By Marc Gonzalez

“Take what you can, give nothing back.” While this quote is from a Johnny Depp pirate movie, I think it emulates an American ideology of overcoming of obstacles for personal gain. This is part of the mindset I had prior to arriving to Greece, then once I got here and started volunteering, my perspective started to change. Let me show you what I mean by that.

First, upon arriving to the “warehouse” our NGO partner Maria described as her “kingdom,” which was actually a two story Greek home converted into a storage unit, we were welcomed with high ceilings and natural light coming through many windows. The second thing I noticed in the Greek storage unit that would make a lovely La Jolla loft, was that the space was filled with a variety of colored wardrobe pieces and eccentric donations stacked up to the ceilings and in front of those windows. One example of an eccentric donation is a jumble of air condition tubes resembling a grey squid propped next to two desktop computers.

Compact Scholars at The Home Project’s warehouse, taking a break from sorting donations.

Our group of 20 students made quick work of sorting, separating, and organizing the donations; while doing so, we came across several beautiful pieces, like a leather handbag, dark brown corduroy jeans, several jackets that reminded me of vintage collections back in the states. One item in particular caught my eye, a pair of tortoise shell Ray Ban sunglasses. Their sleek design and light brown tint really struck me because I had lost my only pair of sunglasses before coming to Greece. Just then, we were called together to form a closed semi-circle around Maria because she had a few words to say. My mind wandered again to the sunglasses, no one would know if I took these, I don’t even have a pair. I saw this object as a donation, after all no one had paid for them, so no one would miss them. As I held the polarized spectacles in my line of sight, my good friend Valerie noticed. “You’re not planning on taking those, right?” she whispered so as to not disturb the meeting.

“Honestly, I want to. What do you think?”

“That’s really crappy dude. You came to help people. If you take those, you’d be helping yourself and possibly hurting others by taking from them.”

Valerie and I in front of a church in Athens.

The little voice in my head we call a conscience had been too quiet to keep me on a good path, and luckily my friend’s good conscience, and her words, put this whole trip into perspective for me. I came to Greece to study travel writing and help asylum seekers, not for personal gain by way of free sunglasses. Valerie helped me realize that what I had been thinking of doing was vile, and that’s why it’s important to think before making a decision to act.

I no longer subscribe to the quote at the beginning of this blog, and I did not steal the cool sunglasses. Instead, I learned the importance of morals and doing the right thing when working with other human beings. I want to thank Valerie, and all of my peers and classmates on this trip, for helping me be aware of my actions and keeping me on the good path to doing the right thing.

Group of Compact Scholars along the boardwalk in Chios Town as we walked back to the hotel after dinner.