‘Why I became a volunteer’

As the Games get under way, Athens appears to be flooded with volunteers. Among the many thousands on duty, Aleka might be showing spectators to their seats, Maria might be taking a list of results to the press, Nikos could be giving instructions to other volunteers, and Andreas showing tourists around the city. Theodora, familiar with sign language for the deaf, is helping a tourist couple. They have a common goal – to give the country a good name. They left jobs, perhaps holidays, to offer services for free for a cause in which many are earning good salaries. They talked to Kathimerini about what motivates them. Nikos Venios. One of the first to sign up for the volunteer program for the Olympics and Paralympics, he is at the Nea Liosia Weightlifting Gymnasium, in the human resources bureau. «It was a way to experience the Games up close,» he said. «I also thought I might be able to contribute to the success of the Games.» He has studied in Britain, where he lived for 14 years, and believes the experience of living in another culture is valuable. The only obstacle was the attitude of his friends. «I had to deal with the common perception that the Games are aimed at profit and not boosting ideals. But I believe that we Greeks put across another message, something that neither the corporations nor the organizing committee can do, but only the people.» Theodora Tsapoitis. A professional interpreter of Greek sign language, Theodora is working at the municipal information booth in Syntagma Square. She is the only volunteer who can communicate with people who have a hearing impairment. «I hadn’t intended to become a volunteer, but one day I went to the town hall and I realized they didn’t know much about sign language. It was a challenge, an opportunity to show that sign language is a language like any other.» Naturally, her services are in great demand. «One day a deaf couple came to the booth. They had seen the sign, but didn’t really believe there was anyone there who could help them. So I try to be at the booth as long as I can. It is little enough, but better than nothing.» Maria Karpodini. Maria was counting the days ever since she sent in her application to Athens 2004. Now she finds it hard to hide her enthusiasm. «I became a volunteer for the experience. The climate is very festive, the atmosphere is great, you feel you are offering something. And after all, you get to see events for free!» But there was another reason. At the age of 25, after finishing studies in tourism in Thessaloniki, where she lives, Maria has not yet found a job. Now she is helping journalists covering the aquatic sports. What if she hears of a job opportunity while the Games are still on? What then? «No chance! In any case, everyone can wait a week.» Aleka Louka. A few months ago, when someone told her he had applications forms for the volunteer program, Aleka didn’t think twice about it. «I already had it in the back of my mind,» she said, adding that she was also called upon many times to say why she decided to work for nothing, «when so many others were making money out of this.» «Just like most of the volunteers, I’m not in it just to give but mainly to receive. The satisfaction we get is enormous. Many volunteers ask for overtime.» Most of these people have experience in volunteer work, as does Aleka. She is a registered blood and organ donor, and one of those who care for animals hurt in the street. «We volunteers have another means of communication. None of us even raise the question of money.» Aleka is a beautician, but now she is at the main Olympic complex. Maria Dalagiorgou. Just 22, Maria came to Athens from New York to dance in the Olympic closing ceremony. The daughter of Greek immigrants, as she said in her perfect Greek, she could not stay away from «such a historic event.» «I am proud to be a Greek and it was very important to me to participate in the Games. There was so much negativity, so much criticism, that I wanted to show with my being here that everything would go well,» she said. Maria is a professional dancer, but summer is a dead season for her. «Even if a job came up now, I wouldn’t take it. I would realize that I have to offer something to the country that has given me, and all of us, so much.» Andreas Doumas. During the day, Andreas works as a department head in the National Bank in Palaio Faliron, but after work he heads for the municipal information booth in Dionysiou Areopagitou Street. At the moment, Andreas’s day is very full, but he doesn’t mind, even if he is over 50. He is used to public life, as a former secretary of the New Democracy party’s youth group ONNED in 1976, a municipal councilor in Palaio Faliron since 1986, and deputy mayor from 1992-1996. «I like to offer. For example, I give blood three times a year. Every time, three people are saved.» The same sentiments led him to offer his services as a municipal volunteer. «If all Greeks offered something, the country would be 20 years ahead of where it is now. And the Olympics are a great opportunity.»

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