“Estia Agios Nikolaos is the only community in Greece where adults with special needs live, work and spend their free time together with their caregivers.”
When I started my first year at Antioch I knew I wanted to study psychology, but I did not know what type of psychology I would pursue or how. Going on this first co-op, I hoped to gain insight into holistic approaches in psychology, as well as gain experience supporting people with special needs. Estia Agios Nikolaos provided a chance for me to do this in addition to experiencing Greek culture in an almost immersive way.
I spent my co-op volunteering at the Irini House, which means Peace House. We lovingly called it the Second House as it is the second house at the entrance to Estia. My daily routine started at 7:15 in the morning. I helped to prepare breakfast for the residents and other volunteers in my house. To signal the start of all our meals, everyone joined hands and said, “kalí órexi,” or bon appetit. To end all our meals, we said, “euxaristoume,” or thank you. It’s a positive way to start and end all our meals.
After we eat together and clean up, we head to the workshops. There are three different workshops offered: pottery, jewelry, and gardening. About six to eight residents go to each workshop and participate in different activities.
I spent about half my time in the jewelry workshop and the other half in the garden. In the jewelry workshop, I would knit, sew, and support the residents with their own projects, like making necklaces or dolls. There were always colorful arts and crafts around us and the room was always filled with Greek music, most of which I did not understand. I also practiced my Greek language skills with the native Greek speakers while they practiced their English with me.
I especially liked the garden workshop because we were outside moving around. This workshop helps Estia’s small farm and garden by weeding, picking fruits, planting seeds, and occasionally baking bread for all the houses. Part of Estia’s mission statement is that “each person is unique and can be helped to develop his or her unique capabilities in a nurturing environment via creative work, artistic stimuli and direct interaction with nature.” All of the workshops seek to engage everyone in a comfortable way that also produces something that the community can be proud of and enjoy.
After the workshops are finished, each house gathers to eat lunch. Most days there was a traditional Greek dish served. It was like having a Greek mother cook most of my meals—a truly immersive dining experience!
After lunch is mesimeri, where all of Greece becomes quieter and most people close their business from 1 to 3 in the afternoon. In Estia, this is when most residents took naps or spent quiet time in their rooms. Volunteers could also spend this time taking naps, but on nice days we would take walks to the picturesque town of Galaxidi and see the beach and the port. Galaxidi is a sleepy and traditional small Greek town. When it gets warmer, the beaches and surrounding areas begin to attract large amounts of tourism. The town is supportive of Estia and its mission. Most people in the town even know some of the residents and volunteers because of the weekend walks into town.
After the mesimeri is Gliko, or dessert. Each house begins to gather, wake up, and prepare snacks for the afternoon. After this, an evening activity takes place, like arts and crafts, storytelling, music, baking, or meditation. Some residents and volunteers will go to these activities while others will stay in the house to prepare dinner, play board games, go on walks, or just hang out. I have enjoyed the baking activity and the relaxation activities the most so far. Each are good ways to see people who are not in your daily workshop or house.
When it is time for dinner the activities come to an end and each house again gathers to eat. After dinner, people in our house usually relax and play music. This house has a piano, guitar, and a recorder flute that all combine to create some very interesting pieces of music. These music sessions then lead into kýklos, or circle. This is the evening circle where everyone begins to prepare their minds for bed. Our house would make the area dark and peaceful, and light a candle in the center of the room. It is a very calm time where we sing a song together, reflect on our day, and wish each other a good night.
Here at Estia there is not an institutional division of residents and caretakers. Living at Estia means making a home with people who have different needs, are from different countries, and have different cultures. It means living in a community where you are supported and you support others. I believe that Estia meets its mission statement because it strives to make a safe place for all who come. Everyone is involved and connected to the lives of other community members. Estia has also made me think about practicing psychology in a community, not just an institution. Seeing the freedom and autonomy the residents have lets me see a different type of care people can have. Being at Estia has helped me explore other holistic approaches to psychology.