Webster Athens Students Hold Holiday Party for Refugee Children; Reflections on Odyssey in Athens Experience

Dec. 19, 2018

Webster Athens Study Abroad and Local Students Hold Holiday Party for Refugee Children in Athens

On Dec. 14, the Odyssey in Athens study abroad, along with the local and international students, through the guidance of the office of student affairs at Webster Athens held the fourth annual party for refugee children at Caritas Hellas. Over 100 children and their families came to the Caritas center, where they come daily for their meal, to see the kitchen area transformed to a festive holiday wonderland. 

The planning for the party started months ago with fundraising and multiple meetings. Next, was the numerous shopping trips to purchase toys and supplies for the gift bags, in addition to decorations and provisions for the party. Two hundred gift bags in total were assembled. Also, non-perishable food and supplies were purchased and delivered to the families who reside in one of the refugee squats in Athens, where approximately 400 people reside.

In addition to the gift bags, the children and their families were treated to pizza, beverages, and entertainment. Toto the Clown, who entertained the children in the past, was once again the highlight of the day. He captivated the young and old with his magic tricks, games, and creations of animal figures with the balloons that the children absolutely loved. There were also two face painters on-hand to draw the kids’ favorite images on their faces.

A powerful impact on Webster students

Holly Nielsen, a sophomore Art History and Criticisms student from the Webster Groves campus, served as head of the fundraising efforts. “Preparing for this party was unlike anything I'd ever done before," said Nielsen. "I couldn't help but be filled with joy when the day of the party came. We had worked so hard going shopping and had exceeded our goals in the number of gift bags and items we purchased. The first shopping trip was so much fun."

"I felt kind of like a crazy person filling a single cart with just packs of markers and the people at the registers almost looked frightened of how much stuff we had. It was an achievement in itself just getting all the items back to the university and into bags. Seeing the look on the kids' faces when the clown came in was just wonderful too. I don't usually enjoy being around kids, but I found myself so relaxed and having such a good time at the party that I played with them and danced with them while taking photos. I'm sad I won't be around to take part in next year's party. I'd absolutely participate in something like this again."

Athens partyOver 100 refugee children and their families came to the Caritas center, to see the kitchen area transformed to a festive holiday wonderland by Webster Athens students.

“The kids did not stop laughing and playing the entire time,” said Ashley Valentin, a senior psychology student from La Moyne College. "The holiday season is full of gift-giving that turns into a lifelong habit for many who give, receive and spread love. I enjoyed playing with the children at the holiday party! Even if I cannot speak the same language, just playing with a simple toy brought them happiness. It allowed a special bond to be created that I know I will never forget."

"The holiday party at Caritas was a fantastic experience as well. Seeing all of the people we were helping with just our time and resources was amazing. I'm so glad I got to be a part of this incredible event," said Jamie Kotthoff, a Webster junior studying scriptwriting.

Thoughts from Webster Athens staff

Dina Skias, the director of student affairs and the Odyssey in Athens study abroad program has been involving the students in these efforts. “This has become an annual event and students look forward coming together to make this happen," said Skias. "The students this year, once again, came through to create a party that the children will never forget. I am very proud of them all for giving their time to make this an unforgettable day. It gave the kids a chance to laugh and play, as children should be doing. These children have been through so much adversity, they have seen war, have been uprooted from their homes, and do not have a chance to be kids. We were happy to be a  part of this and will continue to support  such efforts.”

"This year we were also lucky to have a visitor with us from Webster Groves. Kelly Heath, director of study abroad was visiting the Athens campus during this time and participated in the holiday party. We were happy she was able to join us.”

Click here to view more photos from the Caritas holiday party.

Webster Athens commitment to service in the community

In addition to the holiday party for refugee children, the students had multiple service project throughout the semester.  The first was a beach cleaning event at Saronida beach, outside of Athens,  in honor of World Environment Day. The Odyssey in Athens students made their own banner which said, “use less plastic.” This was the message they wanted to share. The event was covered by the local news.

Also, several students participated in the annual Walk for a Cure for breast cancer which was coordinated by the organization, Alma Zois. This organization supports women with breast cancer and creates awareness campaigns throughout the year.

Use less plastic Webster Athens 

And during Webster Works Worldwide day, the students, in cooperation with the office of student affairs conducted a supply drive for refugee families and collected much-needed supplies, such as diapers, sanitary items for women, non-perishable food items and clothes. In addition, several students got involved working with injured sea turtles at the Archelon Sea turtle rescue center. 

"Volunteering at Archelon has been the most incredible experience of my life," said Kotthoff. "I am so lucky to have been able to spend a semester helping sea turtles prepare to return to their homes. It made me more environmentally conscious, and I will definitely be spreading the word about the amazing things Archelon does when I return home.”

Odyssey in Athens Study Abroad Program: Highlights from the semester

The Odyssey in Athens study abroad program at Webster Athens offers students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the culture with academic and cultural activities from visiting the local museums and archaeological sites during organized field trips to traveling around Greece during the group excursions. Some of the places visited included Ancient Olympia, where they learned first-hand about the ancient Olympic games; Mycenae, where they learned about the great Mycenean civilization; the ancient theatre of Epidavros, where they learned the importance of drama and comedy in ancient Greece; Delphi, where they learned about the Oracle of Delphi and the Umphalos (navel) of the world; and the monasteries of Meteora, where they marveled in the construction of these mystical monasteries.

“The excursions that we went on during our semester made my experience so much more beneficial," said Katie Prevenslik, a junior chemistry student from Washington & Jefferson College. "Instead of learning about these locations in a textbook, we were able to get an interactive experience. My favorite trip was to Ancient Olympia. If I went there alone, I would have no idea what I was even looking at. Going with the Odyssey in Athens program allowed me to go back in time and visualize how the Olympics were held. It was one of the most memorable experiences walking on the same track that the ancient Olympians did!”

In addition to their field trips and excursions around Greece, the students also visited the Hellenic Parliament and learned about the modern political system. Students had a chance to enter the parliament room and sit in the chairs of Parliamentarians.

Greek cuisine

One class that stood out and immersed the students in the Greek culture was a new Greek cuisine course. This class took students on a gastronomical journey from the ancient times to present. Students learned the history of Greek cuisine and learned to make some of their favorite Greek dishes.

“Through this class, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the history of Greek cuisine through documentaries, class discussions, as well as some field trips," said Yannie Willie, a senior psychology student from Goucher College in Baltimore. "In addition to this, I’ve had the chance to learn how to make some dishes as well. Twice a week the class meets and we make different dishes, learning about them, how to make them, as well as enjoying them together. It’s a great experience and a great way to immerse yourself in the Greek culture.”

Webster Athens
From all of us at Webster Athens, we wish the Webster global community a happy and healthy holiday season!

tags:  global, webster life, webster today, athens, study abroad, community engagement, students,