Greek Roma
In Greece, tensions remain high between citizens of Greek descent and the Greek Roma. The Romani people, a historically disadvantaged and impoverished community, are spread throughout Europe and the world. Originating from India, the Roma migrated to Europe around the ninth century C.E. They have since built homes and lives for generations in countries such as Greece, but nevertheless continue to face ostracism and persecution.

History of Problems

In Greece specifically, tensions have risen between the Romani and non-Romani Greeks since the economic crisis in 2009. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Taso Lagos, professor at the University of Washington School of International Studies and researcher of the conditions of the Roma in Greece, said that for non-Romani Greeks, the unemployment rate at the time was “as high as 30%,” but for the Roma, “went up to 60%.”

Ten years after the crisis, the Romani people in Greece still face extreme poverty. A recent staggering report showed that while approximately 20% of the general Greek population is at risk for poverty, the same is true for nearly 100% of the Greek Roma.

According to Professor Lagos, there are 351 Roma settlements throughout Greece. In these settlements, many Roma “live in tents where [they] have no running water, no central heating,” and “no indoor plumbing.” Some also live in permanent housing such as caravans, but conditions there are also frequently bleak.

In the early 2000s, the Greek government set out with a plan to improve conditions for the Roma, but many say that these efforts were unsuccessful and that most communities are in the same conditions as before.

Causes of Poverty

There is an ongoing debate over what causes this vicious cycle of poverty affecting the Roma. Many people attribute it to a problem of wide-spread lack of education. More than 90% of Roma children in Greece do not attend pre-school or kindergarten. Slightly less than 50% of Roma children will never receive any formal schooling.

In the case of Romani girls, especially, education is a primary concern. Many are married as teenagers and are expected to run households. Therefore they are unable to finish high school. Others exit the school system early due to perceived dangers and stereotypes Romani people hold about the general Greek community. Professor Lagos explained that many Roma girls do not finish high school because “their parents regard Greek schools as denizens of vice and licentiousness.”

Further, the Romani children who do attend school are frequently the victims of bullying. Sometimes the early recipients of prejudice, these children endure stereotypes that they are dirty, drug-users, or thieves. These perceptions and stereotypes run deep in both communities. They continue to add to the problems affecting the wellbeing of all Greeks.

In one instance, a young girl was taken from her family when her caretakers were accused of kidnapping her. This proved to be false through DNA evidence. But many Roma continued to receive backlash and criticism from the general population following the event.

Signs of Progress

Years later, there remains ongoing misunderstanding and lack of communication between the two groups. However, some believe that there is hope for improving relations between non-Roma and Roma. This will improve other conditions for the Romani people.

Recent subjects inspiring calls to action for the Greek Roma include:

  • Health and COVID-19: As the virus continues to spread throughout Greece, the Roma are at a greater risk for infection, often lacking access to clean water and sanitation practices. Many cite the pandemic as being a primary example of the need for better healthcare and living conditions for the Roma.
  • Education: Teacher training programs that are focused on the education of Roma students with respect and understanding of their unique struggles and adversity have grown in popularity in Greece. These programs encourage the safety and wellbeing of children while in school and destigmatize Roma students.
  • Integration: The EU funded a program to last from 2014-2020 in which part of the proceeds (totaling approximately .8 billion Euros) would be designated to helping integrate the Roma community into greater Greek society, combatting social exclusion. As around half of Greek Romani people live in the margins of Greek society, this is especially important to influence all other aspects of improvement.

Another group that is affecting positive change for the Greek Roma is the Panhellenic Association of Greek Roma. This organization, which began in 2007, has afforded over 50 Roma people grants. These grants help them establish businesses, connect community members with social and emotional support and provide legal support to those struggling with housing.

Professor Lagos spoke on the importance of communication between the Roma and non-Roma of Greece. He argued that it is critical “to institutionalize community dialogue between regular people”. This, he said, “would have a huge impact.”

