Few countries in the world can compete with the beauty, history, and cuisine of Greece. Yet, despite its endowments, Greece has been one of the European countries that have struggled the most in recent years. Global Volunteers Greece Country Manager Sam Pinakoulaki explains how the Greece Service Program has responded to local people’s needs, and what lies ahead for the program after the pandemic.
The Role of Volunteers in Crete.
When Global Volunteers was first invited to serve in Greece back in 1995, the concept of classroom volunteers was a novelty. But the need the for extra conversational English lessons is much the same now. While children receive English lessons during their regular school week, the curriculum isn’t sufficient for them to converse fluently in English. English is the foundation of the country’s economic stability. And, English speakers are the delivery mechanism for this stability. According to the Greek Tourism Confederation (INSETE), tourism is one of Greece’s most important economic activities, amounting to approximately 12% of the GDP. And our host island of Crete provides over a quarter of Greece’s revenue in tourism. It’s a significant industry for the Greek people, and those wishing to secure a job in hospitality must know English.
Helping Secure Greek Students’ Futures.
In 1995, Global Volunteers was invited by leaders of the coastal town of Georgioupolis in Rethymnon, Crete to teach conversational English in a few primary schools. After five years of successful service, we moved the Greece Service Program to Siderokastro, a small village in the foothills of the Kerkini Mountains, 20 miles from the Bulgarian border in the North of Greece. We cared for physically and mentally challenged children and adults until the facility closed in 2003. In the summer of 2003, we returned to Rethymnon, Crete; this time to the small mountain summer camp setting in Roustika to teach conversational English for three summers until the program ended.
In 2005, the municipality of Gazi (now known as Malevizi), Greece, invited Global Volunteers to conduct two two-week summer programs teaching conversational English to local elementary students. Since then and gradually over the years, as our partnership grew in strength, Global Volunteers was asked to assist with new projects. The two summer programs evolved into eleven programs per year. At the request of our community partners, volunteers now teach five two-week sessions of English summer school during June, July, and August, and help at local English schools on six programs during the spring/autumn months. While conversational English is the leading service project in Crete, in 2013 the Women’s Association of Heraklion requested volunteers’ help in a shelter for abused women and children. In 2016, the Mayor’s office of Heraklion also asked for our assistance with their refugee project.
One Student’s Story of Volunteer Assistance.
Maria worked as a community health nurse in Heraklion, Crete, for 23 years. But, she couldn’t advance in her career without learning English. So, Maria studied while working for over a year at Tenia’s language school in Heraklion, one of Global Volunteers’ work sites. Her goal is to enter the local University and obtain a degree in vaccination & infection prevention to earn a better living. To do this, however, she needed a proficiency in English certificate and had to work on a resume and introduction letter. When volunteers Judy and Bob Nix served at the school, Judy quickly became attached to Maria and felt her passion for succeeding in her new goal. The fast friends worked together for two weeks to write a resume and introduction letter. It changed Maria’s world. And yes, she passed her exam!
The Effect of the Global COVID-19 Pandemic.
The past eighteen months have been challenging for everyone, not the least the teachers and students we serve in Greece. While we typically assist in classrooms and small groups from spring through autumn, the pandemic has forced us to suspend our work with teachers and children. Meanwhile, they’ve reverted to online classes, hybrid options, and back to school again. As health conditions improved, worsened, improved and worsened again, our program resumption was uncertain.
Teachers reported the children at the English schools missed out on valuable hands-on coaching hours for their English oral exams both in May/December 2020 and May 2021. That’s the extra boost of confidence and encouragement they say Global Volunteers provides.
As for the summer school, two full summers of canceled English classes will have impacted these children, even if it’s just from the aspect of continuity. For instance, children who achieved a 2nd-grade understanding of English have remained at that level, rather than progressing to the 4th grade level. We’re all anxious for the pandemic to end, and to help the Greek students to return to their English studies with the assistance of eager, prepared and compassionate volunteers.
Once Global Volunteers is invited back into classrooms, teachers, students, and volunteers will pull together, roll their sleeves up, pull out their English lessons, and get back to some serious work! We all have a lot of ground to cover!
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