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All Blessed Are the Ones of Pammakaristos

Pammakaristos means “all blessed” in Greek. It also means repeated chances for girls who would have none were it not for this school which is a home.

text and photos by Katerina Katsarka Whitley

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A visit to the Pammakaristos House for Children near Athens is an opportunity for admiration. Once the slow-of-learning were neglected in Greece. Today, Pammakaristos could serve anywhere as a model for the education and care of disturbed children.

The first impression is that of entering a home. There is none of the impersonal sterility of an institution. Children and staff live here in comfort and without fear. Though Greece is rapidly losing the reverence for the traditional close-knit family, here the young women teachers feel at home with the five aging Sisters of Charity who direct and coordinate the training of the children.

Sister Marina Koumandou, the director, is an imposing figure in her religious habit, and one tends to hold back – until her smile breaks through with warmth, her grey-green eyes intelligent and kind. She has known all 4,000 of the children who have passed through the school since 1952.

Pammakaristos, “An Institution for the Child,” is much more than that. Children and young women, ages 3 through 26, can stay as long as 12 years. Each one has special needs because of serious problems: A few were born in mental hospitals: others were abandoned: many came from broken homes or are orphaned. These conditions can cause many problems: physical, mental, and emotional.

155 children now receive care at Pammakaristos. 95 live there; the rest are half-boarders. (Of these, 65 have American sponsors through Catholic Near East Welfare Association.) Since Greece lacks a “foster parent” system, these children would be in desperate straits were it not for Pammakaristos House.

“Unfortunately, the school can accept only girls as boarders,” says Sister Marina. “We have no facilities for boys, except the half-boarders, and then only for kindergarten and the special education schools.”

To be accepted in the school, a child is examined by a team which includes a child psychiatrist, psychologists, and social workers. They decide whether their program can meet her special needs.

The professional staff tends to be young and to have specialized abroad. There are 98 members of the faculty and staff.

Pammakaristos House is open and sunny; the location lovely as only the Greek countryside can he. Blessed by pines and the beautiful Pentelic mountains in the background, the campus lies among flowers, vegetable gardens, and a number of attractive buildings. From the second story terrace, the blue Aegean is visible. The main building has arches that suggest cloisters. Here the administration, living, and dining areas are housed. Other cottages and classrooms are for the many workshops. Something goes on in all of them.

In a small, bright room the speech therapist works with a girl who struggles with her consonants. The faintest success is praised and applauded.

In a whitewashed cottage next to a field of artichokes, five girls play specially designed percussion instruments, while their German-born teacher, Mrs. Loukia Kessler. perches on the piano stool. This music room doubles as dance studio and sports a brand-new wooden floor, barres, and mirrors. Movement and rhythm are important therapeutic tools.

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Tags: Children Education Disabilities Greece