25 JANUARY 2024

#OurStories: Katerina, a retired teacher & volunteer for ‘EngAGE’, returns to the classroom

“When Katerina attended our interdisciplinary team meetings, she brought with her not only her students’ names, stories, drawings, and experiences but also her own things—books, notes, and history. She familiarised herself with our classrooms, each name, and each situation, exemplifying the humanism crucial for making sense of special educational needs.”

“Collaborating with Katerina was highly beneficial; she equipped us with tools and practices for handling stressful or challenging situations and becoming more attentive to a particular student’s needs. Her approachability, keen interest in responding to our questions, and vast knowledge were admirable. What stood out most was her willingness to share her own experiences and insights, providing valuable alternative solutions and approaches. Her overall demeanour inspired trust and openness in us. It would be very valuable to meet with her again.”

These words capture the impression made by Katerina. As a volunteer with EngAGE: A holistic project for the elderly on active ageing, volunteering and participation as a vital part of the community’, she has conducted educational workshops on Special Educational Needs for teachers and coordinators at the ELIX Homework and Creative Activities Centres for the city on Patission Street, the Temporary Accommodation Facilities in Elefsina and Corinth, as well as for volunteers and interns who are doing internships in this field. The ‘All Children in Education’ Programme, a UNICEF initiative developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Migration and Asylum and co-funded by the European Union, is being implemented by ELIX-Voluntary Work Programmes, which is also the implementing body of the ‘EngAGE’ Programme.

The training sessions have focused on the best approach to special education in multicultural educational environments, challenges faced by teachers and corresponding difficulties for students from refugee or migrant backgrounds, as well as those with learning or other difficulties. Through themed discussions, teachers had the chance to learn more fully about the processes whereby learning and other difficulties are identified and managed, applying special education methods, and providing education for migrant and refugee students. Drawing on her observations and involvement in a particular classroom, Katerina was able to suggest specific classroom management and support techniques for children. She joyfully shared her experience:

“I am Katerina Iliakopoulou, 59 years old, residing in Athens. Married to Dionysis, and with two wonderful daughters, I am a retired special education teacher with 33 years of service. I came across the ‘EngAGE’ programme on my favourite radio station when I was on the lookout for volunteer opportunities, something I’ve always been interested in. The programme’s title fascinated me as I believe that retirement does not mean withdrawing from life and activity; instead, it opens new avenues for contribution and interest. I connected with the ‘EngAGE’ programme coordinator, Mara Vandorou, and eagerly look forward to receiving emails which keep me updated on the programme’s activities. An email from Mrs Vana Stavridis about collaborating with the ACE Project team in special education and training left me filled with enthusiasm and emotion. The collaboration with the ACE Project team, around questions of special education and training, exemplified my belief in the need for continuity, connecting ‘before’ and ‘after’ in initiatives where different generations work together. Working with dynamic, knowledgeable, and experienced colleagues from the ACE Project team, who represented a younger generation, blended seamlessly with my own dynamism, knowledge, and experience from an older generation. The collaboration was easy and warm, with colleagues showing genuine interest and eagerness to offer support to all their students. Without feeling judged, we shared our concerns and ideas, and made suggestions about best practices. This collaboration was inspiring and has encouraged me to take another step forward. My heartfelt thanks to all!”

Athens, December 2023


The goal of the ‘EngAGE’ programme is clear: to have many more volunteers leave testimonials like Katerina’s. The programme’s activities are designed to make a contribution to the joint endeavour to create a world of inclusion and participation, where older individuals are actively engaged and acknowledged as a valuable social resource, as they deserve to be. In a country facing significant ageing, such as Greece, active ageing stands as the only way forward and the primary strategy for ensuring the health of older individuals and fostering the sustainable development of society.