Meraki. It means to do something with soul, creativity and love. I fully believe that the volunteers, House Responsibles, office staff and the residents of Estia Agios Nikolaos do just that. They all put everything into the things they do, working together to create a beautiful, thriving community that acts as a safe space and a loving family for everyone. I am so proud to say that I got to spend my Fall 2024 Co-op here with this amazing group of individuals, that I got to thrive here.
Estia prides itself on being the only life-sharing community in Greece where adults with special needs can live in a mutually enriching way without losing a sense of individuality. Operating since 1992 and accepting volunteers since 2011, Estia has been working hard to keep to this motto in a loving and sensible manner. They are located just a short walk from Galaxidi, a wonderful little port town that is very friendly and welcoming. I got to know some of the people who lived really well, and was often recognized in the places I frequented.
There are four Houses at Estia. Zoi House (meaning Life), otherwise known as 1st House. Irini House (meaning Peace), or 2nd House. Eleftheria House (meaning Freedom) which we called 3rd House. And finally Ilios House (meaning Sun), or 4th House. Residents mainly live in the first three houses while volunteers live in the 4th House, although at the point of writing this post there is one resident that resides in 4th House while a few of the volunteers live in the various houses they work in.
I got to spend my Co-op working in Eleftheria House. I thought the name “Freedom” was very fitting, seeing as how a majority of the residents living here are fairly independent. There were four other volunteers who were also assigned to this house with me, and I got to be really close with them, thankful that I wasn’t experiencing this opportunity alone. 3rd House has the most residents, being able to host up to eight of them as opposed to the other houses only being able to house six. The daily routine we all shared was beginning work Monday-Friday at 7:15am, either waking up residents, showering the ones who needed help with it or helping to
prepare breakfast. My job usually consisted of preparing breakfast while the others went to the residents. Here at Estia we all eat together at our individual houses, sitting around the table. Before we eat any of our meals we say kalí órexi (roughly meaning ‘good appetite’) and after we’ve finished we say euxaristoume (thanks). At first, I didn’t really know what they were saying, but now me and the friends I’ve made sometimes joke with each other, saying these things before we eat even outside of the houses. During our meals, there are a few residents we need to keep an eye on or assist in eating.
After breakfast we split up to do dishes, start laundry or brush the residents’ teeth to prepare them for Workshop time. During the Fall, residents go to one of three workshops; Garden, Jewelry or Pottery. Volunteers also get to go and help out or do their own projects here.
I spent most of my time either in the Jewelry or the Pottery workshop. I’ve always enjoyed the more artistic sides of things over physical, finding them to be very therapeutic.
I preferred the Jewelry workshop, where I was mainly working on making necklaces, earrings or bracelets for my friends and family back home, though I did make a few pieces to sell. When I wasn’t making my own personal items, I made trinkets for the Christmas Bazaar or working on orders for people.
In the Pottery workshop we got to either make our own pieces using pre-made molds or the wheel in the corner. Residents got to use the molds to make bowls, cups or plates depending on what was given to them for the day. If the volunteers didn’t want to make a piece, we got to paint a piece made by somebody else.
I didn’t really spend much time in the Garden workshop, however I enjoyed what little time I did. I got to plant flowers that I hope will be very beautiful when they finally start to flower. I also got to prepare tree seeds for future planting! Outside of what I did, the Garden workshop will often go get water for the houses, work in the farm or do various landscaping activities around Estia.
At about 10:30am, the residents get to take a break and drink some tea and go outside to sit in the sun or converse with each other for about 30 minutes, afterwards they spend about an hour longer in the workshops before heading back up to their Houses for lunch.
Volunteers help prepare the table for lunch, making sure residents have washed up and are ready to eat. After mealtime, residents are prepared for Mesimeri. This is a time in Greece between 1pm and 5pm in which people and business are encouraged to take breaks and rest. Many business will close, and for Estia this is a time for naps or individual quiet activities. We help to tuck in certain residents into bed, taking care of their needs as.. well needed, and then volunteers and House Responsibles leave to go do as they want until 4:30pm or 5pm on Meeting day. I usually spent this time napping, but I know others who would go into Galaxidi to swim or spend time with each other.
After Mesimeri it is time for Gliko (sweets). We prepare fruit, cake, various candies or other types of sweets to serve to the residents and get to enjoy some ourselves. We also need to wake up residents from their naps. In 3rd House, we also used this time to hang up the laundry to dry, starting more if needed. Usually when residents finish Gliko, they start to prepare for afternoon activites, however during my time here they hadn’t found a Greek teacher yet for the volunteers and didn’t think we were ready to start running afternoon activities with our limited Greek knowledge. The activities had started up around the time I was leaving and could range from Music, Art, Baking and many others depending on what volunteers were interested in.
We would begin preparing for dinner at around 7pm, once again working with the residents who needed assistance or setting the table
and plating the meals. After dinner we settle down for quiet activities, where I often played chess or board games or drew with some of the residents. One of two specific volunteers in our House would play guitar and we’d sing songs with each other. We did this until about 9pm where we started kýklos (circle). We talk about our days, how we felt and usually had a ‘question of the day’ like rating our day or what our favorite colors were. I enjoyed listening to everyone, even though I didn’t really know the language. I found this to be a really beautiful way to end the day. At 9:30pm we prepared the residents for bed and then left to go back to our own rooms, or into town to the various restaurants opened by the port.
The weekends run fairly the same, though there are no workshops and the day starts at 8:30am. On Saturdays there are often walks into town or to nearby places for some of the residents to enjoy. In 3rd House, the residents often watched a movie after Gliko.
Honestly, I believe that if you wish to pursue a career in Psychology, especially to work with people with special needs, Estia is the perfect place to volunteer. It was perfect for me because of wanting to be an Art Therapist one day… You would not be alone here, surrounded by many people to befriend. Volunteers get two consecutive days off per week, and depending on how long you stay you
also get a certain amount of vacation time. My days off are Tuesday and Wednesday, and I often spend my Tuesdays going into town to enjoy a lovely cafe on the port, but sometimes I went to nearby towns. Amfissa is short bus ride away and houses many wonderful shops and a beautiful castle ruins!
Estia felt like home to me. The residents, other volunteers and all the staff members are like a family. I know that it is going to hurt me when I leave because I’ll be leaving a piece of me here. After all, I put my creativity, love a soul into working here, and I’ll miss all the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know over the three months that I’ve been here. If you see me roaming campus, be sure to ask me all about Estia and to see plenty more photos that I have taken!