When I sent my application for volunteering to YMCA Thessaloniki, the least I expected was to work with refugees, as I was quite hesitant to work with them at first. But when YMCA replied asking me to join their program “Summer activities for refugees” with refugee children, being a psychology student, I had to see for myself, and I can tell you for sure I didn’t regret it at all.

The people from YMCA seemed really excited at this program, and to be honest, they are the ones that introduced me to the following excitement and gave me motive to go on.

I never considered myself a person that children tend to like, but yesterday when I said goodbye, and my little ones waved back holding their new basketballs, I felt it. I felt that it was possible I had made a tiny difference to their lives, and sometimes that’s all that matters, when you’re working with children. That feeling is something that you cannot find nowhere but their shinny little eyes when they look at you.

I worked with 35 children daily, in a team of 6 teachers-trainers, one social worker, one interpreter and the project manager for two weeks and we had both good and bad moments. There were sometimes that I thought to myself “maybe I’m just not good at this”, but when you’re sitting on the floor with a crying child in your lap for twenty minutes, you begin to think that maybe you’re someone they feel like they can trust. And that’s something that means a lot to me. There were other times that I would chase them running down the stairs, because they loved watching the swimming pool and the people that trained there. Honestly, that was as rewarding as watching them make pasta jewelry and anxiously worrying about letting the paint dry.

The only thing that I would change is my inability to speak their native language, Arabic, since that has been a communication problem with the younger children. However, I respect them for understanding my English and Greek at such young age and I am especially grateful for the few children that were translating in Arabic to the others, when the interpreter was not there.

Contemplating this experience, I can say I earned lots of things. I went there expecting to work with difficult children whose culture was far more conservative than mine, and I left YMCA knowing that I had worked with children that were just like all the children I knew. They were nothing but perky, emotional and spry children that wanted to play with someone and feel cared for.

They have made me feel moved in ways that one can understand only by experiencing what I experienced these past days. It was so difficult hearing a child explain to me how the other children in school don’t want to play with him, because of his origins. It’s something I carry with me since the day he told me, for I can only imagine what these children have gone through.

Therefore, I find it essential that others offer these people – and especially these children –  help as well. I guarantee you that it’s not what you expect and it’s something you will never forget. There’s no such thing as helping people in need.

Stella Bairami- Volunteer