Since I got to Thessaloniki a lot of things seem to have already changed, even if it has only been a little bit more than a month. The arrival was sweaty and from then on, that’s what we had in Thessaloniki: crazy high temperatures and sweat. The heatwave accompanied the whole of my adaptation period. In Spain we use the expression ‘acclimatization’ for adapting to changes, and it was certainly difficult to do so in that weather. Nonetheless, the great ways greek people in Thessaloniki seem to choose to enjoy life were a fresh breeze, as well as the friendliness that most people carry, always ready to smile and getting to know you better.
I chose to volunteer at the Youth Support Centre (Κέντρα Υποστήριξης Νέων – KYN). I had the feeling that it would be challenging, since these kind of services depend on voluntary attendance, which is often inconsistent. Since the KYN is based 9on a participatory approach to provide services, it can get really complicated. Then, I prepared myself to first observe and understand its functioning.
What I saw right away is how damaging the lack of funding for social services results. I had witnessed this lack of funding before, since it is widely known by social workers, educators and therapists how precarious the work gets, resulting in the burnt of employees and in detriment of those in need of help. One of the demands that needed to be met was English lessons for teenagers. Given these conditions, I consented to being an English teacher (for teenagers first and later also for pre-teens and primary school children) even though I have not been trained to do so. In the meantime I would also draw with the kids. It was a very special thing to do, since we could barely speak each other’s languages. It is beautiful to stay there, being somehow part of this moment in their life, and witness how their friendships form and break, only being able to observe body language. Especially, being in the crossroads of Greek and Farsi, I could also see how the language barriers can create bubbles where we presume that what we don’t understand to be unimportant or irrelevant.
As my days in the centre went on, I could also realize how hard it is to keep providing support in these Covid crisis times: A colleague had a positive diagnosis and the centre had to be shut until it was rearranged in the safest way possible. It couldn’t have been a worse timing: it closed right before Kabul was taken by the Talibans. It was heartbreaking to sit at home and think of all these beautiful faces I was just getting to know and care for, unable to comfort them or myself, feeling useless before a world that’s so big and so wicked.
It was very hard. Thankfully, I have some great roommates and colleagues that always have a smile and are willing to help, or a nice idea to put into practice, and the most beautiful places to discover. So, the next week, I found myself stuck to a big rock, hiking for the first time to a paradise beach that was certainly healing. I guess it’s about that, a balance between the hardships of the world and its wonders.
I’m still eager to see what else lies ahead of this volunteering experience. People we’ve met in this past month keep on commenting how Thessaloniki comes back to life in september… and it never seemed dead, so I think there will be a lot more discoveries and learnings!