A team of 10 volunteers from the United States and Canada have departed the island of Chios after a transformational three weeks of service and unique cultural experiences.
The volunteers, who were the third and final team participating in our summer 2021 Greek America Corps programs, spent their time on the island serving some of the most vulnerable population groups in Greece — unaccompanied refugee minors and orphaned and abandoned children.
Our Greek America Corps team worked alongside our two partner organizations — METAdrasi, which operates a shelter for refugee children in Chios town, and Ark of the World (Kivotos Tou Kosmou), which operates a village for disenfranchised children in Aipos.
They spent their days at METAdrasi’s shelter with the children doing a variety of activities — board games, video games, English lessons — all in an effort to help them work through past traumas and feel like children again.
Our volunteers also helped METAdrasi’s staff with their regular shelter duties such as cooking meals for the kids. On one occasion, the kids became involved in showing our team how to prepare “bolani,” a stuffed flat-bread from Afghanistan, fried with a filling.
Many days saw them take the kids outside the shelter as well for athletic activities such as soccer or basketball — a sport which many of the refugee children had never played before.
Beach days were another fun way for our group to pass the time with METAdrasi’s children and help normalize their experience in Greece.
Our team also spent half of their time supporting Ark of the World through various maintenance projects at the orphanage and athletic activities with children under the organization’s care.
Even under the hot sun, the volunteers successfully completed painting jobs, helped clean debris and began preparing Ark of the World’s olive and fig trees for upcoming harvests.
Ark of the World founder Father Antonios Papanikolaou was present at the Chios facility throughout the duration of our group’s stay. The Greek Orthodox priest spoke to our volunteers on numerous occasions about the organization’s mission, the importance of volunteerism and the importance of supporting disenfranchised children.
Fr. Antonios even joined in on the fun one evening during our group’s basketball game with the children.
Although our volunteers spent the majority of their time on Chios, at the program’s halfway point they took a three-day trip to the nearby island of Samos, which has been at the forefront of the refugee crisis since its peak in 2015.
The excursion to Samos was sponsored by Peter Kalis of Pittsburgh, PA, whose father came from the village of Ambelos.
Our volunteers visited Ambelos and participated in various clean-up projects led by the local priest, Fr. Xristodoulos Kleanthous.
Our volunteers also spent a day in the kitchen of Maria Makrogianni, also known throughout the word as Mama Maria, who became globally renowned several years ago when she opened her restaurant to thousands of refugees who were arriving on the island during the peak of the refugee crisis.
Makrogianni, who is currently in treatment for cancer, shared stories with our volunteers of her experiences and her desire to help people in need, explaining that her own mother arrived on Samos as a refugee from Smyrna in 1922.
After preparing nearly 100 sandwiches at Makrogianni’s house, our team went outside the nearby refugee camp to offer them to women, children and other people in need who were passing by.
One volunteer, Veronica Perry, 28, from Sacramento, CA, shared her experience in a personal blog.
“We weren’t allowed inside [the refugee camp], so we stood on the side of the road until pregnant women, young children and some men came down from the camp to take food,” Perry wrote. “I’ll never forget their faces.”
“This issue is extremely close to my heart because my great grandmother became a refugee after the Burning of Smyrna in Turkey,” she continued. “Our family lost everything. She lived well into her 90’s and passed when I was 16, but her spirit and resilience live on in me.”
Consistent with the mission of our Greek America Corps programs, the three weeks spent on Chios included multiple experiences and excursions which introduced our American and Canadian volunteers to Greece’s culture and history in a meaningful way.
Such excursions included visits to historic and religious sites and traditional villages, authentic “family-style” taverna meals and, of course, the Chios mastiha experience.
Guided by a local producer, the volunteers tried their hand at the mastiha collection process and learned about the more than 2,000-year-old island tradition. A visit to the iconic Mastiha Museum followed as well as a stroll around some of the traditional “mastihohoria” (mastic villages) of southern Chios.
Generous supporters of our Chios program — the Almiroudis family of Cleveland, Ohio, and Mike Avgoustidis of Whitestone, New York — offered time from their summer vacation to welcome our group to their respective villages for special group dinners.
Kostas and Kelli Almiroudis, founders of the 1 Love Organization, hosted our team for a seaside dinner in Pantoukios while Avgoustidis, owner of Triton Renovation Corp., gave the volunteers a tour of Mesta, his ancestral village, and hosted them for a meal.