Sixteen American and Canadian young adults have embarked on a month-long volunteer mission on the Greek island of Chios with the New York-based Greek America Foundation.
The volunteer program, now in its second year, aims to provide young people with transformative experiences while learning the value of service and philanthropy. Simultaneously, they familiarize themselves with contemporary Greece through daily activities and weekend excursions.
The ages of participants ranges from 18-25 and three college credits are given to the students from Hellenic American University, a US-accredited institution in Athens which provides a specific curriculum and coursework.
The volunteers are working alongside Greek a non-profit organization named METAdrasi, which is providing various forms of support to unaccompanied refugee minors at the VIAL refugee camp, as well as at a shelter in Chios town.
Such support includes everyday chores at the shelter, including cooking and teaching the kids basic essentials like hygiene, computer skills and English.
A separate team of volunteers who have experience in pedagogy are also serving as teachers at the education center at the refugee camp that offers the child refugees the opportunity to learn Greek, English and other subjects.
Harrison Ungert, a student at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, called the experience “life-changing” and said he was both honored to serve Greece, the country of his mother’s ancestry, and to serve young children who have been caught — through no fault of their own — in the biggest refugee crisis of this generation.
“I know that what I’m doing here now is going to not only stick with me for the rest of my life, but also with the people that I’ve been working with — both volunteers and the children,” Ungert said. “I know my heart’s been touched and I strongly believed that theirs have been as well.”
Olivia Kasten, another volunteer and from the University of Northern Colorado, shared a similar sentiment, calling her volunteering on Chios an “educational” experience for young people such as herself.
“These programs matter because it is so educating for our young people,” Kasten said. “For Americans especially, we come from such a privileged world where we have access to education and a fully established society where things are stable. Here at the shelter for unaccompanied minors these boys and girls don’t have any sort of stability really besides the shelter, so I think that these sort of programs just open the eyes of young people in America — and from all over the world now — to what we have and what we have to give.”
More than a dozen unaccompanied refugee minors call the shelter their home while METAdrasi, the non-profit caring for them, processes their asylum paperwork and strives to reunite them with their next of kin elsewhere in Europe.
While this takes place, important steps are taken to help integrate the youngsters into Greek society and help them heal and feel welcomed.
The role of the Greek America Foundation volunteers was to support these efforts, which they did by organizing activities such as beach trips, soccer matches and even a bowling party.
The team has also started a fundraising campaign which aims to cover the cost of various household necessities for METAdrasi’s shelter in Chios town. Such necessities include a new refrigerator, couches, dining tables, chairs and groceries — all of which improve the everyday lives of the children inhabiting the shelter.
For more information about the foundation’s annual volunteer program, visit the website.
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