Webster Athens Hosts Third Annual Holiday Party for Refugee Children
January 16, 2018
On Dec. 15, Webster University’s Odyssey in Athens study abroad and local students, under the guidance of the Office of Student Affairs, coordinated the third annual holiday party for the children at Caritas Refugee Center. Approximately 100 children and their parents--who were mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Northern Africa--attended the party at the Caritas Hellas facilities.
The dining hall, where they come for their daily meal, was transformed to a festive wonderland, and the children with their parents had a chance to laugh, play and enjoy themselves and forget, at least momentarily, about their difficult circumstances.
Planning for the event started several weeks prior, as the students created their own fundraising campaign and reached out to family and friends back home. Odyssey in Athens alumni, who participated in similar service activities during their semester abroad, also contributed. Committees were then formed, such as the toy, decoration and entertainment committees, where students selected their area of interest. The committees then helped guide the group with what toys and supplies were purchased, how the center was decorated and what food and entertainment were provided. After all the planning and coordinating everyone worked together for the final outcome.
"Putting this party together was an extremely rewarding experience,” noted Isabel Thornton, junior history student from Goucher College. “It is rare that you get to create something, follow it through to the end, and see the direct impact it has on people."
With the money raised, the students were able to purchase toys for each child, food and beverages for the party, decorations and entertainment. In addition, supplies such as diapers, baby food, cans of milk, pasta, tomato sauce, cooking oil, sugar, sanitary pads for women, toilet paper, soap and shampoo for children and adults were also purchased. The supplies were taken to one of the facilities where approximately 80 refugee families reside.
Bringing Joy to Children
The success of the party was clearly seen on the laughing and smiling faces of the children. During the party, the children did not stop smiling the entire time. They ate pizza, played games, had their faces painted, and also danced with our students and each other. In addition, they were entertained by Toto the Clown, who once again stole the show by involving them in his performance, and making animals and designs out of balloons which he then gave to the children as gifts. He not only fascinated the children but also the parents who were encouraged to join in with their children. All enjoyed his magic tricks. This was a special day for them as they do not often have opportunities, such as this, to play and interact with each other. They have left their countries due to war and many are forced to live in substandard conditions in refugee camps and squats.
“Being able to volunteer while studying abroad here in Greece has been an amazing experience," said Kalee LaPointe, junior English Literature student from Goucher College. "Working with the other students in organizing a holiday party for Caritas was not only a rewarding but fun experience. Seeing the excited looks on the kids and parent’s faces at the party made every single minute we spent planning truly worth it.”
Alexander Trask, Webster University junior mathematics student in the College of Business and Technology, played Santa and performed his duties well. He patiently posed to take photos with the children and their families and handed out the gift bags to each child at the end of the party. The gift bags contained various toys, stuffed animals, jump ropes, fidget spinners, yo-yos, bubbles, coloring books, crayons, magic markers, and chocolates. "As Santa, I got to interact with the children," said Trask. "It was nice to see their faces light up when they saw my costume. Some were scared, but most looked thrilled to be at the party. I’m glad we were able to give the children this party and bring joy to their lives for the day.”
“The students were determined to make this a special day for the refugee children and their families," said Dina Skias, Director student affairs and Odyssey in Athens study abroad program. "They worked very hard to meet their goals and did an outstanding job. They showed great teamwork and accomplished another successful holiday party. I am very proud of them all.”
The party came at the end of a very productive semester with cultural activities such as the Greek cooking classes, where the students learned to make some favorite Greek dishes; excursions around Greece, where they learned first-hand about the archaeological sites visited, such as Ancient Olympia and Delphi; and field trips to local museums and monuments, such as the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum. Furthermore, they toured the Hellenic Parliament and learned about the modern Greek political system from the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Turks to the monarchy and dictatorship and finally the return of democracy. They also participated in various campus events sponsored by the student council and the office of student affairs.
In addition to the holiday party for refugee children, some students participated in the community service learning class where they had a chance to work more closely with the refugees. Lauren Chapin, Webster junior public relations student noted, "Volunteering at Caritas is the reason I came to Athens to study. I wanted to work with Syrian refugees and refugees in general. If my own country (America) will not welcome all refugees with open arms then, I decided to travel to do what I could to show my support and solidarity with those who need it most." Webster Works Worldwide also encouraged some students to participate in the Walk for a Cure for breast cancer charity as well as assist the Hellenic Relief Foundation in packing bags of groceries and supplies for needy Greek families.
For more information on Webster Athens, visit the Webster Athens site.
To view more photos from the party and to see student activities and events, visit the Facebook page, Webster University Athens Campus.