This article has been written by our volunteer Silvia Battiatio.
Volunteering at Open Cultural Center in Polykastro was a totalising experience: it moved my guts, it made me angry, it generated many late-night hilarious moments, it opened up my mind about serious topics, it made me cry (both of happiness and sadness), and it also helped in supporting people who don’t have the same privileges as I do.
There are many points of view from which these stories could be told and I’m not narrating them politically nor objectively, because I firmly believe that the subjectivity of what happens for a volunteer in OCC is what makes the experience real, valid, and unique.
The first thing you realise when starting teaching English or organising activities for the community is that you should stop being self-referential and egoistic, which are things that are quite ordinary in nowadays world. In OCC, you are there for other people and, as it happens in any other social work, you stop prioritizing your usual everyday goals. You really do it in a way that for me was quite unusual but at the same time also heart-warming!
During my stay at OCC, I could witness that generosity means sharing parts of your identity and your story, even when these are very delicate topics. Sharing them may represent an open wound and that’s the reason why they have such an indescribable value. While volunteering, I met plenty of generous people, cooking food for the community and thanking the volunteers even though speaking little English.
I realised that the gratitude that people, especially adult students, show to teachers regarding English classes, is related to the value that this language can have in their futures. In OCC, I learned the meaning of the sentence “Knowledge is power”. It is really like that, because for people with a migration background, knowing English means having the possibility to affirm who they are, share what they lived, and explain what they need and what they want. Language becomes an essential tool for self-determination.
Finally, I also learned that people care a lot, even when their personal situation is difficult. I must say that their learning progress made me feel so proud and thus I couldn’t be more grateful for this experience.
This project is funded by the European Union through Eramsus+.