Juliette: Volunteering I found the path in which I would like to invest myself professionally

I am Juliette.

I graduated last year with a master in Social and Cultural communication and during my gap year, I wanted to involve myself in a social project. After many research on Internet, I found the “Green Social Innovation” on the website of Workaway.

I was directly interested by the project description: social and intercultural dialogue, skills exchange, arts and environmental oriented project. I got in touch with Nikos, the project manager, and he directly agreed to host me as a volunteer for the Welcommon Hostel and Wind of Renewal project. He also mentioned that this project is funded by the European Solidarity Corps and he suggested that I participate to the project with this organism.

One big aspect that I appreciated in this project is the inclusion of everyone in the Welcommon Hostel: people living in the hostel (short-term or long-term), refugees, travelers and local people. Plus, the city of Athens is full of history, mythology and is very inspiring for a curious mind as mine.

The Welcommon Hostel is situated in Exarcheia neighborhood which is just a few minutes by walking from all the important sights in Athens. I really enjoyed discovering this special neighborhood where everyone is included (homeless people, travelers, refugees, people living in squad, students and local people…).

The projects and activities

A precise schedule was developed by the previous volunteers at the beginning of this year. The main activities that we offered are the language skills exchange in English, French and German. On the other hand, we also learned some languages as Turkish, Arabic or Farsi thanks to the refugees. That’s why, we called it “skills exchange”: it is a bilateral way to share and learn about language, culture and many other topics important for people. This is really empowering for all of us. The Welcommon hostel offers their space to support everyone in developing and pursuing their own needs, ideas, skills and resources.

Exceptionally, we also organized some activities in the afternoon instead of doing the normal language lessons like visiting the “Khora association” so the people know they can get there to have free assistance.

At the end of each afternoon, we decided to promote activities for families where children and their parents can practice English while doing a fun activity together like making art and crafts or playing games.

During the evening from Monday to Thursday, we had several activities like cultural nights, karaoke, movies, theater and kickboxing. For the Cultural night, one country was chosen and people from this country could cook a traditional meal. After that, they can show and teach us traditional dances, this was a lot of fun!

On Sundays, we planned free outside activities like a carnival Party, a photography tour in the city, a walk and a picnic in the National Gardens, visiting the Panathinaikon/Olympic Stadium, visiting a sea turtle rescue center and cleaning up the beach near Glyfada. Everyone is free to join and we all became friends easily.



The refugee situation

I didn’t know a lot about refugees before working with them but I learned quite fast about personal experiences lived by each person I have met. During my stay, the refugees and volunteers were facing several challenges when Turkey opened their borders and that they were attacked by the Greek police and fascist people on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios and Moria which also affected the life in Athens where several peaceful protests and demonstrations were organized to show the support for refugees on these islands.

At the beginning of March, the Covid-19 situation got worse and the Greek government decided to close all the public institutions, which include the Welcommon Hostel. For the safety of refugees, the staff and the volunteers, we had to stop all our activities temporarily without knowing when we could start again. All the volunteers were forced to go back to their countries but we still try to provide online lessons by WhatsApp or email.

My experience

I arrived in Greece at the beginning of February thinking I had a lot of time to participate to this great project. The current situation with the Covid-19 virus forced me to leave the country much sooner than I planned but I already learned a lot during the days I spent at the Welcommon Hostel. From the first moment I had there, I directly felt welcomed as a member of a big family. The “Days of Welcommon” and “Green Social Innovation” project facilitates the communication and makes bridges between different social groups, communities and local people. The beneficiaries appreciated sharing their skills and participating to all the offers (language, environmental, sustainable and social activities). The Welcommon Hostel provides a safe space for everyone.

All the people coming to this place are so humble. Each of them has a unique story, ideas and experiences to share. They taught me that freedom is not granted for everyone. Most of the refugees I met in Athens were forced to flee their countries and I realized that having the choice to travel abroad is a real privilege. I also learned to be humbler and I really feel grateful for all the amazing people I met and the moments I lived with them. I really consider them as a second family. By participating to solidarity demonstrations, I know now that we can stand for everybody’s rights when they cannot do it by themselves. I think that being united and promoting solidarity is the most important.

As soon as the borders open again after the Covid-19 crisis, I will go back to Athens to continue the project because I felt useful there and I found the path in which I would like to invest myself professionally.

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