When Something Small Makes a Big Difference – Volunteering at Caritas Hellas
This past week, I accompanied Abby Takahashi, a fellow College Year in Athens student, to Caritas Hellas Athens, where she has been volunteering during her semester abroad here.
Caritas Hellas Athens is a recognized NGO that was founded to combat poverty and injustice and to support the marginalized and vulnerable members of society. With the heightened refugee crisis as well as the Eurozone crisis in general, the need for volunteers has been increasing and many CYAers have been heeding the call. Nadia Meliniotis, the Executive Director of Student Affairs, has helped many CYA students to find the volunteer organization with the right fit for them.
Abby, originally from Seattle, Washington and now studying Political Science at Whitman College, is one of those students. When she heard about the opportunity to volunteer, it seemed natural for her to take it. She explains that “we talk about the refugee crisis in Seattle, but there aren’t many things we can do there. We’re here [in Athens], this is our opportunity to be doing something.”
When I asked her if she had reservations about doing so due to the abundance of activities available, especially some that may just seem more appealing to the typical college student (among them: going to wine festivals, attending marble carving classes, island hopping, etc.), she agreed that it can be a bit difficult to choose from the array of activities. However, she advises that while “sometimes you look at all the activities available and get overwhelmed or stressed. Just don’t be intimidated.”
“we talk about the refugee crisis in Seattle, but there aren’t many things we can do there. We’re here [in Athens], this is our opportunity to be doing something.”
While coordinating this trip to Caritas Hellas to explore volunteering opportunities offered to CYA students, I tried to take her advice to heart. I, for one, was nervous that I would not have time to even fit in just one 3 hour session of volunteering—I was already expecting that because of this, I would be staying up until 3 AM trying to finish my homework.* Contrary to popular belief, the “study” part of study abroad actually exists, and although CYA professors make it very interesting and fun, there is still work to do at the end of the day. Add this on with being in Athens, one of the most interesting places in the world with various festivals and events happening every week and archaeological sites just begging to be explored, I often find myself overwhelmed by a number of things to do.
This, honestly, was one of the reasons that I had been hesitant about volunteering in the first place: I already felt that I was overextending myself—I had an internship, was working out at the local gym to work off the countless souvlaki and gyros I eat, was practicing tennis, going to as many events as possible, and of course, the actual reason why I’m here, studying to further my understanding of international politics. I thought that I couldn’t possibly fit in one more activity.
With these thoughts ruminating through my head but determined to make this trip work, I walked with Abby to Caritas Hellas from class together. On the way there, Abby tells me that she usually either plays with kids while their parents run errands or helps to sort clothes for the clothing drive, one of the main programs that Caritas Hellas runs.
When we got there, we walked up to the reception desk, where we were greeted by a nice lady who had me sign a couple of papers and were then sent to a man who told us that we were going to help organize clothes today and showed us the room where they were kept.
The shelves were overflowing with clothes, and another lady pulls out two more bins for us to use when sorting. Although it was encouraging to see that there were already so many donations, she tells us that they were still running short, especially in winter clothes with the cold weather coming up. She helped us get our bearings and directed us to sort the 5 giant bags she pulled out into summer and winter clothing, boys and girls clothing, and by size. Abby and I spent 3 hours folding and organizing them. While it seems like a tedious task, it felt very fulfilling to know that after doing so, people who needed these clothes would be able to find them efficiently.
Abby tells me that it “feels good to be getting something done while here” and doing whatever little bit she can to help. While her main intention wasn’t to necessarily “learn things from [her volunteering time]” or to be doing so for her resume, just by volunteering once a week, she has learned more about the refugee crisis and what Greece has been doing about it anyways. She notes that during her time there, it particularly struck her that people all around the world were volunteering at the organization, not just Greek people; it was encouraging to see individuals coming together to do what they can to help.
This trip has not only encouraged me to become part of this community of kind and friendly individuals but also has calmed my worries regarding fitting it into my schedule. Abby explains that you can fit your volunteering time to your schedule; when she had expressed her qualms about being too busy, Nadia had helped her to find Caritas Hellas, which is easy to bus to and decided to go once a week for 3 hours.
CYA truly wants you to have the best, most meaningful experience that you can while in Greece and is always willing to help you do so. For anyone who is hesitant about volunteering during your time at CYA, I would highly recommend it and repeat Abby’s piece of advice: Don’t allow yourself to get intimidated.
*I would like the reader to know that I went to bed at a decent hour that day.