International Volunteer Day
How does a former Public Prosecutor decide to become a volunteer in METAdrasi’s accommodation facility for small children?
Read the HuffPost publication in Greek, here.
The full text in English, below:
On the occasion of International Volunteer Day, the president of METAdrasi, Lora Pappa, remembers an unexpected encounter:
“Some time ago, I had gone to our accommodation facility in Athens, on the occasion of the visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovakia. At the end of the visit as I came out to bid the mission goodbye, at some point I cast a look into the courtyard and saw the back of a lady who was sitting in the garden talking to a little girl. It seemed that she had just arrived. Looking at this lady’s back I remembered Mrs Dimitriou, whom I’d met twice during her mandate as Public Prosecutor to the Supreme Court of Appeal. Since the visitors had now gone I wanted to meet this lady, and imagine my surprise on discovering, when I saw her face, that she was that very same Mrs. Dimitriou! I was astonished, and asked her, ‘Mrs Dimitriou, what are you doing here?’ She answered with a wide smile, ‘Mrs Pappa, it is two years since I’ve been coming here every week!’
Although I had an urgent meeting, I forgot all about it. I took a chair and sat next to her. I had to understand how a former Public Prosecutor decides to become a volunteer in our accommodation facility for small children.
After my initial surprise and while we talked, my emotions and gratitude grew for this woman who so silently and humbly and with such humanity, dedicated so much of her time to our unaccompanied minors.
I thought it important to share this example of public service with no fanfare. So on the occasion of today’s celebration, we asked her to write a few words on her decision, her feelings and her experiences of this volunteering offer. Words that remind us how, with small, simple things, we can express the strongest sentiments, such as love and gratitude.”
You can read the interview with Mrs Dimitriou below:
What made you decide to volunteer?
I closely observed the work of METAdrasi when, as Deputy Prosecutor (2014-2015) and then Chief Prosecutor at the Court of Appeal (2016-2019), I visited its shelters in Lesvos, in Chios and in Athens. At the Court of Appeal, moreover, we organised an exhibition of photography by an unaccompanied minor from the Chios accommodation facility, which gave the opportunity for magistrates to discuss the problems of unaccompanied minors with METAdrasi and other organisations such as UNICEF, the UNHCR, the International Red Cross and others. During this time I often visited the Athens accommodation facility, which hosted unaccompanied children of a young age, and spent some time playing with them. Once I retired from the judicial system, I decided to continue doing this on a voluntary basis.
What do your voluntary activities consist of?
During the pandemic, when schools were closed, I tried to be close to these small children and occupy them with drawing, stories and myths, Greek language lessons as well as French lessons with a girl who was finally accepted for relocation in France. Since the schools opened again, I try to help the younger children prepare their lessons (Greek language, maths and history). Anyhow, it matters little what my voluntary contribution is, since these children have multiple needs. What is important is to establish trust and to reward them with praise and hugs so that in your turn you are encouraged and inspired to do things for them. They are hungry for love and love is what I try to feed them.
What do you believe to have gained by your contribution?
I believe in voluntarism, but only when it is offered in a professional manner and is not just reduced to charity. The education of volunteers towards healthy voluntarism which complements the work of professionals and does not compete with it, is imperative. I don’t think there is a better way for someone to feel happiness (in the platonic sense of the word) than to offer his or her services to a vulnerable fellow human being, especially to small children, without accepting or expecting material reward. Because he or she will be flooded with moral rewards – fulfilment and renewal of the soul.
Would you like to share with us some thoughts or feelings from the experiences of your time as a volunteer in the accommodation facility?
When those wonderful little beings run towards you to welcome you, when they hug you, when they present you with drawings of hearts ❤️ (even if these are sometimes fractured💔), and ‘Love’, when they invite you to eat chips off their plate, when they beg you to join them in their activities (such as the bumping cars or the Ferris wheel at an amusement park), when they ask ‘When will you come again?’, when a grandmother like me becomes accepted by these traumatised children as if she is the same age as them, then this grandmother is amply and disproportionately rewarded for her minimal contribution to these children.
Is there a particular experience which will remain unforgettable?
From the start of my visits, my handbag remained open, as did the bag in which I carried pencils, stories, notebooks. When I wanted something out of these bags (my glasses, chewing gum, paints) I sent the children to get them. They searched, and still search in the bags, they know what is inside them but they have never taken anything. On the contrary, anything precious they possess, they put it in my bags and I find it later. One day I found a little man made out of plasticine, another a picture, another a small lemon a child had picked from the lemon tree at school and many other small objects that might seem worthless, but are loaded with innocent and pure love. Where else can one find such love nowadays?