Global Volunteers alumni and octogenarians, Wilma Bennett (above, left) and Popi Anastassatos (above, right), have been best friends since the late 60s. When in 2022 Wilma invited Popi to explore her Greek heritage on a service program, Popi was soon to join her. Read on to learn why they dubbed it “an adventure of their lifetimes.”
Popi and Wilma met as young adults at their Greek Orthodox church in Reno, Nevada, where Popi was drawn to Wilma’s boys; “Especially my youngest, who was cute and friendly, and took to her too, ” said Wilma.” We’ve been friends ever since!” They often enjoy local Reno art shows, music performances and movies together. Popi was born and raised in Athens, Greece, and emigrated to the US with her parents in the ’60s. Raising three boys of her own alongside Wilma’s, they often talked about their commonalities. “We laughed a lot with our observations of life and the people in it,” quipped Wilma, who shares Popi’s Greek heritage.
“For me, this experience allowed me to help where we were really needed. The children were eager to learn English for future job opportunities.“
In 2019, Wilma learned about Global Volunteers’ English teaching in Greece. It was an ideal match of her interests to her desire to share her good fortune, and give back to children in the country so close to her heart – her patrida. She registered for a service program in 2020, but then COVID struck, and her trip was postponed until September, 2022. Wilma recruited Popi to join her, promising a good time with her good friend after two years of the pandemic. “The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of doing it because, from our past experiences, I knew we’d have fun working together for a good cause,” reported Popi.
“I was so happy that my good friend wanted to share this experience with me, and what an experience it was to be; even though we’re in our 80s, I feel in many ways it was a life-changing experience even at this point in my life.“
Wilma and Popi recall their daily service work.
Their primary assignment was teaching conversational English to children aged 12 through 17 in evening classes. They first wondered if their short time commitment would be truly beneficial to their students. Their concerns were short-lived. “Judging from their behavior, I believe we served our purpose of improving their conversational English,” Wilma asserted, adding the daily lessons were just as rewarding to her. “I think we helped them improve their potential. It certainly exceeded my expectations.”
In morning assignments, the duo also lent their hands to a local orphanage’s fundraising bazaar, prepared housing for Ukrainian families who fled the war in their homeland, and packed food for Palestinian, Syrian and Somalian refugees.
Wilma’s father emigrated to the US from Greece. “I was already familiar with Greek culture, but it was wonderful to ultimately live the ‘Greek life’ while helping the people,” said Wilma. The experience was life-changing, she insisted, citing the personal impact of delivering simple living supplies to Ukrainian families and food to Palestinians housed in an old derelict building.
“For me, the experience allowed me to help where we were really needed,” added Popi. “The children were eager to learn English for future job opportunities. That was expressed to us on many occasions, by many people. I was very happy to have that kind of experience, especially working with kids of all ages, different nationalities and cultures – Greeks, Albanians, and Moroccans.”
She was grateful for the gift of new relationships with her teammates, with whom she shared her appreciation of Greek culture, history, food and natural attractions.
Popular local destinations absorbed their free time.
After morning assignments and lesson planning for their evening classes, the duo toured the seaside village of Agia Pelagia, surrounded by mountains. “The water in the bay was crystal clear and smooth, like glass, Wilma recalled. “There was also the village of Fodele,” continued Popi. “It’s a picturesque village with a river running through it. This countryside village has lemons, oranges, olives, and pomegranate trees everywhere.”
Fodele is home to the El Greco (Domḗnikos Theotokópoulos) museum and the 11th-century Byzantine church of Panagia (Holy Mother), displaying unique murals and icons. “It’s the perfect place for buying souvenirs with the local ladies (young and old) who display their homemade traditional wares along the street,” recommended Popi.
Waging peace through service was their greatest benefit.
Popi said she learned she loves working with people who love learning and serving. “All my prior travels have been focused on my plans, needs, and desires. This time it was not! This type of service, putting someone else’s needs and wants before yours, promotes the importance of each individual’s potential and contributions to the improvement of our world; striving for love and peace for all!
Waging peace through service is a strategy to help children reach their full potential, said Wilma. By inspiring goodwill abroad, volunteers help create a country’s educational foundation. “This is why it was such a fabulous experience, and why we’ll participate in another program in Crete – and then around the world.”
Yiasas, Filoi Mas! Good-bye our friends!
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