Sidirokastro, Greece, is a quaint and attractive town on the banks of the Kroussovitis River, not far from the border between Greece and Bulgaria. On a hilltop outside Sidirokastro, at the end of a steep, unpaved road is the Agios Nektarios Institution. It is there, at the Agios Nektarios Institution, that children and young adults who have been born with anything from a simple physical impairment, such as poor vision, to severe mental retardation, autism, and cerebral palsy, are housed.
When Karen Crider, an administrator with the Kyrene School District in Phoenix, Arizona, entered the Institution during a vacation, she was greeted by the smell of unwashed bodies and human waste. She saw children who never left their mattresses, many of whom did not even have a sheet or a blanket. Toys are virtually unheard of; and there are few other resources that might be used to help anyone dwelling at the Institution to have anything like a normal life. Those who can move on their own spend their days sitting on the floor. Those fortunate enough to have a wheelchair are often left tied in place in a dim hallway all day. There are no educational, recreational, or rehabilitation activities of any kind. Children are bathed only once a week. The lack of dental hygiene and professional care means that the teeth of the residents rot away, and their gums are sore and bleeding. Many of the residents suffer from malnutrition, and those left in their beds have their muscles atrophy. These suffering people have been abandoned, and have little or no connection to their family.
This is not the result of cruelty. The families are poor, and do not have the means to provide the care needed by those members who are disabled. There is a cultural stigma to having a family member who is disabled. The Institution’s staff is not trained to work to help the residents to develop themselves; and even with some knowledge or training, lack the resources to do much of anything. But the end result of all this, even if unintended, is a harsh and cruel existence – certainly not “life as we know it” here in the United States.
Crider’s initial response was to spend two weeks of her vacation working with the residents and staff at the Agios Nektarios Institution. She said, “I played with them, got them to clap their hands,” speaking of persons ranging from babies to adults. “They were looking for someone to look them in the eye. They wanted to feel attention; they wanted to feel love and are; they wanted your time. That’s all.”
Now, Crider, working with the internationally recognized and accredited non-governmental organization, Global Volunteers, is organizing a team of volunteer teachers, and physical and occupational therapists to go to work with the residents and staff of the Agios Nektarios Institution during the summer of 2005. Ideally, one team of fifteen will go for two weeks during June 3-17; and a second team of fifteen will go during July. The teams will take teaching equipment and toys for the residents that will remain at the Institution. The teams will work both with the residents, and with the staff, working to educate and equip the staff so that after the volunteer teams leave, the staff will be able to raise the level of care given thereafter.
All of this takes money. Each volunteer needs about $4,000 to cover airfare, ground transportation, meals, and lodging; and funds are needed for supplies and materials as well.
My wife, Michele, is a special education teacher. When she heard about this project, she spoke with a genuine excitement about the possibility of being part of one of the teams with some of her colleagues from the Kyrene School District. There was more to her excitement. Not surprising, when you think about it – an Orthodox Christian with an opportunity to go and be of service in an Orthodox country.
So, here’s the point: Will you help make her trip possible? Yes, I know there’s always more need than there are resources to meet it. If you can’t, you can’t. But if you can, you will make an offering that will be a double blessing; for it will not only help my wife to fulfill this dream – it will also help those to whom she will minister.
Donations can be sent to:
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
P.O. Box 91492
Phoenix, AZ 85066-1492
Be sure to put “Agios Nektarios” on the memo line. Oh, your contribution will be tax-deductible; and 100% of your offering will be directed to this program, and this program only. If there should be funds above what is needed for Michele to travel, we will use the additional funds to assist other team members, or for materials.
Thank you; and may God bless your generosity!
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