This article has been written by our volunteer Stefania Montinaro.
When I heard that I had been chosen by OCC to participate in a short-term volunteering in Polykastro, Greece, it was a great emotion for me. I must say, however, that I was afraid of being perceived as an intruder who decided, from her privileged perspective, to live a brief interlude of her life in Greece. Instead in Polykastro, I found friends to laugh with, and shoulders to cry on. And it was a unique emotion to experience this continuous exchange of experiences, languages, and advice.
During this experience, I understood better how to include a different perspective into my point of view. For instance, I understood the importance of narratives. People with a migrant background do not want to be pitied, but want to be listened to; they do not want to be merely assisted, but supported; they do not want to be treated as refugees, but as human beings. I never got used to the injustices that asylum seekers in Greece had to endure and continue to endure in their host country, but I learned to react, to turn my strong empathy into words of condemnation for the past and hope for the future.
In my own small way, through the European Solidarity Corps, I have tried to support OCC and its community through monitoring and evaluation activities. Monitoring and evaluation means listening to the expectations and needs of the participants, and doing your best to meet them. It means fighting against some reticence and trying to build the best conditions for the integration of people with a refugee background.
I also had the task of accompanying children and adults on the bus to and from the camp. The first time I saw Nea Kavala I could not believe my eyes: a series of walls and gates demarcating an isolated and invisible area. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could start to live there again, but the smiling faces of the OCC students boarding the bus gave me even more desire to do my best. The road from the camp to the Cafeteria was a good opportunity to make connections, to get to know each other and to listen to their frustrations, but also their hopes for a peaceful future.
I will never forget the first day when the children came up to the center for afternoon activities: they were shouting and singing, and I was very excited to see them. I would repeat this experience without any doubts because it has enriched me from every point of view.
First of all, it is the best way to break down prejudices and see directly with your own eyes what is happening on the Balkan route. Then, it has been a great opportunity to get to know people from very different backgrounds and exchange views. It is a way to feel that we contribute to the world around us, that we are not passive spectators in the face of injustice and inequality. I will never forget the treasure hunts for children, their tears and smiles, the many fears of adults and the hopes of the youngest. I hope I have supported them and eased their days.
So what are you waiting for?
This project is funded by the European Union through Eramsus+.