Aradia Webb
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health Care in GreeceIn Greece, the financial crisis has significantly impacted the health and well-being of the population. With limited access to resources and high unemployment rates, many people face poverty. Due to the economic crisis, 27% of the population found themselves unemployed. The inability to cope with the loss of wages and benefits caused the rates of depression and suicide to rise among Greek people. In 2013, more than 12.3% of the population suffered from depression. In 2017, the National School of Public Health surveyed 2,005 adults and found that more than half had mental health struggles. Various organizations are working to improve mental health care in Greece.

Mental Health Stigma in Greece

Conservative attitudes slowly began to change in 2014 as mental health stigma in Greece reduced from 63.1% to 36%. As the Greek economy slowly began to turn around, the connection between the financial crisis and mental health became even more evident and discussions regarding mental health care in Greece became more acceptable. Organizations fighting the mental health care crisis in Greece include the Greek Health Ministry, the HOME Project and Klimaka NGO.

The Greek Health Ministry

The Greek Health Ministry has carried out campaigns that have been influential in increasing mental health awareness in Greece. In 2019, the Greek Health Ministry coordinated a committee of mental health experts in a mental health awareness campaign. The goal of this committee was to train and equip practitioners to be able to effectively diagnose depression and mental health illnesses. The link between the rise in the economic crisis and the rise in psychiatric admissions could be clearly seen. The Council of Europe noted that “unemployed persons, bankrupt businessmen, or parents who have no means of taking care of or feeding their children” were among new admissions to psychiatric hospitals.

To assist in stabilizing admissions, the Health Ministry ran a pilot program to ensure major areas had at least one psychiatric clinic operating as a walk-in center at any given time. This program has led to the operation of three new clinics in Greek hospitals and there are plans for 16 more to open in the future.

The HOME Project

Children that are homeless or have fled from camps and detention centers can find support and housing through the HOME Project. This NGO has established efforts to support more than 2,500 unaccompanied minor children in Greece that fall outside of any official protection. The HOME Project provides legal, educational, social and mental health support to this at-risk population that ranges from toddlers to teenagers. Many of these children have been subjected to trauma and are more at risk of suffering from mental health issues. The HOME Project advocates for resources for refugee children in Europe that can create long-term child protection solutions.

Klimaka NGO

Mental health care in Greece is being improved by organizations like Klimaka, an NGO committed to caring for those impacted by mental health issues. In Greece, mental health is not a subject that people often discuss. Klimaka is one of the few suicide prevention clinics in Greece that worked collaboratively with the Greek Orthodox Church that had once been criticized for its stance on suicide. According to Klimaka, the Greek Orthodox Church viewed suicide as a sin and priests often refused burial prayers for those that had taken their own lives. Klimaka has been paramount in changing these views and reshaping the church’s role in the prevention of suicide, to the extent that the church now allows burial prayers if the deceased suffered from mental illness.

While older populations do not easily embrace mental illness, the younger generations have recognized depression as a relevant health issue during times of crisis. Mental health care in Greece continues to face challenges due to a shortage of staff, underfunding, reduced medical supplies and insufficient primary healthcare. Nevertheless, organizations are continuing to fight for improved mental health care for the most vulnerable populations.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

Greek startups are helpingEntrepreneurs in Greece are finding ways to battle the financial crisis that has crippled its economy. While entrepreneurship in Greece has predictably prospered in the tourism sector, many new startups are finding success in technology, science and engineering. In 2018, Greece was named the European Capital of Innovation by the European Union and ranked 11 in the world by the Global Innovation Index for science and engineering graduates. Via innovative ideas, Greek startups are helping the economy by creating jobs and stimulating economic development.

Augmenta

Founded in 2016, Augmenta has been helping farmers decrease their costs while increasing production. The video device uses machine learning to analyze tractor movements, increasing yields by 15%, reducing chemical field inputs by 20% and improving field end production by 15%. Another advantage of this innovative technology is that the more the farmer uses the device, the more data will become available to the other farmers. Augmenta’s benefits are promising for farmers and the agricultural industry as a whole.

