My name is Giulietta Manenti. I was born in Sicily but I have travelled frequently since my early age accompanied by my parents and my sister. I have had the opportunity of moving around new continents, new countries and staggering cultures. I left “my” country to start a new adventure in different places such as Canada, Chile, Mexico, and France and now here I am in Greece!
I recently graduated in International Cooperation in France. I decided to move to Greece as soon as I could to engage myself in a non-profit organization working with and for refugees and asylum seekers. I felt a necessity to see with my own eyes the reality of what was happening in the refugee context. Understanding the situation since the earliest 2016 was one of my goals since last year. Therefore, I was looking forward to moving to Polykastro and to participate in a non- formal educational program in an NGO to promote inclusion and integration for people who fled war, conflict and natural disaster. I decided to apply for the long-term project of 9 months in the organization Open Cultural Center and, as soon as I knew I was accepted, I packed my stuff and purchased the first ticket to Thessaloniki.
The day I arrived in Polykastro I immediately discerned a warming welcome by the other volunteers with goodwill and hospitality. I was highly excited to undertake this new adventure and to meet new people. At the same time, I was repeating in my mind : “What exactly brought me here?” “Do I really want to stay here for 9 months?”. Throughout the days and the weeks, I realised that the time was passing by faster than what I was expecting.
The days were overflowing with diverse activities from running the Kindergarten and assisting meetings for the Women’s Space team. Day by day, I gained confidence and awareness of the situation I was living in. The multi ethnical and multi linguistic side of the team was something I appreciated from the beginning. By the time I was getting to feel more and more comfortable in the team, building the first bounds with the people surrounding me.
Sharing many cultures in one only physical space is an enhancing experience to come across, letting you encounter new traditions and ideas. By the time I was there, I started to forget the abandon and loneliness of the town of Polykastro. What brought me here since the beginning was the keenness to meet new people, to come upon new cultural habits by kicking off with intercultural discussions. Also, my initial desire was to gain more knowledge about the refugee field in Greece, getting involved in a humanitarian organization that supported refugee women and children.
Aside from enriching my interpersonal relations in the organization, I discovered two important spaces: the Kindergarten and the Women’s Space. In Kindergarten, the objective is to build up a sense of normality and constancy to children whose lives have been disrupted by many circumstances. Despite the lockdown and impotence to open the space for a couple of months, my participation in this fundamental space has been a full experience of learning new competences. As well as in the children’s safe space, I enjoyed my time and built incredible relations with women and girls coming to the Women’s Space.
Despite the liveliness and positive vibes experienced in OCC, after a while I started to feel somewhat internal worn out and a bit tired from the continuous socialization. The rhythm of the social gatherings and meetings made me feel drowsy at times, hardening my willingness to engage in other dailly-based interactions. In my personal opinion, there is sometimes a difficulty to find your personal and safe space.
Nevertheless, having worked, lived and shared with the OCC community can make me say today that this experience has been enriching, constructive and somehow a worthwhile adventure. Even though the difficulties encountered during the 9 months, I truly believe that this experience helped me to understand that joining these kinds of projects is a way to raise the awareness of social injustice. It can lead to a positive impact based on solidarity and cooperation, empowering the most underprivileged people in this society.
Upon 9 months of my life, I left my material needs aside to provoke a small improvement in the lives of people in need. Living simply, connecting through the differences that makes us humans. Opening a window to a relieved reality, one where we can make a child laugh or have a true conversation with someone coming from a completely different background.
This experience is very based on the little things, those ones that can make a difference.