Thursday’s Child Has a Journey Ahead

Whether 7 or 27, special-needs children in Greece have a place to call their own.

text and photographs by Marilyn Raschka

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The answer to part of this riddle is a small Greek girl named Paraskevi. She was named after St. Paraskevi, protector of the eyes, the only saint whose name is a day of the week – Friday.

This little girl Friday attends school at the Pammakaristos Children’s Home, in the town of Nea Makri, a 40-minute drive from Athens. The dark-haired girl with slightly crossed eyes is a child with special needs – a Thursday child who still has a way to go. Just how far and fast she can go is in the hands of her parents, her teachers and volunteers and donors who give time and money to maintain this unique foundation.

Today Nea Makri, once a simple coastal village, is a resort town of 10,000 whose population explodes to 20,000 in the summer. In the 1960’s, a U.S. naval station located there added to its fame, but long before then the town was known for the good works of the Pammakaristos Sisters.

Paraskevi is one of 242 children who attend the Pammakaristos school, where children with special needs are taught to deal with the life that has been dealt them.

The home’s birth occurred in April 1945 when, following World War II, the Greek Catholic Exarch of Constantinople, Bishop George Calavassy, asked the Pammakaristos Sisters to organize a summer camp for children whose childhoods were literally torn apart by war.

By 1952, the program was so successful that a permanent site was discussed. Financial aid came from Europe, especially Switzerland and Belgium. With this aid the sisters bought land in Nea Makri.

The first facility hosted 88 children for the summer. The second summer, the number doubled. In August 1953, a natural disaster followed the man-made one: The Ionian Islands, which lie between Greece and Italy, were hit by earthquakes. Again Pammakaristos Children’s Home was called to take in children; again more permanent buildings were needed.

More earthquakes brought children from Santorini and Volos in the Cyclades Islands. One of these little refugees was Maritsa Kambouroglou. As an adult Maritsa studied special education and returned the favor to Pammakaristos and its sisters – she has taught at the institution for many years.

This organization that “adopted” children with open arms was adopted itself in 1956 by Radda Barnen, a Swedish charity organization. Radda Barnen’s contributions were helpful when Russian refugee families began flooding into Greece in the late 50’s.

With this assistance, which continued until 1971, the home could do more than just offer shelter – it could organize boarding facilities and launch an education program.

A helping hand came from the nearby U.S. naval station, which donated a tanker of drinking water each day; fresh water was always in short supply along the seacoast, where wells drew only brackish water.

Father Robert Ecker was the Roman Catholic chaplain at the naval station from 1963 to 1965. He remembers fondly the great rapport between the “Seabees” and the children, sisters and staff. To this day, Father Ecker remains a strong advocate and supporter of the foundation.

As years passed, social earthquakes brought with them a new wave of kids. Some came from broken homes; others were abandoned and orphaned. And then came the children who have been the main focus of the home for the last 20 years: children with Down’s syndrome, autism and mental retardation.

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Tags: Children Education Disabilities Greece Funding