Krete from Estonia joined a short term ESC voluntarism program in Ioannina, at our organisation, Youth Center of Epirus. Her main activities were to help to run the youth center, offer daily activities to young adults (18 - 30 years old), plan and manage small scale events (discussion topics, workshops etc) and work on online content creation especially related to the people and culture of the city and region of Epirus.
Alessandra from Italy joined a long term ESC voluntarism program in Ioannina, at our organisation, Youth Center of Epirus. Her main activities were to implement recreational and non-formal educational activities for asylum seeker children and teenagers, and to work on digital content creation on asylum seeker integration related themes.
Below, you can read their testimonies and see photos of their experience in Ioannina!
Hello! My name is Krete and I'm from Estonia! I had the opportunity to spend a wonderful April and May here in Ioannina.
I arrived here in April, a few hours after my birthday. I was welcomed with a big smile and a kind heart by my flatmate and teammate Baha'a, who stayed up and waited for me at 2.30 am. When I woke up in the morning, Alessandra, Andrea, Chiara, and Baha'a had left me a little birthday present in the kitchen and were waiting for me in the office with Teo, Marta, and Dora with a cake and a birthday song. It was with just such surprises and love that my day started here. I spent my two months in the office editing social media and organizing events. I had the opportunity to interview three different local musicians as part of a personal project, and they were great.
This journey here and during my time here has been an incredible experience for me. I traveled here alone for 28 hours, overcame my fear of expressing myself in English, found new confidence, organized events, discovered new places, had enlightening encounters, met fantastic souls, experimented with plant-based living, learned about new cultures, and much
more wonderful things.
I am so, so, so grateful for these opportunities, people, experiences, growth, and learnings. I came here with one baggage of experiences, and I will take so much more with me when I go to Estonia because I never dreamed that these months could have such an impact on me. I want to thank and single out Thomas because if it wasn't for his kindness and his friendship, our life here probably wouldn't have been so fluid. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know such a wonderful person.
When I take a moment and a little journey during this time here, it feels like I was someone new, but the reality is that these people and experiences here helped me discover something magical and different about myself. Thank you for that!
As soon as you arrive in Ioannina, you feel observed by thousands of small and big blue eyes. They follow your steps from the shops, from the doors of the houses, and even from the people who cross by chance in the streets. They are the mati (μάτι): pieces of jewelry with beads made of blue glass or porcelain; the concentric sapphire, white circles, and black dot resemble a blue eye. They are amulets with talismanic power since they protect the person who wears them from the evil stare. In fact, according to Greek tradition, the human eye can radiate negative energy, and bad energy can be transmitted from one person to another, more specifically through a stare. The malevolent glare, triggered by jealousy, can pass on the evil curse, causing misfortune. To avoid this look, the ancient peoples began wearing apotropaic amulets or jewelry with the evil eye symbol incorporated into them, which attract the person’s evil gaze, distract them from casting their spell, and reflect it back to the person that was casting it.
Although the evil eye might seem typical only of Greece, since it’s cobalt blue like its sea, the culture of the evil eye appears in most of the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Middle East, West Asia, and several countries in East and West Africa. These are the original countries of the unaccompanied minors seeking asylum at the "Agios Athanasios" facility in Perama. In their cultures, in addition to the evil eyes, it’s customary to say mashallah, “that which God wanted”. On one hand, it expresses a feeling of awe or beauty regarding a person that was just complimented; on the other, it helps protect that person from jealousy, the evil eye, or a jinn, as a reminder that everything is achieved by God’s will.
The "Agios Athanasios" facility includes different kinds of eyes: green or hazelnut almond eyes; black deer eyes; and rascal blue eyes. Young eyes full of liveliness that look at you with curiosity and playfulness, ready to get immersed in the everyday activities; but also staring eyes, lost in the void, while waiting in a time suspended by bureaucracy. Loving and caring eyes, but also inquiring and suspicious eyes. Insincere and sneaky eyes, eyes that mistake a purposeless steadiness for intensity and depth. Eyes that speak and succeed where verbal communication breaks down. Eyes belonging to teenagers who have witnessed the hardships of war or poverty for most of their young lives; gazes that were forced to become adult and mature ahead of time. Eyes that look at the future with hopes and concerns; eyes that look back to what and who they have left behind. Eyes that are mirrored with concern in yours in search of an answer to the reason for their lives as nomads and orphans. Lonely eyes looking for kind ears willing to listen to them; eyes lit by a childish laugh due to a joke; eyes focused on a drawing, on the dream of a destination; eyes exchanging a complicit glance over a card game; eyes closed, in the dark of their rooms, in a perpetual sleep, waiting to awaken at the time when their journey can resume.
In this twine of gazes, in which you look and are looked back at from multiple points of view, as a volunteer, you learn to adjust your own gaze. It moves away from preconceptions and certainties about yourself as a person and about the world around you to overcome physical and mental blocks and open to new horizons and possibilities. It is an uncomfortable situation since you find yourself without a familiar point of reference in an unmediated relationship with each other, but it is also a colorful condition, full of smells, sounds, flavors, laughter, and crying. It is a constant reflection on the relationship with the unaccompanied minors, between a soccer game on the bumpy field and a debated card game, between a Somali dance and the preparation of an Afghan dish, between a painting workshop in the common living room and an outdoor group game under the open, clear sky. And for this, I am grateful to all the teenagers at the “Agios Athanasios” facility. It is also a tireless and thoughtful comparison with the other volunteers, in the foggy winter afternoons and sleepless spring nights, between a jointly prepared dinner in our beloved/hated mold house and a night walk in the quiet castle district, over a steaming cup of tea, in the privacy of our rooms, or in front of the view of the lake framed by gentle mountains and idle clouds. For this reason, I am grateful to all the volunteers, the people of the office, and the Greek friends – all the people that colored and crowded this experience. Lastly, it is an introspection inside yourself to find new tolls, new paths, and new solutions.
And now that the experience has come to its inevitable end, what remains is this tangle of gazes that follow you, despite the physical distance, and protect you. Even from the evil eye. Thanks to all the people to whom these looks belong.
This project was co-funded by the European Commission.