Stories from volunteers: My "family" and my "home" in Dadia

Tiago Brandao, volunteer European Solidarity Crops

I had just arrived at Alexandroupoli Airport from Athens, more than two hours late. I went directly to the airport bus stop. That was the last of three flights I had to catch that day, on my way back to Dadia from my hometown in Portugal. Four months after the start of my volunteering work, I went to Portugal for a weekend and a nice family wedding but the very long and somewhat troubled return trip to Greece left me feeling exhausted, and I still had to catch a bus before I could rest. Thankfully, when I got on the bus I found my fellow volunteers who had saved the middle seat of the very back of the bus for me and I felt a little more relaxed.

That day they had been shopping in Alexandroupoli and had waited for me to arrive so we could all go back to Dadia together, despite the long delay in my last flight and it already being late. For the next hour or so we talked about how our respective weekends had been and I ate some snacks they had saved for me. Their little gesture, which I’m sure they didn’t think twice about, left me feeling incredibly happy. As we sat there, I started to think about the parallels between this moment and the first time I had made this very same trip, just over four months ago.

When I arrived at the start of my volunteering work, despite the excitement of starting a new adventure in an unknown place, there was also a great deal of nervousness and doubts. How will the people there be? Will I meet their expectations? Will I adapt to living there? All these questions and many more were running through my thoughts as I worried about not messing up my flights, which would lead me alone in a country that I’ve never been to. It was astonishing to think about how natural it felt to come back to this very same place, after living here for just four months, and it showed me how familiar I’ve become to this place without even noticing it.

I knew from the very beginning that this was just a temporary situation and that I would “only” be here 10 months. Still, in just that short time, I couldn’t help myself but to build what felt like an established life and I was able to call random people that I’d met just a few months or even weeks ago, a sort of family and the house we lived in, a home. While I know that in a few short months I will leave forever, I will be sure that I’ll bring some very special memories with me. And with a bit of luck, I’ll also bring some things that I have learned along the way, not only about conservation and about Greece, but also about people and myself.

And to me this is the most precious and valuable thing that an opportunity like ESC brings to young adults. An opportunity to create a new normal in your life that is so different from what you already know, that it forces you to change, to adapt and to grow and to inevitably become a little more ready to face life.