Kennett student skips the usual vacation to teach kids in Crete

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Cassidy Matz with some of the students whe worked with in Crete.

Kennett Square early childhood education student Cassidy Matz thinks tourism has its place.  But, it’s not what lured her to the sunlit shores of Crete; the broad smiles of the children she taught each day on her “volunteer vacation” were. Matz is among a growing minority of Americans who choose service over tourism in travelling abroad.  Teaching simple English lessons under the direction of local teachers, Matz was part of a two-week volunteer team in Malevizi, on the island’s rugged northern coast.

Matz said she chose the unique travel option to gain an “insider’s understanding” of Cretan culture and modern history through the daily lives of classroom students.

“Last summer, I remembered that a friend of mine from high school had posted about a service experience she had taken, over the summer to Crete, Greece with Global Volunteers. In her pictures, she was teaching English to Elementary school kids. At first, I was so jealous of the fact she was abroad, but after looking at her pictures and reading a blog about her adventure, I finally figured out that’s exactly what I wanted to do.” said Matz.

The program is coordinated through Global Volunteers, a nonprofit, nonsectarian development assistance organization in special consultative status with the United Nations.

“Serving with Global Volunteers in Greece has changed my perspective on teaching, my limitations, what I should be grateful for, and my life overall. I also learned that I can do absolutely anything I set my mind to. After pushing myself out of my comfort zone and traveling by myself successfully for the first time, abroad, I feel limitless, as if I could conquer any problem or situation that comes my way.” Matz said.Global Volunteers formed service partnerships with Greek municipalities in 1995 to provide support in teaching English – the language of commerce, technology and opportunity –  to children and families in the mountain and coastal areas of the island.  In recent years, short-term volunteers of all backgrounds and ages have taught basic and intermediate language skills in classrooms and summer language camps to help students meet standards for entry into high school and beyond.

Volunteers serving in the Gazi schools work with students whose families continue to struggle under a weakened Greek economy, and face the added challenge of increasing competition for limited places in the Cretan higher education system.  In Greece, private schools are more accessible to under-privileged students, who pay modest fees for tuition. Global Volunteers works with schools that have agreed to suspend tuition to students who cannot afford to pay, and who demonstrate a desire to learn and improve their English.  One school in particular is attended by at least 45 percent refugee children from Albania, Bulgaria, Morocco and Syria.

“I learned how grateful I am for everything I have. While serving the children of Crete, I also received so much. They gave me more happiness than I could ever have hoped to give them. I’ve been transformed and encouraged by finding “the joy of people,” and they motivate me to do the same.” said Matz.

Matz said time was outside of the work day and on weekends to participate in “the usual tourist things,” such as hiking, shopping and museum and archeological tours.

No special skills are necessary to join most Global Volunteers service programs – only a curiosity about the world, a desire to be of service, and a high degree of flexibility.  Work projects are determined by the host communities, directed by local leaders, and focus on services for at-risk children and their families.  (http://www.globalvolunteers.org/serve/development.asp)

Global Volunteers invites people of all ages and backgrounds to serve in this unique way – to give back and make a genuine difference by working with and learning from and about local people in their community.  Since 1984, the organization has established more than 100 long-term development partnerships with community organizations on six continents.  Volunteers provide labor and financial resources to local projects to help children and women thrive. Short-term volunteers are the “infinitely renewable resource” keeping support and energy flowing into the communities, according to Global Volunteers President and CEO Bud Philbrook.

 

The fixed tax-deductible service program contribution covers three meals each day, community hotel lodging, local transportation, medical and emergency evacuation insurance, a trained team leader and project materials. Airfare and visas are extra.   Global Volunteers:  800-487-1074, email@globalvolunteers.org, www.globalvolunteers.org/greece.

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