Neos Beyond Payments

With the increasing demand for contactless payment due to COVID-19, Greek startup Neos Beyond Payments is finding its place in the economic market. The wearable device has now taken off in the European market and continues to expand into Scandanavian markets as well. In partnership with a Swedish technology firm, Fidesmo, Neos makes it possible for you to tap and pay on any contactless terminal, the same way you do with your payment card, by using the Neos wearable bracelet. With more demands for contactless payment options, the Neos wearable device will be useful in all markets.

Inagros

Inagros is another one of the Greek startups helping the economy by creating innovative technologies for farmers and agronomists. Inagros’ innovative web platform delivers data through satellites and sensors to enhance crop production and reduce the consumption of water, fertilizer and energy. This new technology is expected to be a pillar in the development of the smart farming revolution, with innovations expected to significantly impact automatization and sustainable management in particular.

Rebuilding the Greek Economy

The bailout in 2010 was just the beginning of the collapse of Greece’s’ financial economy. By 2015, the country had borrowed more than €289 billion, the largest bailout a country has ever received. As a result of which, entrepreneurs, scientists and professionals fled due to the dying economy. Entrepreneurs in Greece that persisted during these years created momentum and paved a path for future entrepreneurs to continue to contribute to rebuilding the fallen economy. While Greece continues to fight through financial barriers, a booming economy may be on the horizon, with Greek startups helping the economy by creating innovative market opportunities that steadily bring life back into a fragile economy.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

How Greece's Financial Crisis Led to New Mental Health AwarenessFor the past decade, Greece has been fighting an economic disaster. Beginning in 2009, Greece’s financial crisis resulted in a budget deficit of approximately 13% of the country’s GDP—four times more than the 3% mandated limit. Therefore, Greece was forced to borrow 289 billion euros and adopt austerity measures, placing an enormous burden on the population. In turn, these economic pressures led to one of Greece’s worst mental health crises to date.

Greece’s Financial Crisis Affecting Employment and Mental Health

The decade-long recession and tax increases left many Greeks unemployed. The rate of unemployment rose to 27% and one-third of the population is currently living in poverty. In 2012, during the peak of the financial crisis, Areti Stabelou, a college graduate, expressed her depression to be linked to the rise in unemployment—a sentiment common among Greece’s youth. In a BBC interview, Stabelou talks about the mental health stigma Greece had once suffered from, saying mental health “was very difficult to talk about in those early years.”

However, as years passed and more Greeks were experiencing the toll of the crisis, Stabelou points out that they “more openly began talking about it.” The country’s financial crisis gave rise to a new awareness of mental health, which had previously been labeled as taboo.

The population’s sentiment toward mental health had vastly changed. A study found that in 2009, 63.1% of Greeks believed that depression is a sign of weakness. By 2014, the study found that the percentage dropped to 36%.

According to the founder of Greece’s sole suicide prevention center, Klimaka, the Greek Crisis was able to bring “problems that were being ignored to the forefront.” In 2008, merely 3.3% of the population had depression. By 2013, this percentage had more than doubled, with 12.3% of the population suffering from depression. Depression was not a new illness; however, the rising rates simply allowed for a new direction of the conversation to shift toward the mental disorder.

Addressing Mental Health in Greece

Following the rising issue in the nation, the Greek Orthodox Church took on a more tolerant approach to mental health. The Greek Orthodox Church has always considered suicide a sin and therefore, they do not provide a burial service to those who take their own life. Because of this, many suicides go unreported in order to protect the family from shame. However, Klimaka, Greece’s non-profit suicide prevention clinic, believes that now the Church has an important role in alleviating the stigma around suicide and overall, suicide rates. As of now, if the doctor has diagnosed the deceased with a mental illness, the Church will provide a burial service.

The Greek Health Ministry has also planned suicide awareness campaigns and has taken action to ensure that their practitioners are better prepared to detect depression. Between 2010 to 2015, there has been a 40% increase in suicides, making the rise in visibility an extremely important cause.

While Greeks are becoming more open and tolerant toward mental health, obstacles prevent the nation from achieving the right care for those in need. The financial crisis had led to a rise in the demand for psychological services. Yet, in 2011, the country’s annual budget on mental health was halved and has been further cut every year since. These budget cuts have caused a shortage of staff and supplies, making it difficult for the population to receive adequate care.

