I’m Kate and I’m volunteering in Athens through the European Voluntary Service (EVS) programme, with the Greek Forum of Refugees
(GFR). I have been here since May 1st and it has been great so far. GFR is an organisation made up of some of the refugee communities of Athens. Its principle aim is to unite the refugee communities and support them to be self-organised, to have a voice and to integrate and actively participate in Greek society.
The office part of my work includes maintaining the Forum’s Twitter account
(please follow us!) and the English section of the website, which means writing reports about the activities of GFR and its member communities, such as football tournaments, campaigning and social events.
We’ve also had opportunities to get out of the office to meet people and do more practical work. I and my fellow EVS volunteer were closely involved in organising GFR’s event for World Refugee Day, which involved presentations and traditional food and music from the refugee communities. I am volunteering as an English teacher with Afghan refugees and as a general helper (mainly in the kitchen) with an organisation which works with Syrian refugees
Through EVS and in connection with my work with GFR, I’ve had the chance to participate in the organisation of a Study Session about undocumented migrants, which will take place in September in Budapest. This is a great learning opportunity, not to mention a chance to visit a beautiful city.
The project in GFR is an excellent way to learn more about refugees and the reality of their experiences. I have learned much more about why refugees leave their countries (usually as the last of last resorts) and of the challenges they face along the perilous journey to seek safety in Europe. I have heard many stories of terrible loss and hardship, but more than anything else, I am reminded every day that refugees are just normal people who have the same desire for a happy and peaceful life as anyone else. The similarities between us are much more striking than the differences.
Our office is multicultural and multilingual and I work with and meet people from many different countries every day. Most people that I work with speak English, so communication is almost never a problem, but as a language geek I am enjoying the opportunity I have to learn Greek and Arabic here. I live in a flat with three other EVS volunteers, all from different countries. I feel very lucky, because my flatmates are exceptionally nice people and I live close enough to work to walk.
Being an EVS volunteer in general and living in another country has already taught me a lot. I am learning from my colleagues, my flatmates, the people I meet through work and the Greek people I have met. As well as learning about Greece, Greek people and refugees, I am learning a lot about myself through observing my thoughts, actions and reactions to the new experiences here.
Greece is a friendly and welcoming country, despite the current difficulties and uncertainties its people are facing. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy delicious Greek food in restaurants and tavernas, outdoor cinema, trips to nearby islands and evenings listening to traditional music (rebetiko) in cafés and bars. The weather is (almost) always great and I’ve been able to go hiking outside of Athens with a friendly group that I met through Couchsurfing. I have enough time to explore Athens and its nearby countryside and islands.
I’m now a third of the way through my placement and of course it seems it has gone fast, even though the beginning does feel like it is way back in the distant past. We have many plans and hopes for the next phase of the project and I hope to be able to write with news of these next time.