Students volunteer to help out their peers on campus

A new program is encouraging students at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki to help people with disabilities. Around 60 students participate in the volunteer program, organized by the university’s social policy committee to help dozens of students who have limited mobility. The volunteers often go to class with students who use wheelchairs, pushing the wheelchairs up ramps, taking notes and taping lectures. For a few hours, the volunteers become eyes for someone who cannot see at a concert. This year, the program also added studies advisers, who can assist first-year students from abroad by explaining things such as difficult terminology. No funding The program began five years ago and the volunteers are mainly students and administrative staff from all faculties, «people who are open to experience,» said Anastasia Efkleidi-Kostaridou, professor of psychology and president of the committee that organized the program. The program is coordinated by a secretariat which puts the students in contact with each other. The program receives no funding. «Students with limited mobility or other disabilities need help to complete their studies,» said Efkleidi-Kostaridou. «And they cannot get that from their parents but only from fellow-students with whom they spend time, make friends and attend university events. This is a humane response to an impersonal system by young souls who want to communicate.» The committee has held special seminars on how volunteers can help people with visual, mobility and communication problems. The program also sends student volunteers to help children from large families in Thessaloniki with their homework. A survey the university conducted on students with disabilities found that 76 percent rate reliable information about their studies very highly. Most said the attitude of other students toward them was positive, but one-third attributed any difficulties to lack of cooperation by their teachers. Despite their problems, however, 87 percent said they were optimistic about the future. «You don’t think about the task at hand, but about the moral benefit you get from your effort,» said psychology student Erato Zymvragou. Philosophy student Dina Yiannoulaki agrees. She joined the volunteer program during the Olympic Games in Athens, escorting foreign students. Both volunteers agree that volunteerism is misunderstood in Greece, where many people see it as charity. But Fotis Bimbasis, who is in the final year of a teaching degree, has vision problems and often needs the help of volunteers. «The fact that some people are thinking about helping people with mobility problems is enough to make the program successful,» Bimbasis said. «Places can make you more disabled than you are.» He cites the example of drivers who block the access ramps and passageways used by people with disabilities.