My name is Maria João and I’m 27 years old. I come from a town called Braga, in the north of Portugal, and volunteered for two months with Open Cultural Center in Polykastro, Greece, as part of my European Solidarity Corps (ESC) project. I’m passionate about travelling and learning about new cultures. Before joining OCC, I worked as a pharmacist and volunteered in social inclusion projects in Portugal.

Photo: Open Cultural Center

I’ve always had a particular interest in migration and refugee issues, and volunteering abroad was an idea that had been in my mind for some time. When I discovered OCC through the ESC platform, I knew right away that I wanted to be part of this organization.

At OCC I’ve taken different roles depending on the needs at the time. I started working as an English language teacher of the Falafels, a lovely and energetic group of kids from 6 to 8 years old. After two weeks, I started giving English lessons to adults as well. I was also assisting OCC’s free bus service, accompanying the students coming from Nea Kavala camp and the nearby town of Axioupoli to Polykastro.

Being an English teacher was challenging, since this was my first experience as a teacher. I learned a lot about education and I was able to develop my creativity and organization skills by preparing new lessons, activities and games for the students every week.

Photo: Open Cultural Center

What I loved the most about these classes was that the goal was not only to teach English but to provide them a healthy and safe environment. As a member of the bus team, I had a close contact with the refugee community, by being with them every day on the bus before and after the classes. It was specially heartwarming to see how much love and kindness these people have to give despite the adversities they face, and that they never lose their hope for a better future.

Photo: Open Cultural Center

During these two months, I met amazing people from different cultures and learned how to live in a multicultural environment. All the great moments spent with the team members and the resident community will stay with me forever. The stories and experiences we shared made me put my own abilities and freedoms into perspective. I was very glad to be part ofOCC family and give my contribution to a project that has such a positive impact on refugees’ lives.

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