Almost 20 volunteers from the Greek America Foundation successfully concluded two months of volunteering, educational and cultural immersion experiences in Athens, Greece on July 18.
Over the course of six weeks in the Greek capital, the foundation hosted two teams of young adult volunteers who saved thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables, served vulnerable people, cleaned public areas and planted hundreds of trees.
The volunteers participated in our Greek America Corps program, which sends young people from the United States and Canada to volunteer in Greece alongside established partner organizations conducting critical humanitarian relief and environmental projects.
Projects included working alongside Boroume, a charitable organization that aims to reduce food waste and fight malnutrition in Greece.
Among other activities, Boroume runs a program which gathers unsold food from dozens of farmers markets throughout Athens that will otherwise be thrown away.
Alongside other local volunteers, our American teams gathered thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables which were distributed to entities including elderly homes and soup kitchens operated by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Athens.
Our volunteers even visited a farm in Marathon, outside Athens, where leftover crops that would normally have been left to rot in the fields were salvaged and turned into meals for food-challenged communities. The activity is called “gleaning” and resulted in hundreds of meals for disenfranchised people.
Our volunteers also spent most of their afternoons alongside young children from the refugee community, many unaccompanied minors who have arrived in Greece alone. Volunteers took part in drawing sessions, musical and dance activities and other projects aiming to normalize the youngsters’ experiences in Greece.
Similar to an urban summer camp, the activities were led by the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), an organization that provides various services to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece.
On one of the days, our volunteers and the GCR children were visited by Virginia native Kristina Headrick, founder of the wellness brand Yia Mas. Headrick is a supporter of the Greek America Foundation and a certified yoga and meditation instructor with experience in leading Greece-based retreats.
The Yia Mas founder came to GCR’s Pyxida Center in central Athens to offer a special yoga session for the children, who are among the most vulnerable in Greece.
In the evenings, the volunteers walked the streets of Athens alongside partners from an organization called Emfasis, which serves the homeless population of Athens by offering them necessities, social services and psychosocial support.
Our teams went along with Emfasis’ team leaders to pass out water bottles, non-perishable food items, hygiene kits and other necessities to people in need whom they encountered on their street runs.
The volunteers also traveled to the outskirts of the city and took part in environmental activities, including trash clean ups and beautification projects with the municipality of Palaio Faliro and local mayor Yiannis Fostiropoulos.
One of our teams also helped to plant more than 600 trees in the suburb of Gerakas, together with our partners from we4all, an environmental organization founded by two young Greeks following the devastating 2018 Mati wildfires.
A highlight of the program was also a visit to the residence of US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt, who spent time talking with our group about their personal experiences during the program as well as the importance of the close relationship between Greece and the United States.
Weekends and off-hours were filled with various cultural activities, including a concert at the ancient Irodion Theater and a wine seminar at a local bar where Giovanna Lykou, one of Greece’s top sommeliers, shared her expertise about the country’s rich wine heritage.
A visit to the Acropolis, Greece’s sacred rock which draws in millions of visitors per year, was a must-do during our groups’ three-week stays. And a day trip to Cape Sounio, home to the historic Temple of Poseidon, was a fitting way to give the volunteers a break from their hours spent working and moving around Athens under the hot Greek sun.
Numerous group meals sponsored by the Greek America Foundation also offered the American volunteers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with Greece’s rich food and culinary traditions.
Following the two three-week programs in Athens, our Greek America Foundation staff will prepare to welcome the third and final volunteer team to the island of Chios.
The Chios program will see our team work alongside Ark of the World (Kivotos Tou Kosmou), an organization which houses and raises orphaned and disenfranchised children, and METAdrasi, an organization that supports refugee children living in its shelter in Chios town.
The foundation has plans to expand Greek America Corps to northern Greece next summer, following a visit to Thessaloniki by founder and president Gregory Pappas, who was hosted for a working lunch by Elizabeth Lee, the U.S. Consul General in that city.