One of the main focuses of the Global LEAD program that I’m working with in Greece is service. In South Africa I got the opportunity to work in Sir Lowery’s Pass Township outside of Cape Town and it was amazing. The people of that beautiful community made a lasting impression on me that I will keep with me forever.
In Greece serving a group of people like that community is a little bit trickier. I’d hate to make a broad generalization that Greek people don’t care about helping others, but it’s not far from the truth… The culture is just different. The severe economic crisis and the 20% unemployment rate make it tough for Greeks to give back. Regardless, after countless man hours from our fearless leader, Beth Ann, we were able to secure two groups to work with in Athens.
The first group was a community of refugees from Somalia who are literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. They were forced to flee their war-torn country and are now stuck in Greece where they face hate crimes and threats against them almost daily from radical groups of Greeks. But our group of 42 students was able to give them a little bit of hope. We cleaned up their Somali Community Center and brought a little love into their lives. One of our students talked about the experience on the program’s blog:
“When I was painting I took a second to glance at my surroundings and saw a refugee smiling at us painting the walls. He smiled. I knew right then we were doing so much more than just painting the walls.
The cherry on top of this day was getting the opportunity to paint over slandering graffiti that covered the entrance to their home just reminding them how they were not wanted. We had an audience of refugees watching us paint over the hurtful words, smiling.
I am about 99% sure the refugees’ lives weren’t the only ones changed that day.” -DeAnna J.
The other group we worked with in Athens requested that we only refer to them as “The Center” on the internet. The Christian organization from the US provides food, educational opportunities, medical assistance, and a safe place to fellowship to Afghani and Iranian refugees. The backlash against organizations helping refugees in Athens forces the “better safe, than sorry” online secrecy policy for the organization, but they were amazing to work with. Students served meals, sang songs, played games and just loved on the children there. Very few of the children spoke English but coloring, playing chess, making beaded jewelry, and playing with toy cars are all universal. Seeing a child’s eyes light up with a big smile on their face can melt anyone’s heart.
These and several other opportunities to give back abroad definitely made a lasting impression on every single one of the students on this trip. Thinking back on impact here makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
|“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayals of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
LOW: The struggle we faced getting opportunities to serve in Athens, Greece.
HIGH: Seeing the impact that was made by the students in such a short amount of time. And getting to volunteer at a sea turtle rescue center. Who doesn’t love sea turtles?!