For the first time since before we opened PORTA–the Albania House in Athens seven years ago, we planned a paint day and a work day.
Because we want to leave the facilities in the best possible shape when we depart this field and relocate to Texas in September, and because it was past time for a makeover, we asked our adult EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students to come out during their Easter break and help to paint and clean up the place.
In advance, I asked two Albanians who are professional painters to assist me to prepare for the big work days.
Because they have made a living painting houses for several years now, they know much about how to prepare walls, estimate the amount of putty, primer and paint needed and buy the best tools.
They also know where to get the best prices.
On a Friday night, after a day of hard work, they came to PORTA, checked out the condition of the walls and then took me to the shop where they usually buy their supplies.
Although the manager at the paint supply store is Greek, the guy behind the counter is Albanian.
My two Albanian friends seemed pleased when they ordered the needed supplies from their friend and paid him the cash we had brought.
The counter guy was also a little bit surprised when I, as an American, spoke to him in Shqip (Albanian), his native language.
We walked out of that store on a rainy Friday night in Athens, having spent a few hundred euros and being well equipped for the paint and work days that were to follow.
More important, in our attempt to care for Albanians in Athens, we were able to tap into the available assets they could provide.
The same thing happened on those two days when we painted the walls and cleaned up the place.
Given the continuing economic crisis in Greece, many Albanians remain out of work.
But for two days just before Easter, they redirected the otherwise unused resources inherent in their skill sets by volunteering erstwhile hard-earned but unemployed abilities as house painters and domestics to make the facilities of PORTA look better.
While some helpers had no work, I also know of some who took a risky day off from their scarce-paying jobs to do this volunteer work at PORTA.
They asked for and received permission from their bosses to miss a day of work so that they could do the work from their hearts. I know others who went to work after volunteering at PORTA.
When I asked them why they did this, they said that they were grateful for all that PORTA does and they wanted to give back.
Of course, we want to help Albanians in Athens. But we also want to sidestep the kind of helping that assumes that Americans are the only generous people or the only ones who have something to offer in this worthy, joint enterprise.
While assisting, we want to affirm the worth and value of our Albanian friends, too. We aspire very much to channel the existing resources, which they can bring to the table.
That’s why we work hard at avoiding the kind of assistance that ends up hurting, by implying that they are powerless and by making them more dependent on us.
We try to follow the principles of a very simple alphabet. Asset Based Community Development means locating what the people we are trying to help already have at their disposal and encouraging them to use it well.
In that way, they make a significant contribution toward meeting their own pressing needs.
Recently we made the facilities at PORTA look a lot nicer. We also were able to give Albanians an opportunity to express their appreciation and to channel their own resources. That’s what healthy, helping partners do.
Bob Newell is ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece. He blogs at ItsGreek2U. A version of this column first appeared in the April 2014 edition of The Newell Post, Bob and Janice Newell’s monthly e-newsletter.