As my volunteer leader’s hat so simply states, “Be the Change.” During my time here in Greece, I was determined to live up to this mantra. In accordance with my GLI theme: Inequality, Justice and Injustice, and my topic of focus: Human Rights, I made extensive preparations a semester prior to work with ACTIONAID, Doctors without Borders, or Amnesty International. I was in constant email correspondence with these organizations, my university (DEREE: The American College of Greece), and some Greek friends to make this dream a reality. I kept thinking to myself what an opportunity this would be to work with any one of these prestigious, dedicated organizations while at the same time studying in Greece. However, when I arrived to Greece, not only was I over-whelmed by an entirely new atmosphere, but I also realized that being accepted as a volunteer at any of these organizations would not be an easy task, because I did not speak Greek and I was there on a Student Visa. It seemed that many volunteer organizations were cautious about accepting anyone with a Student Visa because they may be a liability to their organization (even though this was an un-paid position). Moreover, after speaking to personnel in Student Affairs, Career Services and the study Abroad Office, I realized that even if they were to accept me in the long run, I would not be able to pursue the kind of work I was passionate about. More than likely I would be stuck in an office taking care of administrative work.
Determined not to give up yet, I kept getting my voice out there-talking to administrators and students about what I wanted to accomplish, hoping to find a group with common interests to mine. I considered creating a new women’s club or society on campus to collaborate on women’s issues in Greece; however, an advisor warned against this because of the time required to approve a new club and the DEREE students’ lack of dedication to extracurricular, off-campus activities. Since that wasn’t a viable option, I then turned to the possibility of an on-campus internship, discovering soon after that all the internships were already taken. Luckily, in the end I did find my niche, or rather my niche found me. A week later a volunteer leader from an upwardly mobile organization called GLOVO recruited me to be a part of her group. GLOVO is an organization whose mission was to educate and help young people to develop the skills to make a meaningful impact on their society, and to educate them on how volunteerism can benefit both the society and the individual. In Greece, I found that most of the people I spoke to had a negative view of volunteerism, thinking that it made little difference to society and only served to prop up bad organizations that exploited volunteers to do their jobs for them. Contrary to the general consensus of the public, I found the work I did to be both rewarding and eye-opening, despite the pushback we received from many businesses or citizens who didn’t want us meddling in their affairs. During one of our events, we helped to pinpoint the few places in town that were accessible to persons with disabilities to increase awareness on this issue. Furthermore, in another event we helped to launch the opening of the Solidarity Now center in Athens-a center which aims to help those most affected by the financial crisis in Greece. With the opening of the center in Athens, now Greeks, immigrants and refugees can obtain legal services free of charge.
Since that day that GLOVO found me, I have not only felt welcomed and impassioned by this diverse group of people, but I have also felt like I found my home away from home. I was even invited to attend the GLOVO cruise, which rewarded us volunteers by cruising and volunteering around the Greek and Turkish islands. During my time in Greece, I felt so fortunate to be surrounded by a group of young, like-minded peers with such huge hearts. Each and every person had a different story as to how they came to GLOVO and incredible backgrounds to match. They were also so excited to teach me about the Greek culture, language and history, while also learning about mine. By volunteering with GLOVO I was able to make lifelong friends, and become exposed to opportunities I wouldn’t have ever dreamed were possible.