Twenty-three Upper Canada College students and three teachers enjoyed a multifaceted trip to Greece over the March break where they learned about history, culture and helping others.
UCC teacher Christos Paschalidis initiated this venture a few years ago, and Ashley Scott, Andrew McCubbin and Sean Kelly took the reins this year for a service trip for which about an equal number of boys who took part had to be turned away because of space limitations.
The participants left Toronto on March 7 and spent the first week of their trip exploring historical sites in Athens, Cape Sounion, Epidaurus, Mycenae, Olympia and Delphi.
“We had a guide who would explain some of the historical significance and/or mythological significance for a lot of the cases, which the boys found interesting,” says Scott.
The group then travelled to Thessaloniki for the service portion of the trip, where the boys teamed up with students from Anatolia College to work at Agios Dimitrios, which Scott describes as a facility for people who are “physically or mentally disabled to the point where they need assistance.” There are 90 residents, many of whom were dropped off there by parents who never returned again, and another 10 who come and go home each day.
The students and teachers spent part of their days working on indoor and outdoor murals to brighten up the space, as well as cleaning and painting pots and potting plants near the entrance to make it look more inviting under the guidance of local art teachers and a caretaker respectively. Their efforts were important enough to the community that a local television station featured them in a news report.
There were language and other communication and understanding barriers to overcome with the Agios Dimitrios residents, and Scott cites one named Christos who was interested in the painting the boys were doing and hung out where they were working. Christos asked some female Anatolia College students in Greek if the boys were afraid of him because they shied away when he approached.
“That was a really big eye-opening moment for the boys because just because they didn’t know what he was doing didn’t mean that he didn’t understand what they were doing,” says Scott.
Teachers ran activities and excursions for the boys to take part in when they weren’t working, and the students were also given time to investigate Thessaloniki on their own.
“They learned a lot from exploring that way and some of the boys during that time met up with some of the students from Anatolia so they got an insider’s scoop to the city and learned the places where locals would go that tourists might not know about,” says Scott. “They got to see the city and investigate it and spend time in parts of the city that they liked because they had that level of flexibility.”
Two weeks of new experiences came to an end when the UCC contingent flew out of Thessaloniki on March 22 to return to Toronto for the home stretch of the school year armed with insights and memories that will last a lifetime.