I am Marlene, 18 years old and I come from Husum, a small town in Northern Germany.
I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to spend a year abroad after graduating from high school to experience other cultures and so I decided to apply to an organization called “Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste” which particularly caught my eye because of its historical and political context.
ASF describes its objectives and guiding principles on its website as follows: “The confrontation with National Socialism and its crimes is for Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste (ASF) the motivation and obligation for concrete action in the present.”
A few days after I submitted my application in November, I received an invitation to a selection and information seminar, which had to be held in January 2021 via Zoom due to the covid situation.
I went into the seminar with no concrete idea and was very excited about what was in store for me.
We talked about various topics in small groups. The discussions about one’s own family history were especially memorable for me. Another part of the seminar was called “country and project presentations”, where I came across Greece by chance. Both the opportunity to be involved in the design of a completely new project and the historical background of the Greek village Kryoneri appealed to me very much. When I was able to sign my service contract in March, not only the anticipation began, but also the first preparations for my voluntary service.
This included getting to know the Greek language for the first time, as well as finding sponsors who would like to support me during the year. Furthermore, I was given the interesting task of dealing intensively with my family’s past. As a result, I had conversations with my relatives and learned about situations and stories from war and post-war times that had never been present to me. I became more and more aware of how important it is to talk about past deeds and events so that they are not forgotten. That’s where my service in Kryoneri comes in.
On September 9th, I flew to Greece together with my country group – consisting of four other volunteers. Together, the journey led us to my project in Kryoneri Korinthias, on the Peloponnese, about two hours away from Athens. There we were warmly welcomed by Panos Poulos, who is the Greek contact person for us volunteers, and his wife Athina, and a week of seminar was ahead of us. From excursions to Corinth, to Zoom calls with Contemporary witnesses and a visit to a Greek Orthodox service, it was all there. Since Kryoneri Korinthias is also my location for the year, I already had a first impression of my future home after the arrival week and already got to know some inhabitants. In the weeks that followed, I became more and more comfortable and quickly felt how hospitable and cordial I was received from all sides.
But I also like to look back on bathing trips to the nearby coastal city Kiato or visiting the Kryoneris Observatory at the beginning of my service.
My project is run by the Greek Intercultural Environmental Organisation FILOXENIA, which deals with educational work in the fields of ecology, politics and history. The latter is of particular importance to my voluntary service.
The Jewish family Kamhi was rescued in Kryoneri during the German occupation in the early 1940s. For several years, the seven-member family was hidden in houses by locals.
During the repeated German raids on the village, the family was taken to a small cave in the surrounding mountains to not be discovered. Only with help of the entire village population the family survived and the then six-year-old daughter Rivka Jakobi still looks back with gratitude. In 2018, two Families from Kryoneri received the significant award “Righteous Among the Nations” from the State of Israel for their extraordinary deeds.
An important concern of FILOXENIA is that this story shouldn’t be forgotten and that it should receive more attention outside the region, on which my activities are based to a large extent. The main task of my voluntary service is to develop the websites “Matsani” and “Memory Alive”, on which I document the history of the village and the civil courage of the villagers.
In order to obtain the necessary information, I have access to different text sources and also the great opportunity to speak with contemporary witnesses or their descendants. Most of the time I work independently but I can always contact the person in charge if I have any questions.
During the first two months, I mainly worked on small translations on the website “Matsani”, which represents Kryoneri as a whole village with all leisure activities, clubs and restaurants.
At the moment, my focus is on capturing Kryoneri’s moving story and its background on this website. In the course of the year, I will also report on various projects in which volunteers deal with the occupation in Greece.
My office is in the village’s youth club, where I stay from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m every day.
Another part of my service is the digitization of the village archive, which contains documents that are more than 100 years old. And I also take care of the development and maintenance of the hiking trails that lead to the cave where the Kamhi family hid temporarily.
Almost every day I meet the youngsters from the region– in groups of two, we exchange cultural differences and
everyday situations in English, German or Greek and learn languages in a playful way together. A “language tandem encounter” takes about an hour and is prepared by me.
In addition, I plan various leisure activities and events for young and old inhabitants of Kryoneri together with other volunteers.
In Kryoneri there are regular international exchange projects, which intensively liven up the village and are a cultural enrichment. The Hostel Elisson is an important place of contact for volunteers and offers space for encounters of all kinds. My colleagues and I also stay here.
In my free time, I do a lot of things with the other international volunteers. A great common passion of ours is baking and cooking, whereby we also try the first Greek recipes. We usually use the weekends for small hiking tours in the surrounding mountains and are overwhelmed by the beautiful nature of Greece.
I also attend a gymnastics class twice a week with other women from the village. These hours are always really funny and out of the reason that we don’t have a common language, I am very grateful to be integrated so naturally.
Especially memorable for me was the first small event we did with the youngsters where we met at the youth club to create a poster about our tandem encounters. Although the language is still a big barrier, we had a great time together and we volunteers felt very welcomed in the group.
Another highlight of my voluntary service is definitely the exploration of Greece and I already had the opportunity to visit another ASF volunteer at his project in Kalavryta, as well as to visit Athens for a few days.
I am looking forward to what will await me in the coming months and I am sure my stay here will shape me in the long term.
A huge thank you at this point to all my supporters!
In particular to the IJFD (International Youth Volunteer Service) and all donors, without whose financial support the work of “Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste” would not be possible.
And to all dear people in Germany, in Greece, and elsewhere in the world, who support me when it’s not that easy, and with whom I can share all my beautiful experiences here.