Thursday, July 14, 2011

Project Switch Leads to Priceless Insights

A new service opportunity in Greece enables volunteers to befriend, exercise and play with, and work with adults with disabilities at a breezy mountaintop day activity center. The following post is excerpted from an article in The Coastal Journal by Annee Tara. Read the entire story here.

My recent volunteer vacation in Crete was my second trip with Global Volunteers. This organization has been in this business for more than a quarter of a century and has projects all over the world. The first thing they tell you when you agree to serve on a Global Volunteer project is to be flexible. A few days before my departure date, I got an email from Samantha (Sam), the country manager for Greece. She wrote that (because of a teachers strike), instead of teaching English in the local primary school, we would be working at a center for youth and adults with disabilities on crafts projects that they use for fundraising. I'd say I was disappointed, but I was somewhat relieved. I don't know anything about working with people with disabilities, but I figured I at least couldn’t be held responsible for not having prepared!

The Center is nominally supported by the municipality; but times are tough in Greece, and it is clear that St. Spiro's is funded by a fragile patchwork of sources. This includes crafts that are made by the staff, some of the participants and volunteers, and sold locally. Prior to our stay, the Center received an order for 500 icons to be attached to candles for an upcoming baptism. Only three or four of the participants were capable of helping with this project, so my sub-team was assigned to the task. We were shown how to do the work by a couple of the participants.

We had been at St. Spiro's for only two weeks, but in that time we learned many things. From the participants I learned that these are people who truly live in the moment; they seem to enjoy doing new things with new people, without judgment. From our teammates I learned that each one brought a special history to the group - from the sheetmetal worker who was the favorite among the participants, for just being who he is; to the 85-year-old woman who was on her twelfth Global Volunteers trip - a role model for us all. About myself, I learned I could really enjoy a relationship with people who don't know anything about me, but accept me for who I am - as I came to accept them for who they are.
-Annee Tara