When I started to talk about the possibility of joining a voluntary workcamp during the summer, nobody took me seriously. Nor did I, in the first place. I was not the kind of person to do something like that. That was what I thought, and what all the others thought too, I can guess.
But that idea didn't want to leave my mind, and I began to search for information and to think seriously about it. Until that day, when I stopped thinking, and I sent my application form. I had found the country where I wanted to go, the projects that I really felt mine: all my choices were for ELIX's projects.
And only when they accepted me I realized what I had done... I was in!
So that, some months later, I took a plane from Rome to Athens, destination Aspropyrgos. I was so full of doubts and worries... but all remained out of the gate of the school that would have been my home for two weeks. Because that was what I exactly found there: a home. A very crowded home: ten volunteers and two camp leaders living together 24/24 h, and more, three pedagogues and about sixty kids, and more again, their parents and the Aspropyrgos community.
How can I describe what this camp has been for me? A so complex and overwhelming experience is really difficult to explain. But when you think about a period or an event of your life, the most significant part is usually related to relationships. So that's what I will talk about.
Since the very beginning of this experience, I have felt in the right place. I'm a quite shy person and my knowledge of the English language is not so great, so you can guess how worried I was. However, what I found was a welcoming group of crazy guys, always patient and smiling people, who became in a few days someone you could really count on.
Someone was there, in every moment: if you wanted to play funny games, discuss about life and death, sing in the middle of the street, try to use a language that you didn't know, cry on someone's shoulder, drink tons of coffee, explore islands, share feelings and emotions, dance and laugh until tears come.
At the beginning, the workcamp was the only thing we had in common. But, step by step, everyone got involved with his own self, his emotions, his history, his culture, his home-country, his language and all of that mixed up to create a new unrepeatable group that was ours, and ours only.
Relationships, I said. When you work with kids, they are the most important part of your job. How could you build a relation with people who don't share your language? “You can do it!” Our communication is mainly linguistic, but we often forget it is not the only part. We are able to say a lot with our body, our face, our eyes, our silence, and kids are teachers in that.
And if, at the beginning, you feel strong the frustration to be not able to understand anything around you, let your guard down and let them take your hand, little by little they will lead you on the way of mutual comprehension. Sometimes you don't need words, you only have to smile and to join in.
And we joined in, everyone in his own way, everyone with his own purpose. We were not there only to execute someone else's directives. We were an integral part of the main project. I found in that small reality in the suburb of Athens a new way to consider education processes, goals and strategies, that I rarely met before in the formal channels dedicated to it; and again, people who really shared my opinions about it, who focused on the kids and on their needs and not on astract purposes, who put themselves completely out there.
This experience, however, was not only set inside the school. There was a world outside. There was Greece, the real Greece, in all its beauty and its difficulties. Being there as a volunteer is completely different than being there as a turist. You can feel it, there is the feeling more and before comprehension. You will have time to admire the greatness of the Acropolis, to explore the alleys of Athens and to live the wonder of the islands, but what will be always with you are the people you will meet there, and the complex feelings of a wonderful country which doesn't give up, which bites the bullet with all its contradictions and shadows, but also with its strength and lights.
Is that all? No. But I think I am not able to say more using my words. If you really want to understand this experience, you have to live it. I can do no more than advice you to join in, with all of my heart.