In 2013, through Global Volunteers, Lynn Lotkowitcz taught English to kids in Crete. The experience left such an indelible mark, that she’s planning her 3rd trip.
My trips to Crete with Global Volunteers have not only left me inspired, but also have created new ties to my ancestral homeland.
Reconnecting with her ancestral homeland
In 2012, a family friend reached out to me while doing some genealogy research. She was trying to find out more about family and her Greek heritage. She sent some old photos that brought back great memories about a culture and people I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It was the impetus to my first attempt at a volunteer vacation, and an opportunity to reconnect with my father’s homeland, in a whole new way.
My father left Vafe, near Hania, when he was just seven years-old. My mother’s family is also from that area.
I found Global Volunteers, which since 1984, has offered a variety of programs in 19 countries. Identifying the program on my ancestral island of Crete was a sign—this was it. I immediately signed up for a two-week stint there, helping young students learn English. The trip allowed me to be there not as a tourist, not as a Greek-American, but as someone helping kids.
In October 2013, I set out for this amazing experience. It was a great opportunity to live side-by-side with the locals and gain an understanding of an ancient culture. The people of Crete had economic difficulties yet they were warm, hospitable and happy to share personal stories with a positive attitude. We learned a lot from each other and so many times during the trip I thought of my Dad. I knew I would return. To put it simply, this experience made me love Crete even more. I couldn’t book my second trip soon enough. I’m actually planning my third trip right now.
Global Volunteers in Crete Part II – 2015
Fast forward to 2015, and there I was back in Crete for my next adventure. In Gazi, Crete we stayed at the Handakas Hotel. The hotel management made us feel like we were visiting the home of a family member; they’re fabulous hospitality included three healthy meals per day,
The location of the hotel makes many beautiful sites easily accessible by bus. These include the Phaistos ruins; and Knossos, the port city of Heraklion and Matala, where the caves along side the mountains and Libyan Sea.
Along with nine other volunteers, I visited schools from 5:00-10:00 pm. We helped students improve their conversational English. It was particularly heart-warming that many remembered me from two years ago. It was thrilling to see how they had progressed, matured, and thrived. This in spite of the continuing high unemployment, tax increases, and other economic difficulties in Greece.
I took away so many memories from this trip, and I would like to share a few with you.
Locals count their blessings, not hardships
Venturing out in the Aegean sunshine, my Global Volunteers friend, Cynthia and I took a walk in Gazi. After shopping we stopped for our favorite mid-morning treat: frappe at a roadside coffee shop.
While chatting with the waitress, it came up that my dad was from Crete and specifically from the Hania area. A few minutes later, the elderly proprietor of the coffee shop appeared, and introduced himself as the waitress’ father.
He informed us with a broad smile, that he too was from Hania. He joined us at our table. We spoke of the the economic difficulties, new increase in taxes, and the negative impacts of austerity on his business and all of Greece. Despite this, he waxed poetic about how their olive trees and home grown garden vegetables made their lives abundant. He compelled us to witness the situation in Greece with greater clarity. This man and his family are struggling but he’s still profoundly aware of his blessings. It brought me to tears, but in the best possible way. He made my day… and I think I made his.
Mentoring a young Greek
Hugh, a fellow volunteer, is a retired airline pilot. One of our students, Antonios, told us that he aspired to be a pilot. Hugh spent considerable one-on-one time sharing some of the requirements and challenges of an airline pilot, and answered Antonios’ questions. I’m confident Antonios recognized this golden amazing opportunity. He glowed with interest as this man took the time to provide information and encouragement. I won’t forget his gratitude.
Inspiring idea exchange
One morning we added another element to our volunteer week. Three female volunteers and I visited the Union of Women Members Association of Heraklion. This is a group of 75 women work on various projects in the community. They fund and run a abused women’s shelter, support a counseling program for women who need advice. These tireless ladies are also in the process of building the House of Angels, a facility for children age 0 to 6 who have been abandoned or their parents cannot care for them. We met with members of this organization who know some English.They welcomed the opportunity to practice English and exchange ideas. We were so enthused and inspired by their work and philanthropic mission, that we agreed to spend mornings with them for the rest of our stay. Their ability to focus on giving in this time of crisis was incredibly inspiring. I learned so much just listening to them.
Making an impact
Nefeli, a student I met in 2013 and with whom I’ve stayed in touch, was excited to spend some time together. I was delighted to learn she has continued her studies in art, which was her passion. We spoke about job opportunities, and art schools. I encouraged her to stick with it. We took a walk for a gelato and when we parted. She said something that made all of this worthwhile — and compels me to return someday soon for another Global Volunteers trip.
“I’m so glad you’re here. You build my self esteem.”
With so many difficulties in Crete, she felt that many did not support or appreciate art as a field of study. She was eternally grateful for the encouragement. I hope she will follow through and make her dreams come true.
To have a authentic experiences like these is a gift. I highly recommend a trip like this. These memories have left an indelible mark on me. I have benefited so much – if not more — than the people I volunteered to serve. I’m going back this October. I can’t wait to return.
Global Volunteers offers different options for locations and projects in which one can participate. My two-week trip included hotel, meals, teaching orientation and transportation to and from the school each day. Costs vary depending on the length of the program and location. Program fees, airfare, visa and related travel expenses are tax-deductible; a statement is provided for income tax purposes. They will even provide guidance to fundraise for a trip. Check it out. These trips will change your life in ways you can’t imagine. From new perspective gained, to the ability to help people, to lasting memories, it is truly the trip of a lifetime.
Lynn Lotkowitcz is a wife, mom, and proud yiayia. She loves to travel, work out, and spend time with her family. She is Director of Advertising and National Business for Florida Trend Magazine.