Finding My Footing

After wrapping up my first full week volunteering at AMURTEL, I find myself returning to the small air-conditioned cafe around the corner from my apartment once again. The city of Athens enjoyed wonderful breeze for a few short days but, much to my dismay, temperatures are rising well above 100 degrees. My only plans for this weekend are to hunt down places to cool down for a long while.

My current job at AMURTEL is to work the reception desk and check in women who come to see the midwife or attend group sessions. I manage the extensive Excel sheet the agency has in place and register women who are new to AMURTEL and seek their services. Within the past three days, I would say that I have registered at least 20 new women, which brings the total number of women AMURTEL has served within this year alone to about 1,700. I think that number is absolutely astonishing, given that AMURTEL has slowly lost the majority of its funding. This incredible team of women still manages to be there and provide for women who need them the most. AMURTEL has slowly transitioned from providing emergency aid and resource distribution to a more adaptive approach to motherhood and the surrounding Greek culture. Of course, they still distribute to the mothers as many are in need of resources and material items, but they are given these supplies after they attend a certain number of group sessions. Along with diapers, AMURTEL is able to provide mothers with baby carriers, baby clothes, small portions of food, and even bras and underwear for the women who are too modest to purchase or ask for them.

Although my position at the desk seems easy enough, many of the women who come in do not speak English and instead are fluent in Arabic, Farsi, or French. Conversely, the only language I am completely proficient in is English. I am sure you can see how this situation can become overwhelming and confusing very quickly. However, challenging as it may be, it is a welcome situation to be placed in. I have learned how to become quite good at using body language and signaling to figure out what services the women are in need of. AMURTEL has translators for all three of those languages (all of them fluent in English, some of them fluent in two or three other languages!) but they are often busy translating for the midwife or lactation consultants during group sessions. I find myself enjoying being around that much diversity and learning how to serve these women despite an obvious language barrier. It is reassuring to work with an agency that manages to accommodate women of all languages and nationalities. They have laid out a series of pamphlets and papers in all three languages (French, Farsi, and Arabic) for the women to take and read at their own leisure.

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Each morning before AMURTEL opens for the public, our director Didi leads the workers and volunteers in a short meditation session to ground our emotions and set our intentions for the day. The energy in the room settles as we quiet down and she sings a small mantra, “baba nam kevalam.” This translates to the idea that there is a greater purpose and meaning beyond any individual person. Although I am not a devout follower of any religion and don’t consider myself a very spiritual person, I find the mantra beautiful and full of meaning. It is a good way to begin the day, and I look forward to learn and listen to AMURTEL throughout the next few weeks!

— Megha Patel