This article was first published in “Τhe Norwegian Business Daily” (13.08.2015 ).
While poverty is on the rise and the Greek government shrinking, many Greeks volunteer to help those in need.
Dough lumps go from hand to mouth and laughter resounds through the room on the ground floor of an an old neo-classical building in the heart of Athens a group of mothers and children are in the process of making Nigerian donuts. Some are immigrants others aren’t. They are here to have a break from a tough everyday life. It is not the government that helps them. Instead relief is provided by two foundations i.e. One Child One World, the ELIZA Society and a group of volunteers.
Community Model for all
The Greek debt crisis has been affected both the lower and middle classes. On Monday the stock market re-opened after five weeks and fell by 23% the same day. On Wednesday the final negotiations on the third bail out started, the third one in five years with the aim to provide the country with 86 billion euros in new credit.
Behind the headlines about the stock- market – decline and capital flight, in reality the weakest members of society are bearing the brunt. 40% of Greek children are now living below the poverty line, according to a UNICEF report last year. Some of the problems are not only related to the current crisis.
– We were a country of very strong family ties. We did not have much support from the welfare state. All this has changed now. Families are smaller, and the most live in big cities. This results in isolation and the economic situation now makes it even harder, says Roza-Liza Lycourezou.
She manages the Foundation One Child One World. The center works to fight neglect and child abuse, while focusing on prevention. The baking session on the ground floor is an example of the latter. The idea is to get parents and children to do things together in a less stressful environment. Everyone is welcome, Ms. Lycourezou says.
– We make no distinctions. We have an open-door policy.
For Aphrodite Stathi the relief work is a lifestyle choice. Previously she was in communications, working for leading national and international comapnies. When she decided to make her dream come true and work with children in need, she became the Executive Director of the ELIZA Society.
– We focus on synergies. This center is unique, says Ms. Stathi.The challenge is to raise money through funds from international donors and Greeks living abroad. More and more work is done by volunteers, though. Volunteerism is partly a new phenomenon in the Greek status quo, according to Ms. Stathi. A number of our volunteers, although in the labour force, still come and offer their help. - We have no tradition of volunteerism, says Ms. Stathi.
It is difficult to obtain an overview of Greek volunteering, but both Ms. Lycourezou and Ms. Stathi have a clear picture of the number of volunteers which has increased substantially during the crisis.Meeting with staff and volunteersIn a room next to the playground in the backyard the two ladies have brought together a whole team of volunteers. They talk about challenges. They talk about the problematic collaboration with social authorities. The public relief bureaucracy is described as a closed environment. The lack of resources is precarious.
Actor and short film director, Socrates Alafouzos, also contributes voluntarily in ELIZA. He sees some bright spots in the situation.- We, Greeks, he says are not used to talking about racism and abuse. We used to sweep it under the carpet. Thus, the crisis is a good thing. It can bring about change.
We must look at ourselves in the mirror and see who we are and what we can do.