Greece’s financial crisis has led to new mental health awareness. However, mental health initiatives must continue to effectively care for those in need, especially following the financial crisis and the high unemployment rate.

Maiya Falach
Photo: Flickr

GR for GRowth initiative in GreeceUnemployment in Greece has remained a concern among Greeks since the financial crisis that devastated the economy. During the financial crisis, the Greek economy experienced a 25% decline. While the economy has attempted to recover, the economy continues to experience the impact of the financial crisis, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to reduce the economy by another 8.2%. In July 2020, the unemployment rate in Greece reached 16.8%. While many Greeks fight to withstand the struggling economy, Microsoft is creating solutions through its GR for GRowth initiative in Greece. The Greek government anticipates that this initiative will rebalance the economy during the pandemic, shifting its heavy reliance from tourism to further developments in energy, tech and defense sectors.

GR for GRowth Initiative and the Economy

In October 2020, Microsoft announced an initiative in Greece that will create opportunities in technology. Microsoft’s ongoing investment is expected to reach approximately $1.17 billion. This will be the largest investment Microsoft has made over 28 years when it first began operations in Greece. The GR for GRowth initiative in Greece will build data centers in the country and develop resources in the economy that will promote growth opportunities that support the people of Greece, government and businesses. The leverage Greece will acquire through this initiative will attract other large corporations that will promote future investments in the Greek economy.

Currently, Microsoft operates data centers in 26 countries, including seven in the European Union. With this initiative, Microsoft will build new data centers that will create a Microsoft Cloud within the country that will provide Greece with a competitive edge as one of the world’s largest cloud infrastructures with access to effective and efficient cloud services. It is anticipated that by 2025, Microsoft will run all data centers on renewable energy sources.

Potential Impact of GR for GRowth

The GR for GRowth initiative in Greece will enhance cloud computing for local companies, startups and institutions. The services delivered through Microsoft Cloud will allow for more efficient networking, computing, intelligent business applications, cybersecurity, data residency and compliance standards. Microsoft has already implemented processes to increase user satisfaction and has collaborated with businesses in Greece for the development of cloud services. Alpha Bank, Eurobank, National Bank of Greece, OTE Group, Piraeus Bank and Public Power Corporation are anticipating the expansion of cloud services in Greece.

While the data center is Microsoft’s largest investment in Greece in 28 years, Microsoft has been paramount in building partnerships with over 3,000 businesses and customers throughout the years. The GR for GRowth initiative will stimulate innovation and growth within the Greek economy. Microsoft President, Brad Smith, believes this investment will positively influence the optimism about the future of Greece, government decisionmaking and economic recovery.

GR for GRowth and the Workforce

While unemployment has plagued the Greek economy, through this initiative, Microsoft will offer training opportunities that will equip more than 100,0000 people with skills in digital technologies by 2025. Over the next five years, Microsoft plans to invest in enhancing digital competencies across the public sector, among business and IT professionals, educators and students. The program will consist of online and in-person courses and workshops. Microsoft’s program objectives will focus on upskilling customers and partners, collaborating with public sector government entities and the expansion of the ReGeneration program that provides services to youth, unemployed and underserved communities.

According to the prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the GR for GRowth initiative in Greece gives hope to the people of Greece for rebuilding its workforce. While the economy in Greece continues to struggle, this initiative hopes to solve economic battles and create a sustainable and prosperous economy.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

Child Protection SystemThe child protection system in Greece has long been criticized for its lack of consistency and the inability to provide adequate protection for abused children. The lack of investigations, follow-up from social service professionals and incidents of returning children to the care of abusers are not uncommon.

A Lacking Child Protection System

While the lack of a sufficient child protection system has been attributed to the financial crisis, in Greece, child protection services were underfunded before the financial collapse. The inability to develop a structured and cohesive child protective system has denied many children of their rights. Reduction in personnel, lack of funds, insufficient resources and inadequate collaboration among social service entities have caused dysfunction within the child protection system.

