Dutch at OKAN.

“And noble too. The kids are much more excited than they were in my previous classes. They are here sometimes for an hour early in the morning. Although they don’t know each other very well yet, the groups are already starting to come together. The older kids help out.” Young children and playing together on the playground.You rarely see a smartphone pop up.Ukrainians speak Ukrainian to Afghan and bring back Pashto.They quickly found universal ways to communicate with each other,” Mr. Lucas said.

Mr. Lucas © Nattida-Jayne Kanyachalao

Until recently, Lucas went to a regular school every morning, and now he passes an emergency refugee village on his way to work every day. “The atmosphere here in the village is very constructive. Men help with construction and I often see women cleaning and helping together.” Scouts Linkeroever regularly come to play in the village with the children.

Miss Sylvie is standing in front of her new classroom on the ground floor. Students learn short sentences that make communication in the classroom easier. They ask in unison what time or time the next break is and learn what it means when the teacher tells them to look at the board. About half of the students in this class live in the village. When the teacher asks who lives in the village, Nestor raises his hand (14). He tries to explain in English that he has been living here for three months with his mother and brother. His colleague Dima (12 years old) opens Google Translate on his mobile phone and helps him. Next to the Ukrainian boys is a girl from Malaysia. She gives a thumbs up when we ask if she likes to go to school.

There are significantly more boys in OKAN classes on Linkeroever. This is often the case. Girls who normally wear headscarves are not allowed to wear them in class here. For many girls, this threshold is too great, and they, unfortunately, drop out of school. Three girls were supposed to attend recently, but when we told them not to wear headscarves at school, they stopped coming,” the principal said.

In Miss Sylvie’s class, a few students are still pursuing distance education in Ukraine. They are also trying to get a diploma there. “It’s not always easy for these kids. Sometimes it doesn’t work either. Recently, a boy in my class had a complete meltdown. His brother finally came to Belgium, but he was taken care of somewhere in Wallonia. It was very difficult for him. Most of my students are teenagers, and they really have a hard time figuring out who they are, and with their trauma I can only imagine how complicated it all is.”

The school also has a multipurpose room which is also used as a dining hall on rainy days. “We see a lot of empty lunch boxes. This is a huge pain point. Next week we invited an organization that can explain the problem. We are also thinking of starting a pilot project to provide food to students at the school.”

The youth of the village can prepare a packed lunch in the morning. “But not all of them feel like getting up early for that. Of course we shouldn’t make them too lazy just by serving the food. We still find our way there.”

And so you get big differences between the students in this improvised school. “For students from Afghanistan, for example, it is difficult to understand why children from Ukraine are ‘allowed’ to live here in this new village. Many sports clubs also made places available to Ukrainian children last year, so there is not always room for Afghan children. This is also difficult. “.

If all goes well, these disciples will move on to regular education next year. “But even then we have a problem. Because in many directions there are also queues for a place in the classroom. Then they end up in the queue again. We are doing useful work here, but structurally this school does not solve much. Says Saint Robinet, coordinator of OKAN.

Director Sarah Franz and Saint Robinette, Okan Coordinator. © Nattida-Jayne Kanyachalao

The school bell is ringing, the class day is over. Children leave, but not everyone leaves. Balls are taken out of the boxes and a few boys start playing soccer. A twelve year old boy kicks a ball to a sixteen year old boy. “That 12-year-old boy first went to primary school with his sister, but then came to our school. Without the sister. He was very shy and sad at first, but the older boys took care of him and now he’s playing very well,” says Sarah.

Some of the girls are still talking on the sofa. So it goes on for a while. “Sometimes I leave here at 5:30 in the afternoon and they’re still playing. Then I have to say it’s time to go home. The kids love hanging out here and it’s good. It’s good for them to be comfortable here.”

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