Last Friday was international bullying day. Greece was amongst the worst countries in Europe for bullying and it’s failure to address or acknowledge this problem. As a parent I have experienced first hand how teachers not only fail to act but manage to blame the victim for “bringing it on themselves!”
My daughter attends the music school of Mytilene on the island of Lesvos, she is British born but has lived her entire life on the island. Although mentally a strong child Elleni has in the last 10 months been reduced to a very depressed teenager at the hands of her class mates. It began to escalate after she released her first music CD last year. The verbal abuse an psychological pressure reached such a point that she just couldn’t take it anymore.
Five weeks ago she finally asked for help from her Head teacher, Γιώργος Αθανασίου, Elleni was not only concerned for herself but for two other girls in the class that were also suffering. Three weeks later and nothing had been said or done! Feeling she was being ignored and with the situation escalating she approached her head of year with the issue. Elleni told her that if nothing was done then she would have to leave the school! Γιώργος Αθανασίου (head teacher) then finally did something, he went into the class and shouted at the kids for an hour. I don’t know how he felt this would be a solution, as soon as he left the room the abuse reached a whole new level. After repeatedly trying to get an appointment with him to tell him how bad things had become Elleni was told that he was to busy to see her and to come back another day. She tried to see him on three consecutive days…he was busy!
In the end she just walked out of school!! At no point during the last five weeks has any member of the teaching staff tried to contact us with concerns about Elleni. It was only after a friend intervened and found Elleni a place at another school, so that at least she could finish the short time left of year five, then he wanted to talk to us!
The meeting with Γιώργος Αθανασίου the head teacher consisted of him shouting for the entire time! He didn’t seem to want to listen to a word we had to say. He repeatedly shouted over the top of my husband and I. He claimed that they valued Elleni as a pupil and that she should go back to his school. When we finally managed to get him to listen to us and said there was no way Elleni could go back to his school and she would like to finish the year at another high school. He then told us it was against the law and he would not allow her to change schools, in spite of the fact that the headmaster of the other school was more than willing to take Elleni into his school for the few short weeks left of this school year. He was asked three times to sign the papers to release Elleni from his school he said he would only do that if and when he was contacted by the education authority.
We also asked him why it had taken three weeks for him to do anything about the problem and why he refused Ellenis repeated attempts to meet with him? He told us that, Elleni seemed nervous speaking to him so he took the problem up with other teachers. We explained to him that Elleni had been in this situation before at her primary school, where she was physically and mentally bullied, when she asked for help the headmaster sided with the children, he even wrote us a letter stating that “bullying is a foreign problem and thanks to god it doesn’t happen in Greece!” he also told us that our daughter should seek psychiatric help! He later told all the parents and members of the town at the opening of the school year that all the problems in the school were caused by Elleni and that she was a “terrorist!” she was 11 years old at the time. During this time there were two many incidents to list, from racism to at one point a parent holding a knife to our daughters throat in front of us and threatening to slit it, and then kill us. The endless telephone and internet threats telling her to go back to where she came from and that she would be killed if she came back to school. At one time we were summoned to the school to meet her new teacher who refused to shake mine or my husbands hand and told us that all western Europeans are arrogant, a great start to her school year.
Sorry I’m leaving the subject but it’s been an endless struggle for Elleni to survive this long in a Greek school especially when the general philosophy of teacher seems to be, if you weren’t different and tried to fit in more this wouldn’t happen! The victim is always to blame and the bullies get away with it all the time with the backing of the teachers. Is this a reflection of Greek society today?
Anyway after the meeting with Γιώργος Αθανασίου we went to the other high school and had a meeting with the headteacher there. We went about filling in the required paper work and getting the stamp for permission for her to join his school, he also checked with the education authority that everything was ok. Elleni was assigned a class and started school straight away. It was so good to finally see her happy again after months of stress, she played the piano that day for the first time in weeks, a very happy girl just to be normal and go to school.
Last night we received a call from the driver who takes Elleni to school, a mere two days after starting her new school. He explained that Γιώργος Αθανασίου had just called him at 7pm last night and instructed him not to take Elleni to school. We live a long way from the school and Elleni has a taxi along with other children from the village to take them to school. I dont believe that a man in his position could be this vindictive to a child who just wants to be able to finish her school year. You would think that a man who claims to care for and want the best for his student would try to help her finish her school year. Instead his attitude is that if she will not go back to his school then he will stop her going to any other school to finish her education!! This is a man in a position of trust and responsibility! Because of what went on locally there is no way that Elleni can go back to school in her home town so he has effectively destroyed her last chance at finishing her schooling! In our eyes he has become as much of a bully as the kids that drove here away from school in the first place.
I realise this is a long letter but I also want to give you a small amount of background on Elleni. She is a 16 year old musician, singer songwriter who speaks three languages fluently. Her music is being played around the world on radio stations every day. She has two international interviews this week and really is a rising star. Elleni won a world wide singer song writer competition when she was 13 competing with adults and professional musicians from around the world. The press coverage from that win she used to highlight that her school was under threat of closure because of the economic crisis, the school is still open. She receive a commendation letter from the education authority thanking her for her services to her school and to Greece, that meant more to her than any competition win. Last year she released her first CD, 12 of her original songs. She was given awards from the mayor of Mytilene for her achievements.
I will add below the links to the newspaper articles and Ellenis social media pages so you can get a better understanding of the girl she is, but at the end of this all she is, is a girl who just wants to finish her school year. I fail to understand why the headmaster is doing this, he has refused to release her from his school and yet has cancelled her taxi so she is unable to get to school, I feel his plan is to keep her away long enough to run up her absent marks so that she will automatically fail for non attendance, why else would he victimise her in such a way?
Its about time that these issues are discussed and made public in Greece otherwise they will just continue to escalate for as long as teachers are in denial. If nothing else I hope that Elleni’s story will help other children knowing that they are not alone and they are not to blame.