Friday, January 20, 2017

Energy poverty and pollution in Greece

A symptom of Greek economic crisis is air pollution as people switch to burning wood instead of more heavily taxed heating oil/electricity

Greece's economic crisis grinds on for yet another year

One of the symptom or perhaps better put, a victim of the economic crisis in Greece is air quality, especially in large cities such as Athens  and Thessaloniki as people switch from using heating oil and electricity to burning wood in order to heat their homes.

The government's attempt to claw in revenue by massively increasing taxation on the heating oil that used to be the staple of central heating boilers in many urban apartment blocks has seen many residents abandon them, unable to pay for the oil that fuelled them. In addition, in Greece people are wary of running up massive electricity bills and so are loathed to rely just on it for heating.

In their place many people have returned to traditional wood burning stoves which produce far more air pollution than other forms of heating and in built up urban areas have led to a serious decline in air quality, especially when combined with other sources of smog such as car exhaust fumes.

The recent bitterly cold spell in Greece dramatically brought to the fore energy poverty, yet another entry in a long list of woes that Greeks have had to face since the start of the economic crisis in 2009. Even after years of supposed bail outs and mandated economic "adjustments" (Read cuts in health, educational spending, pensions etc) the economy continues to wither and die on the vine, starved on capital and the prospect of improvement any time soon.

Snow bound Thessaloniki

Feeding pigeons in the park

Passengers waiting for buses in snow storm

The church of Holy Wisdom - Thessaloniki, Greece

Thankfully, the worst of the recent cold snap is over here in Thessaloniki. Last week temperatures nose dived far below zero and the city was blanketed with snow for the first time in years, According to some accounts it was coldest spell Thessaloniki has experienced since the 1930s. As result many were left without heating and water as gas and water pipes froze then cracked open. To add to people's woes electricity supplies were affected in many areas, making for a particularly miserable week for some.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The winter crisis in Greece - refugees left in limbo as those in charge pass the buck

Cold Kills Refugees

After days of anticipation, the Ariadni cold wave finally hit Greece a few days ago bring polar temperatures and heavy snowfall across across the country. Not only was this spate of bad weather predicted days in advance, it was the butt of many jokes and sarcastic comments on Facebook and Twitter as the full force of the front hit nearly two days later than had been originally forecast. So why the Greek authorities and the large international NGOs who help run many of the camps were taken so completely by surprise by the event is something of a surprise in itself. While many ordinary Greeks were left without water and electricity by the extreme cold, those worst hit were many of the 60,000 refugees still living in tents and abandoned industrial buildings in makeshift camps.

On the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos some refugees were left to spend days in unheated tents enduring temperatures as low as -5C , Nor was it only the islands that saw such squalid neglect of people in dire need.  Despite repeated assurances by Greece' Migration minister, Yannis Mouzalas that, with a few minor exceptions that those on the mainland were already in properly "winterised" accommodations (see his interview in the Turkish daily Hurriyet) photographs and video soon appeared on both Facebook and Twitter from volunteers and aid workers on the ground showing freezing families in snow covered tents and freezing warehouses struggling to survive polar temperatures.

Once the story was picked up by the international media the Greek government's response was to first ban photography and filming in the worst effected camps (refugee camps are under the control of either the Greek army or police force and access to them is strictly regulated) and then slowly place a minority  (500 out of nearly 6,000) of the most vulnerable in more suitable housing, at least until the worst of the winter weather abated.

While the severity of the cold spell is unusual for Greece, it is not unprecedented, Greek winters especially in the north are shorter than those in northern Europe but are often quite severe due to the mountainous topography of the region, so much so that the nation has over 25 ski resorts that people flock to every year. Even on the islands winter temperatures are often no more clement than those in some parts of northern Europe such as southern UK and Ireland, even in a mild winter. Forcing people to live in tents and abandoned buildings for months in such conditions is nothing short of criminal.

As is so often the case, finding the villain of the piece is a complicated, frustrating process with all the major players, Greek central government, local authorities, EU and UNHCR Greece busily blaming each other for this easily avoided fiasco. In the meantime many refugee still find themselves in cold, squalid camps waiting for a plan to improve the situation that no one in a position of authority seems willing to provide.

Monday, December 19, 2016

English for refugees - Recipe dictation and cooking together

This lesson plan is based on a idea from Teaching Adults Second Language Learners by McKay and Tom

Aim - To help refugees use cooking vocabulary, write recipes

Materials - Cooking equipment and ingredients, access to a kitchen, photocopies (see below)

Level - Elementary/intermediate.

1 - Ask students what verbs/words we use to talk about cooking. write some on the board and mime them to ensure understanding. Otherwise ask students to use smart phones for translation.

2 - Elicit words and write them on the board, use mime to ensure understanding.

