*Note: The completion of this post was suspended for a few days as I fell sick.
Also, photos of the children and other volunteers will not be posted due to privacy concerns.
I feel restless as I arise this last morning. I’m tired, but I’m also anxious to be on the move. It’s imminent.
The tone at breakfast isn’t drastically different from other mornings. We eat in relative quiet, punctuated later by Sam’s habitual cheery arrival.We exchange greetings and the team journal is read, per usual, and then we get ready to set off to the school in Gazi one last time. We’ve settled comfortably into this perfectly functional routine. No need to disrupt it, no matter the circumstances.
Our lesson plan is as follows, having been predominantly determined by the wishes of the students:
Lesson Plan 10
- (Teams) Flyswatter, with added catch of teams being docked points for assisting teammates in Greek instead of English
- Writing task: ask the students to write or draw where they will be in 10 years
- (Teams) Category Relay Race
- Free time
Our added catch to the flyswatter game brings out groans from the students. They comply with the rule anyhow, which makes for an exciting marker of progress. And some amusing incidents. For instance, when Jimmy inadvertently yells out something in Greek, his eyes go wide. His friend, Mike, reaches over and claps his hand over Jimmy’s mouth. They both look at me as I stand near the whiteboard, poised to remove a point from their team, shaking their heads wildly. I laugh and give them a pass.
Our second hour is split rather evenly between bingo and indoor basketball. Not that this was our original intention. We thought that bingo would occupy the majority of the hour, given our previous experiences with it. However, it seems like their need for bingo can be satiated, in fact. We fall back on an emergency back-up of our take on indoor basketball, as described in a previous post. The shooting is pretty dismal, but the students enjoy themselves and cheer especially loud when someone manages to make a shot.
When the students come in for third, they groan when they see that I’ve put up a writing task on the board.
“It’s our last day,” Fedon, one of our most vocal students, groans, “Why do we have to write?” His reaction is mirrored by the others. Think fast.
“Well, this is a team writing task,” I tell him, “I’m giving you an eight-minute time limit to describe where you’re going to be in ten year’s time. The team which has a majority of students finish the task first will gain an advantage in the relay race that we’re going to play.” This mollifies them somewhat.
The kids don’t come back in after they go out for third hour recess, making the most of their free hour. So Sonny and I write a brief message thanking them on the board. I go out of the portable classroom to fetch some water from the school, and by the time I come back, several girls are standing at the board, doodling around our message. Half of it is erased. Sonny and I chuckle.
Sonny goes out to play soccer with a group of the kids and I stay inside, cleaning up the classroom and attempting to organize the mess that we made of the teacher’s desk. I pack the teaching materials that we had brought from the hotel into a bag. It gets heavy quickly.
The classroom looks rather like we left it once I finish. The only aspects of the room that I leave intact are the Canada and Greece flags drawn side-by-side on the board, and the name placards that we had asked the students to make on the first day. It’ll all be gone by Monday, I imagine, but there’s no reason for me to do it.
At the end of the fourth hour, I hear Lucas and his brother, Fedon, come in. Sonny greets them and I turn around, a warm smile on my face. Luca has done a phenomenal job of translating for us in the classroom, aided greatly by his patience and excellent sense of humour. And Fedon, though rather temperamental, demonstrated consistent enthusiasm for classroom activities and showed a great deal of participation. I’m appreciative of them both.
“Well, good luck with everything,” Luca tells us.
“Thank you,” I respond, “And thank you for all of your help.” Sonny extends his hand and I follow suit. Luca smiles brightly and gives us both a firm handshake.
“Let us know if you make it to the NBA,” Sonny calls after him, “We’ll come and watch!”
As I walk out into the yard and make to join the rest of the team, one of the girls comes running up to me. She hands me a piece of paper.
“Thank you,” I say with a smile. She gives me a hug and then runs off to meet her father, who has arrived to pick her up.
“I don’t think that they realize that they won’t see us again,” Kimberly comments as I walk over to her and Chet, both of whom are seated on the wooden benches located just inside of the gate to the school.
“I think ours do,” I say, which is certainly true to some extent. We sit quietly, watching the kids depart one-by-one. At one point, a plump, shirtless elderly gentleman drives up to the gates on a moped. He honks his horn and his grandson comes running. The boy hops up in front of him, and they speed off. Kimberly and I chuckle..
“You can head out if you like,” Sam says as she passes by, dragging a large trash bag with her.
As we head out, it occurs to me to take one last photo of the school. I don’t want to lag behind by returning and reopening the gates, so I simply take it through the bars. Fitting, I suppose.
I sit on the bed in my hotel room, deliberately ignoring the half-packed suitcase and whirlwind of scattered clothes around me. I flip through the papers that we had the kids write earlier in the day. Part of the reason that I was rather insistent on having them answer the question of where they saw themselves in ten years is the financial crisis. Do they feel constrained by it? Hopelessness taking root in the next generation is always one of the biggest causes for concern. Do the kids feel desperate? Do they not envision a future for themselves?
Visit Italy. Study in the Netherlands. See the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Go to Brazil. Work. Play. Taste new foods. Study.The answers were numerous and varied, but connected by the desire to explore and discover. No matter the struggles facing Greece at this time, these children are determined. And they don’t question their freedom for a second. That knowledge makes me able to rest easy about their futures.
The rest of the night seems to pass altogether too quickly. We gather outside by the pool, sipping at wine and watching Paul, the owner of the hotel, grilling slabs of pork. Sam discusses the logistics of our respective departures for the following day. Chet reads the last iteration of the team journal.
“And lastly, I want to thank Sam for putting in so much effort into making this a great experience for all of us,” He closes out. Sam is driven to tears. I look at her and realize for the first time just how emotionally draining this job can be on her and her family.
“You know, when Alice was younger, she used to cry every time a group of volunteers left,” Sam tells me, referring to her youngest daughter. I feel a renewed rush of gratitude.
There is a sense of finality as we finish dinner. Sam hands us the money for our cabs and gives each of us a hug. Sonny turns to face me.
“Well,” He says, “I probably won’t ever see you again.” And I think, yes probably not. None of us went into this expecting to make best friends with whom we would interact with for the rest of our lives. We came together for a mutual cause in a defined timeframe. We knew this all beforehand. So yes, we will probably never meet again. But I say nothing of the sort. I give him my email instead.
“Drop an email if you ever need me,” I tell them, “Take care, little dudes.”
We wave to each other, and then we turn to go our separate ways. I hear the door to their room click shut as I walk into my own. I flip on the lights and resume packing. I click shuffle play on my playlist and pause as I hear the first few beats of the song.
“It’s over, it’s over, I’m leaving, I’m gone…”
Many thanks to all of the wonderful people that contributed to making my Greece trip my most fulfilling yet. Thank you to Sam for being a spirited and knowledgeable team leader. Thank you to Kimberly, Sonny, and Chet for being fun to hang out and teach with. Thank you to Lucas and the students for making the classroom experience an interesting one. Thank you to Paul and the rest of the hotel staff for being so welcoming and taking excellent care of me when I injured my leg. Thank you to all of the locals and other tourists with whom I interacted over the course of this trip. I didn’t get some of your names and I’ll likely never see most of you again, but the opportunity to interact with and briefly get to know a myriad of such interesting and warm people is one I’ll always treasure. And lastly, thank you to Global Volunteers for organizing this program. I never anticipated that I would get quite so much out of it when I hurriedly signed up for it in mid-June, but this experience has been more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined.