by Aaron Quinn

In the port of Aegina there is a huge derelict building next to the town carpark. It must be 400 meters in length, built of stone and with bars on most of the windows. Above the main entrance, that is no longer in use, are written the words “orfanotrofeío”, the Greek word for Orphanage.

The building was built in 1828 by Kapodistrias and it was the first ever orphanage built in Greece to house orphans from the war of independence. It was such a progressive idea at the time, a symbol of hope and possibility born out of the revolution.

Only a few years after serving as an orphanage, its use changed to that of a prison and in the later years it became a political prison for the junta dictatorship, something many locals still feel ashamed of to this day. Left derelict and deserted as a mark of shame, the desperate cries from within the prison walls still haunt the memories of many old enough to remember.

As I stare at the building, which will finally be turned into something useful, a cultural and art center I believe, the irony of an orphanage becoming a prison is not lost on me. How a society treats its young has a direct correlation with the number of people it houses in its prisons. Most societies learn that the hard way.

As a metaphor for the work I do as a coach it fascinated me. Most of our programming happens as children, as a way to be accepted by our parents and society at large. This programming helps us navigate life but, without awareness, it’s like a prison, one that we cannot see, yet one that traps and holds us back from following our dreams and experiencing the fulfillment and joy we all yearn.

10 years ago, just after my grandfather had passed away. I was flying from Hong Kong to Bangkok for a business meeting and sitting on that plane I wrote a note to myself. It read “one day I will build a retreat on an island somewhere and it will be connected to an orphanage” It was to be a place where like-minded people would come, connect and rejuvenate. A place where they could discuss ideas, transform themselves and perhaps even, in so doing, transform the world. It would combine the spiritual and the intellectual, the serious and the downright hedonistic. A place where thinkers would come and explore what does it mean to live a good life.

At the time I had no idea why I wrote an orphanage. I was designing advertising/ media campaigns selling toothpaste. I thought it was guilt at the lavish lifestyle I was leading in comparison to so many of the disadvantaged children I would see on my travels. But maybe it was a premonition about the future work I would embark on where the deep seated patterns of our childhood inform how we experience our world today. Or, for those who like a bit of woo woo, maybe it was referring to the orphanage in Aegina, that became a prison and now will become a cultural center and beacon of hope.

Either way, when I discovered this building by accident on the first day I arrived here I sort of new that this island was the place to create a retreat (and maybe even write a movie one day :))