My time at The HOME Project

         The refugee influx into Greece over the last few years has left an estimated 8,500 unaccompanied minors in the country vulnerable to traffickers. After spending two weeks at The HOME Project as a volunteer, I have to admit that I gained more knowledge and experience from the people that I was supposed to be teaching and assisting than actually I gave them. Working with determined staff, volunteers and interacting with unaccompanied refugee minors who have experienced exploitation and unbelievable hardship at a young age, really put things into perspective for me. I would like to share some of my experiences.

         Before coming to The HOME Project, I had ambitions of meeting the refugee kids and then teaching them the subject I love the most, computer programming. Upon arriving at the shelters, I quickly realized that there was an issue with pursuing my goal as most kids were just learning how to speak English. I thought to myself that teaching without being able to communicate was going to be nearly impossible, but I didn’t lose faith, as there were ways to somehow translate what I had to say. However, the biggest challenge hadn’t revealed itself yet. After assisting an instructor during a computer session, I quickly understood that many of the children in the shelters hadn’t used a computer before or had little experience in using it. I then realized the difficulty and complexity of the Home Project’s mission.

It is common knowledge that being a parent is one of the toughest jobs in the world. What if someone was to be a parent of 100 young kids, all of whom have been through more traumatizing experiences than most of us will ever experience and who also have been robbed of years of education? It sounds like an impossible task, yet, that is exactly what The HOME Project has successfully been doing.

         I am not writing to praise The HOME Project, rather I am writing to illustrate why being involved in something totally different than our daily reality can not only educate us, but can bring the best out of us and enable us to conquer some of our fears. I strongly urge people who want to be actively involved and help their community to join a place like The HOME Project. There I had the unique opportunity to work at an office that provided me with enough freedom to trust my judgment to complete meaningful tasks as well as learn from more experienced volunteers about the needs of shelters and how various processes work in reality.

However, I did not learn as much from the office as I did when being sent to attend activities along with the Home Project kids themselves. I spent a big portion of my time teaching how to effectively use the computer and social media platforms. I was amazed by the unstoppable flow of questions that came my way, which made me realize how knowledge of technology, even “old technology”, is not to be taken for granted. At other times, I helped with the construction of the shelters, as they are all pretty new. From painting the walls to digging gravel in order to create an outdoor gym, I did my little part to making the shelters into HOMES.

Even so, my most memorable moments are the ones that involved having simple fun with the refugee children. I would often attend some music and dancing sessions with the kids, play soccer matches and even cook a surprise pizza for them to enjoy. All of these activities took place in the space of just two weeks.

After all, the kids and I did not gain much from the activities themselves. The interactions we had during these activities were the real eye-opening experiences. From simple comments that the children made, I was exposed to completely different ways of thinking about life (this may sound cheesy but it is true). Occasionally, some unaccompanied minors would share their story with me, presenting the many issues and obstacles they faced along their long journeys. Quite frankly, I had never have thought that so much adversity was possible.

What surprised me a lot was how happy many of the kids were. One refugee child in particular surprised me the most. This child had witnessed the death of both of his parents and had been deprived of any education for years. When asked if he would like something to be changed at the shelter, he responded to me with a gleaming smile, “I have nothing to complain about, I live in safety with people I love.” In my eyes, if this kid has nothing to complain about, then the word complaining should be redefined in our dictionaries.

Prior to my internship, much of what I witnessed at The HOME Project I had read in the news before or seen a post on Facebook. I knew about unaccompanied minors and the many problems they were facing, we all do. However, experiencing the problems first hand made the whole situation shockingly real, rather than just being a couple of words and numbers on a paper or a screen. These kids are truly brave.

Michael Makridis

Volunteer in the summer of 2017

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