3 - Hand out this photocopy from

4 - Students copy down any words they didn't know, check comprehension.

5 - In pairs, student mime words from the photocopy and the other s have to guess them.

6 - Now explain that you are going to give them a recipe (or write it on the board) and that they have to copy them into their notebooks but some words and/or numbers will be missing. (Just choose numbers for beginner students).

7 - Read the recipe aloud and have students fill in the missing gaps.

8 - When you have finished reading have students take turns in completing the dictation on the board or in groups of 3-4

9 - Now get students to use this as a template for their own recipes, encourage them to use their smart phones to find ingredients and names of cooking equipment

10 Tell students that next lesson we will be cooking together in Oikopolis's kitchen, ask students to say who would like to cook something simple for the class, e;g salads, dips etc that take less than an hour to make. Take students on a tour of the kitchen to check that it has all the equipment they need.,

Thursday, December 15, 2016

VIDEO: Clashes between riot police and anarchists in Greek port city of Thessaloniki.

December 6 marks the 8th anniversary of the killing of a 15 year old Greek teenager, Alexis Grigoropoulos in central Athens district of Exarchia. Within hours violent protests swept the country and for weeks afterwards Greece saw clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

Every year the events is commemorated, often violently.

Video taken in Thessaloniki on 6 December 2016.

English for refugees - word games for the revision of vocabulary

Last time we played this game to lighten the mood and revise some of the vocabulary areas we have covered recently.

1 - Divide the board into a grid, On one axis write the categories you wish to cover, I also included easier categories such as cities and names in order to help the less advanced students.

2 Divide the class into teams - The size will depend on how much English your students know, with elementary/beginner students, use bigger teams.

3 - Ask students to shout out some (5-10) letters of the alphabet.

4 - Write them in the grid and go through some examples.

Letter           Name           City               Part of the body       Something in the home

F                  Fay               Florence        Face                         Freezer  

5 - Set a suitable time limit (2-10 minutes) - encourage students to use their notes from previous classes and their smart phones.

6 - The winning time is the one who complete the grid or has the most correct entries when the time limit is up.

7 - Elicit answers from the whole class, write them on the board,

Thursday, December 08, 2016

English for refugees - Describing homes - finding accomodation


Aim - To help refugees with some grasp of English describe and find accommodation Greek city of Thessaloniki

Materials - Photographs of different kinds of housing  either from magazines or via  via smart phone.

Level - Elementary/intermediate.

1 - Ask students to think of their dream/perfect home. You may need a photograph to help get your message across and then describe the place and say why you want to live in this place.

2 - Now elicit suitable vocabulary for describing a home;

Type - e.g. flat/house/villa etc

Size - e.g in  square meters or number of rooms/bedrooms

Location e.g in the centre/suburbs/countryside

Amenities pool/utilities room/garage etc

3 - Write these on the board elicit further terms from the students.

4 - Now students look for a suitable dream home on their smart phones or simply describe it to the person next to them. Students then ask each other why they want to live in this place.

5 - Now draw a floor plan of your own or one you have found on the internet. Label the rooms and facilities, check comprehension.

6 - Students then draw their own present home/previous residence floor plan or for their dream home.

7 - Students then describe their plan.

e,g, It is/was
       It has/had
       I like/liked etc


Aim - To help refugees with some grasp of English describe and find accommodation Greek city of Thessaloniki

Materials - Photographs of different kinds of housing  either from magazines or via  via smart phone and a map of the city..

Level - Elementary/intermediate

1 - In the next lesson recap the language used to describe homes (see part one)


2 - Now divide the students into two groups landlords/landladies and tenants - explain terms.

3 - Now in their groups students think of questions the landlords/landladies and tenants would ask.


e'g How long do you want to stay?
     Do you have pets?
     How many people are there in your family?
     How will you pay the rent?- cash/credit card/direct debit?


e.g Where is the apartment?
      How big is it?
      How many bedrooms does it have?
      How much is the rent?
      Howe much is the deposit? 

4 - Write these and any others on the board so students can see them during the following exercises.

5 - Give out landlords/landladies and tenants role play cards (cut into strips)

6 - Work on vocabulary issues and either assign roles at random or ask student to choose their own roles. 

7 - Students write down/copy suitable questions and practice them in pairs.

8 - Now students stand up and the landlords/landladies go to one corner of the room and tenants to the other. Explain that the tenants are looking for accommodation and the landlords/landladies have properties in and around Thessaloniki. Remind students that in Greece prices are often are negotiable so they can haggle/negotiate things such as cost of rent.

You may also need to pin up a large  map of the city to help students understand where the properties are located

9 - Student try to find suitable property/tenant. Encourage students to try more than one option.

10 Students then explain how they made their choice to the class.

11 - If time permits students swap roles.

In the next lesson students can repeat the exercise using their real life details in order to recap.