Since 2014, Global Volunteers has worked alongside the Union of Women Associations of Heraklion (UWAH) to improve the lives of vulnerable women and children in Crete. Our partnership has mobilized volunteers to help Association members learn English, paint and clean their shelter for abused women and children, and produce crafts projects to raise money for their new children’s home. In this interview, Association’s President Mary Pahiadaki explains the history of UWAH, their vision and mission, and their upcoming inauguration of the “House of Angels” in 2022.
Our Partner’s History
As a taboo subject in Greece and around the world, domestic violence has occurred largely in slience. Nobody talked about it, admitted its existence let alone took steps to stop it. All the while, we admit that violence of all kinds infringes on human freedom, violates human dignity, and, above all, violates human rights. Violence or abuse is a perpetual crime usually committed behind closed doors, which is still considered a “strictly” family affair. So was the case until 1995 when a group of inspiring and sensitized women from Heraklion, Crete, came together to form the Union of Women Associations of Heraklion (UWAH). With the magnitude of the problem and its deficit in mind, UWAH aimed to establish a shelter to accommodate women and children who suffered violence. It would take a lot of effort and time to convince local citizens and institutions that the existence of a “safe” house was only the beginning and indeed necessary for Heraklion.
UWAH Vision and Mission
As a non-governmental, non-profit organization, UWAH envisions a fair society for women to have equal rights and positions with men. This society would be without violence; where women and children are not abused. Vulnerable social groups will have access to a network of services when in danger and under substantial emotional stress; to find justice, become independent, and provide shelter and love to women and abandoned children by:
- promoting gender equality at all levels,
- defending women’s rights regardless of nationality and race,
- helping protect women’s rights where and when they are violated,
- protecting and supporting vulnerable social groups, with an emphasis on women and children.
Through projects such as;
- The 24-hour helpline
- The women’s house
- The shelter for abused women and children
- The House of Angels
UWAH also contributes to three European projects focusing on online gender violence, raising youths’ awareness of gender equality and women’s rights, organizing various events/workshops annually to raise public awareness about these topics.
Throughout the years, volunteers have enthusiastically worked alongside the women of UWAH on various part-time projects; at the association’s offices in Heraklion, teaching conversational English, helping their members gain confidence, and building their vocabulary. Vital for participating in Webinars and training sessions with “sister” organizations across Europe.
Two Facilities Supporting Families
The women’s house is a certified “walk-in” counseling center for abused women seeking advice but not re-location operating each weekday at the UWAH offices. A specialized staff of psychologists, social workers, and sociologists offers free and confidential counseling to victims of abuse and violence. They provide advice on potential solutions and help women gain back their self-esteem and strength.
The shelter (guest house), which opened in 2002, accommodates up to eight women and their children. It was the first organized “scheme” for protecting women and their children- victims of abuse, in Greece. Since then, it has constantly been hosting families who look to escape the violence of their husband/partner/father. This ‘secret’ safe house offers shelter, professional counseling, and legal advice, training, and re-location options – encouraging the victims to “stand on their own two feet” rebuild their lives and live without fear. It’s here that volunteers have provided light labor assistance with planting, weeding, cleaning, painting the interior, and designing and painting a mural in the garden.
The New Facility – the House of Angels
This bright new facility was built by UWAH through years of fundraising efforts, charity events, and local donations. It has been a dream of Women’s Association Director Mary Paxiadaki since 2013. After being delayed by the Greek economic crisis and the pandemic, it is scheduled to open in January 2022 and receive the first children by March 2022. Volunteers will work hand-in-hand with 18 full-time House of Angels staff to offer warmth, love, and care to 26 healthy, abandoned children ages newborns to 6 who would ordinarily languish in over-run and understaffed hospitals. This warm and caring home fills a critical national gap. While several orphanages around Greece take in children, there are insufficient facilities capable of caring for children as young as 0-6 years.
Re-launching the service program in Greece with a brand new project in 2022
After two years of absence, we are excited to announce the resumption of our service program in Crete in 2022, embarking on a new project in close partnership with UWAH.; to provide practical and psychosocial support to staff and children at the newly built children’s home, the House of Angels. Here, volunteers will prepare bottles, feed babies, prepare meals (for older children), play and read stories, help with light labor projects, such as cleaning, making beds, painting, gardening, and offer conversational English to children and staff.
And, of course, provide the “little angels” with an abundance of love and affection they so desperately yearn and deserve!
An interview with Mary Pahiadaki
I was born and brought up on this beautiful island of Crete in the town of Heraklion. I am retired, with two wonderful sons and three beautiful grandchildren. From a very young age, I believed in the idea of volunteering, and to this day, I continue to serve and dedicate my life to it. In fact, through my journey of voluntary work, I have been recognized and honored by two Presidents of the Republic of Greece, the Ministry of Culture, the Municipality of Heraklion, and Countries Abroad.
Shocked by the brutal abuse of women worldwide and their hidden secrets, it saddened me to see a society that didn’t care very much about this phenomenon (which is true even today). It brought me to tears of anger and frustration. So, I dedicate myself to this “invisible” problem and continue to do so for over 25 years, looking for ways and means to alleviate the fear and pain that people experience both in body and mind. So, together with a handful of dynamic, sensitive women from Heraklion, we founded the “Union of Members of Women’s Associations of Heraklion” (UWAH), where I have been President since 1995. After many years of hard work and persuasion, we finally opened the “shelter for Abused Women and Children,” our first project- to protect and provide psychological support to victims of abuse and violence. Quickly following suit, we introduced a 24-hour helpline and the women’s house support group.
But we had even bigger dreams!
With the experiences we’d gained over the years and witnessing the needs that existed in our society, we decided to build a children’s home located 15 km from Heraklion in the beautiful mountainous village of Arhanes. Its purpose? To protect abandoned children, children without parents newborns to 6 years, in a loving family environment; we’re calling it the “House of Angels!” It’s been a difficult process and frustrating at times with delays due to the economic crisis and the pandemic, but all being well, it’ll open its doors in January 2022 and welcome the first children in March. Of course, the ultimate goal will be to develop a quick, safe adoption process here in Greece without bureaucracy and give these little angels a chance of a “normal” happy family life.
I look forward to the vital help that Global Volunteers will provide us moving forward; teams have always been beneficial to us, and our cooperation/partnership flawless over the years. We know our “little Angels,” will eagerly await teams of Global Volunteers with enthusiasm and love; Volunteers who are ready to open their hearts share their love, and provide an abundance of HUGS!!!! All free, BUT priceless in the eyes of a child!