I and two other volunteers were having dinner in the park, eating our favorite dish, Souvlakis (aka Giros). It is a traditional, and affordable dish and for ₠1.60 dinner is served. Suddenly the phone rang of one of the volunteers. On the other end of the call there was a refugee who needed medical attention and wanted her help immediately. Without asking any questions she got up and went to help him. This is the life of a volunteer.
My work revolves around working at a local Community Center, going to Refugees homes through the organization, Love Without Borders, and working with a group that distributes food to the homeless.
Almost everyday I teach an all-women’s English class at a community center. At first I was nervous because I had no previous teaching experience and had just recently graduated high school myself. On the first day, all the women were so amazing and kind, it immediately put my worries to rest. Anything I am able to teach them, they are eager to learn. You can see the interest in their eyes and their determination to master what is being taught.
When I’m not working at the community center I am working with Kayra Martinez and her organization, Love Without Borders. She helps find housing for at risk families, mainly single mothers and/or pregnant women. Through this organization, I visit the families in their homes offering support to the mothers while teaching English to the kids.
On Saturdays I am apart of a group that gets together to walk the streets of Athens and hand out sandwiches, tea, and water to the homeless. There are also two doctors that come with us to treat anything they may have.
Life as a volunteer can be both hectic and fun at the same time. You can never be quite sure of what’s going to happen on any given day. Near the beginning of my time here I was working at the community center, when my purse was stolen. I set it down on a table in the Kids Space to go get lunch and when I came back it was gone. It had almost everything of value in it. It had my EpiPen, my cash, my debit card, my license, and other things of lesser value but that I used every day. It was quite a setback for me and threw me off guard. Lesson learned. I now use a “fanny pack” and rarely take it off between the time I leave my flat in the morning and when I return at night.
Most of the volunteers I have met come from other European countries. There are many volunteers from Spain and the UK. Scotland, Italy, Germany, and France are also fairly represented amongst the volunteers here. I have yet to meet anyone else my age that has come to volunteer here. Notably underrepresented is the US. I can count on one hand the number of America volunteers I have met during my time here. Specifically, five. Most of the volunteers that come here are in there early or late 20’s and either well into their college careers or have already graduated.
Finding housing is the first, and sometimes the biggest, challenge for a potential volunteer. There is no formal program providing housing, supervision, orientation, etc. When I arrived, I had no idea where I was going to live. After some networking I had the lead that eventually led to my current accommodations. I live in shared flat with about 12 other people at any given time and only one and a half bathrooms to share amongst us all. The faces are always changing but our shared purpose as volunteers, creates an easy bound with newcomers.
Almost everyone in my flat is from Spain with the exception of one or two people from the Middle East, and myself. There are three bedrooms with four people per room. If we run out of beds, people will sleep on the couch or on mattresses in the fore room. My living conditions are quite cozy but it’s more than enough for my time here.
Most of my flat mates work at nearby squats and their shifts can be at any time in a 24 hour day. Some have shifts working through the night. I, on the other hand, work only during the day, as per my mom’s request ;).
The volunteers and the refugee community are quite close. We become more like friends which makes the community all the more unique. It becomes less about serving others and more about working together to provide a safe space for everyone.
Although the refugees and volunteers have a good relationship with most of the locals, that doesn’t necessarily extend to the local law enforcement. The relationship the police have with the refugees is strained, at best. Nearly every Saturday riots break out in the neighborhood I live in.
If you aren’t careful those tensions can affect the lives of volunteers. One of my friends was walking alone one night, wearing a shirt that supported refugees. He also has features that could be associated with those from the Middle East. The police assumed he was a refugee and stopped and searched him. They found one joint of marijuana on him and that was reason enough to throw him in jail. Before they discovered he was in the country on a tourist visa and working as a volunteer, he was beaten. If he actually was a refugee, who knows what would have happened to him.
There’s also plenty of laughter and light hearted moments. Many refugees have a hard time pronouncing my name. Those that speak Arabic have taken to calling me “Siara” and get a kick out of doing so. “Siara” in Arabic means car. Some kids have started calling me taxi or Ferrari for fun and they seem to think it’s the funniest thing in the world.
Suffice to say, flexibility, a willingness to step into the unknown and commitment, are all prerequisites for survival as a volunteer here. We are here because we believe in what we are doing. We believe we can make a difference, one step at a time.
Thank you for visiting my blog. Please stop by again soon for updates.
If you are interested in donating to my efforts here, please visit https://www.gofundme.com/wrrak7-sierra-amighettis-service-abroad
to make a donation. No donation is too small and anything I have remaining after my time here will be donated to the organizations I work with.