How to work as a short-term volunteer with refugees in Athens, Greece

Volunteerism gets a bad wrap, and sometimes for good reason. We go into this “savior of the orphaned and downtrodden” mentality. It’s human nature to want to fix people and make everything better. Sadly, the only thing that will make anything better in the case of the refugees in Athens from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is if the wars and fighting stop and everyone can go home.

Because yes, all any refugee (for the most part) wants to do is go home. They don’t want to be immigrants and refugees in a foreign land. They want to go back to their friends, family and way of life. This will probably never happen for them though.

Refugees in Athens Greece

The Perils of Voluntourism

Voluntourism has become a buzz word in the travel industry. In some ways it is good, but too often there are bad news stories that go along with voluntourism. Some organizations aren’t set up to actually help. Some do more harm than good. You may have heard of orphan tourism, where tourists can go into orphanages in Asia to simply hold babies, which can do more harm than good. Yup. It happens. This is why it is so important to look closely at the volunteer opportunities available to work with refugees.

Refugees in Athens Greece

How to vet a volunteer organization

It isn’t too hard to vet an organization if you know the right questions to ask. Start with these eight simple, logical questions. Go with your gut and ask follow up questions. If you hit any road blocks or red flags along the way, make sure you listen to your gut. Any NGO with nothing to hide will be transparent with you.

  • How long has the organization been working in this area of the world and offering short-term volunteer trips?
  • Are volunteers able to speak to the leader of the teams before they commit to a trip? 
  • Look at the company’s mission statement- are they more interested in the impact on you or the impact on the people you serve?
  • Are you doing projects that you can complete or add to? Will you have to start a project that may never see completion and help people?
  • Are children involved? What rules do they have surrounding child interactions?
  • How are they protecting the refugees you are working with?
  • What are the photo and social media rules while you are working? Are there restrictions?
  • Do they encourage you to be flexible? Volunteer situations can change all of the time. Are they sending you where you are most needed or where you will “look the best” in photos?

Organizations with short-term volunteer trips

  • Servant Group International (religiously affiliated)
  • Operation Mobilization (religiously affiliated)
  • Samaritans Purse (religiously affiliated)
  • Drop in the Ocean ( not religiously affiliated)

Refugees in Athens Greece

Short-term volunteer work you may be asked to do

Volunteer work is not glamorous. When you are helping people with basic needs, it’s not about you. It’s about what the other person needs. You may not get to kiss babies and deliver flowers all day. You may be cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, and never see a refugee.

If that is what an organization needs to continue functioning and helping refugees in Athens that is what you need to be willing to do. Here’s a small sample of what you could be doing when working with refugees in Greece.

  • Make tea- tea is a big part of Middle Eastern culture. It is a time to sit, relax and catch up with friends. Many refugee centers provide tea to give adults a sense of normalcy and community. The center staff need someone to constantly be making it. That someone will probably be you.
  • Clean up after tea
  • Construction and building maintenance
  • Entertain kids who are out of school and bored
  • Play soccer
  • Fold clothes
  • Hand out clothing and diapers
  • Make meals
  • Hand out meals
  • Do laundry
  • Sweep and mop floors
  • Clean bathrooms

Refugees in Athens Greece

Volunteering with Refugees in Athens

Volunteering is important work. It can also be personally gratifying. It’s OK to feel good when you volunteer, but that shouldn’t be all you feel. If you only want to volunteer to “save” people from their troubles, you may want to rethink that trip. You won’t be helping them and you won’t be helping yourself.

Think a LOT before you decide to volunteer anywhere, especially with refugees. I thought for almost two years before I signed up for my first trip to Greece. My trip changed directions a week before we left. No matter how flexible I thought I was already, it changed in a way I never thought I it could, so if you decide to volunteer, stay flexible, because ultimately, the best organizations will send you where you will be of the most use, not where you will look the best.

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10 thoughts on “How to work as a short-term volunteer with refugees in Athens, Greece”

  1. Fabian Keresztfalvi

    Thanks for the useful and great info! 😉

  2. Sonia

    I would like to volunteer. I have volunteer experience, I was part of the Global Medical Brigade. I’m not sure which organization to look into as some have a bad reputation for using funds for personal use. Any suggestion would be great. I would be able to donate as well as volunteer short-term.

    1. Keryn Means

      I would highly recommend contacting nonprofits like UNICEF and others listed in the article. They can point you in the right direction.

      1. Lucinda Williamson

        Velos has a good reputation

  3. Amy

    Your site is a fantastic resource. I have just bought tickets for myself and 15 year old son to Athens in April 2019, with the distinct purpose of volunteering. I am running into several road blocks: my sons age and also we only have 11days. Do you mind helping me if you can? Thank you again!

    1. Keryn Means

      It is very hard to volunteer with children unless you get hooked up with an organization ahead of time. Check out the ones I suggest and see if they can help you find a group that is going over. A lot do ask for at least a week of your time. Sorry I can’t be more help.

    2. Tai Kojro-Badziak

      This may be a little too late – but in general a lot of the volunteer organizations require volunteers to be 18 or over due to legal and logistical issues. There *may* be some on the ground opportunities but you will likely have to dig for them. If you are reaching out to aid groups, you might ask if there is someone local on the ground that you can get in touch with…. Sorry I can’t be more help.

  4. Ahmad zayni

    hello I am living in a squat in Athens I help fixing electricity and toilets
    also can help in other squash if need at Athens area

  5. Cathy Hester

    I have experience working with refugees In Thessaloniki, Athens, and Germany. I started with a medical mission but the organization left when some of the northern camps closed. They are only in Jordan now. So since then I’ve just been bringing supplies and visiting families and meeting simple needs such as taking to the doctors or taking children bowling or something fun. I’ll be in Athens for six days March 4-9. I’ll do anything that is needed. Any suggestions are appreciated. I’ll be coming back in the fall for a month. But this is a short trip. Thank you for any ideas.

    1. Keryn Means

      Hi Cathy,
      My suggestion is to contact some of the organizations I listed in the article. They will be the best resource to help you. Short trips are very hard as they need people to help long-term I know, but there are opportunities out there! Good luck!

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