My ESC Volunteer Service in Greece with "Open Cultural Center"
My decision to live in Greece for two months was made in less than two weeks. But this rather spontaneous and for me adventurous decision, resulted in one of the most instructive and valuable experiences that happened to me so far with my young 19 years.
My arrival in November in the small village of Polykastro in northern Greece was somewhat sobering. My expectations of passing the gray winter of Germany in white, breezy clothes by the crystal clear sea turned out to be a naive and nonsensical cliché. It seemed to me that I must have landed in probably the coldest and most boring place in all of Greece. But appearances were deceiving, I quickly settled in and fell in love with the village with its unusual number of pharmacies, tempting bakeries and the view of the mountains of Northern Macedonia.
The view of Polykastro
However, my real reason for staying was not to taste my way through a wide variety of baked goods, but to do a volunteer service for the NGO "Open Cultural Center", which works to integrate and support refugees. The team, which consists of about 20 members from all over the world (including Czech Republic, Kurdistan, Catalonia, Iraq & Portugal) immediately made me feel welcomed and included. In fact, I valued my time and the togetherness here so much that I decided to make four months out of the original two.
My daily routine consists of helping out in the "Community Cafeteria", a place where, for example, people from the nearby refugee camp can come together to relax and exchange ideas in a safe atmosphere. We also rent bicycles to facilitate mobility and offer other recreational and sports activities. At times I have led a computer course with another volunteer, but now I am responsible for teaching English and, more recently, German.
Here I get to feel how prejudiced and ignorant some Europeans are, and how deeply rooted the thinking in stereotypes and racism is, also in me. Many parts of the system seem to be designed to make the often involuntary stay for refugees as cumbersome and nerve-racking as possible.
The refugee camp Nea Kavala from the outside
For me, they are now not just any people, but friends and colleagues who were forced to leave their country and adapt to completely new traditions, customs and mentalities, who suffer from the cumbersome bureaucracy, have not seen their family for years and are disadvantaged in so many areas. I learned how incredibly important it is to change perspectives and learn about people's fates and experiences to get a better understanding of their problems and situation, but also to recognize and break prejudices and racist narratives.
Finally, I would like to recommend everyone to take advantage of opportunities like this, to educate yourself and to help out where you can. As uncomfortable as it may sound at first to break out of your own "bubble", the more beautiful and valuable it is to experience the beauty and diversity of other cultures and to expand your comfort zone. I will take away much more from my four months here than just a few souvenirs and wish everyone to have a similar experience at least once.
Our Christmas dinner to which everyone contributed with a dish from their home country & a street cat and my accommodation in the background