This summer 16 young North American volunteers had a transformative experience immersed in volunteerism, philanthropy and Greek culture on the island of Chios.
The team participated in the New York-based Greek America Foundation’s Service Learning program through which they supported a Greek charity named METAdrasi, which supports refugees, migrants and unaccompanied children in Greece.
Greek America Foundation President and Founder Gregory Pappas said he was “extremely proud” of the group for their work and for positively representing the foundation.
“This team of young adults has made me and the supporters of the Greek America Foundation extremely proud,” Pappas said. “They’ve done outstanding work with METAdrasi, whom we are also very grateful to have as our partner on the ground in Greece for our volunteer program.”
In an official announcement on Facebook, METAdrasi expressed its gratitude to the foundation and its volunteers for their “significant help and strong motivation.”
For the month of July, the volunteers worked alongside METAdrasi staff to assist with everyday operations while offering friendship and companionship to the organization’s mostly teenaged children.
At METAdrasi’s shelter in Chios town, volunteers handled everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, painting and maintenance to make the shelter more of a home. They also engaged the children in lessons and activities on various topics including personal hygiene, computer skills, English language, music, yoga and meditation.
In addition to supporting the shelter, a separate team of volunteers with experience in pedagogy served as teachers at METAdrasi’s education center outside of the VIAL refugee camp. Their important work gave young refugees the opportunity to learn Greek, English and other subjects such as mathematics.
During weekends the volunteers took METAdrasi’s children on numerous excursions in Chios, including beach days, visits to historic villages, soccer matches and a bowling party, among others.
Vounteer Nicole Chacho, a graduate student at the University of Central Florida, said she enjoyed participating in such activities with the children because they provided bonding opportunities.
“[I just love] the relationships we formed and the bond that we made with these kids,” Chacho said. “It’s something that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Toward the end of the program, the volunteers started a fundraising campaign with the goal of providing essential supplies for METAdrasi’s shelter before leaving. The team raised nearly $2,400.
Using said funds, METAdrasi staff purchased household necessities such as a new refrigerator, shoe cabinets, a large metal storage unit, new wood to fix dressers and three months of frozen pita bread to use for meal preparation. The funds also provided a €190 — or $210 — gas certificate for the van which METAdrasi staff use to transport children on a daily basis.
In addition to their work, the volunteers had various opportunities to immerse themselves in everyday Greek culture and learn first-hand about contemporary Greece.
They visited the Mastic Museum and medieval villages and attended local “panegyria,” traditional festivals in celebration of Greek Orthodox saints, where they experienced Greek food and dance.
The group also visited Izmir, Turkey — formerly the Greek city of Smyrna. There they were guided by resident and Greek-American expatriate Chrysovalantis Stamelos, a teacher and filmmaker who has made the city his home after moving there to research his Asia Minor ancestry for his documentary film “Hello Anatolia” (2012).
Stamelos guided the young adults throughout the city’s important historical areas from which hundreds of thousands of refugees fled for their lives during the Great Catastrophe of 1922.
Volunteer Heather Marcella, whose ancestors fled Smyrna, said the trip was an experience she “will never forget.”
During interviews with The Pappas Post, many of the volunteers said that the program was overall very beneficial for them.
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.”
Colin McCormick, a student at DePaul University, said he valued the immersive experience that he received through the program.
“Service learning programs like this are important because you’re able to commit yourself for a month without so many of the daily disruptions of life,” McCormick said. “You’re able to immerse yourself in a different culture [and] immerse yourself into volunteering fully — much more than you could with a busy life at home.”
Nicholas Ambus, a recent graduate from Arizona State University, said he feels immensely satisfied knowing that he and the other volunteers have made a difference.
“I think that our impact on [the children] has been huge and I hope that it’ll carry on past the program.” Ambus said. “I think just the satisfaction of knowing that we made a difference in some lives has made me feel really good about doing this program.”
To receive regular updates on similar volunteer opportunities, those interested can join the Greek America Foundation’s mailing list.
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