The Institute of Child Health

The Institute of Child Health has taken a stand in many cases impacting the lives of the youth in Greece. The Institute of Child Health is overseen by the Greek Ministry of Health and has advocated for funding and mental health support for abused children. This entity has developed a protocol to allow the networking of services to meet the needs of children that are victims of abuse. Through unified procedures and the development of a digital records system, the organization has made efforts in the modification of the child protection system.

While the efforts made by the Institute of Child Health have been ignored by the Greek government, the government has implemented an initiative that will streamline processes and improve the conditions for child abuse survivors. Yet, the Greek government has been slow in implementing changes that will impact the lives of children systemwide. Currently, children of abuse are required to repeat their stories multiple times, risking retraumatization. With the implementation of the Child Houses or Child Advocacy Centers, testimonies are recorded. Through this method, children will only need to provide their testimony once. The implementation of this process is one step in addressing a significant problem within the child protection system.

Greece Implements New Adoption and Fostering System

For decades, many children entering the child protection administration have been placed in hospitals due to an incomplete foster care system. In Greece, the child protection system relies upon institutions, children’s homes operated by the state, the Greek Orthodox Church and NGOs, to provide care for children removed from their families. However, the lack of an adequate foster care system and institutionalizing children removed from their families presents another problem in the child protection system in Greece. Institutionalized children are subject to inadequate living conditions, living in wooden cages or tied to their beds, leaving children with life long trauma and further victimization. The children spend months in an institution due to being removed from their families and the inability to locate a suitable foster or adoption home.

In July 2020, Greece implemented a new adoption and fostering system that demonstrates progress toward revamping a crippled child protection system. With this new system, a more effective process will allow more accuracy in the evaluation of applications from prospective applicants. The new system establishes full transparency, documentation and expert control of the process. The Greek prime minister believes this implementation addresses past bureaucratic hurdles and will expedite the process of connecting children with families. Other steps that are in the works include the registration of minors in child protection and training of professionals that will work with prospective foster and adoptive parents.

The Need for Further Progress

Lacking child protection in Greece has jeopardized the safety and wellbeing of many children. Due to the lack of uniform protocol, collaboration among service providers and unclear mandates and responsibilities, children that enter the custody of child protective services continue to relive their abuse. While steps have been taken to rectify this problem, Greeks remain positive that further progress within the child protection system will come.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare for Greek ChildrenIn Lesbos, Greece, children suffering from life-threatening illnesses are being deprived of healthcare. Concerns regarding the Greek government’s stance on providing adequate healthcare to children suffering from chronic, complex and life-threatening diseases at the Moria camp are on the rise. Many camps are overcrowded and have limited resources available for the growing vulnerable population. Children make up 30% of asylum seekers and those diagnosed with diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, heart disease and other severe illnesses, are being neglected. Forced to live in tents under concerning conditions, children have no access to specialized healthcare to meet their medical needs.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is advocating on behalf of Greek children, urging the government to evacuate children with serious illnesses to the Greek mainland or other European Union states that are equipped to provide adequate care. Since 1996, MSF has been providing healthcare and fighting for the welfare of asylum seekers and migrants in Greece. MSF recognized the growing need in Greece and expanded its efforts, providing treatment of chronic diseases, sexual and reproductive healthcare, physiotherapy, clinical psychology and psychiatric care.

MSF is ensuring the government is aware of the urgency of proper healthcare for Greek children. Dr. Hilde Vochten, an MSF medical coordinator, urges a prompt call of action from the government that will address the immediate healthcare needs of these children while also addressing a systemic problem within healthcare for Greek children. Without proper care, many children face lifelong consequences, or in critical cases, death.

Greek Government Healthcare Restrictions

In 2019, the Greek government restricted healthcare access to asylum seekers and those arriving in Greece that are undocumented. Since this time, MSF doctors have seen over 270 children suffering from chronic and complex diseases. The MSF pediatric clinic located outside the Moria camp has helped many children, however, the clinic has been unable to provide specialized care for children diagnosed with more critical illnesses. MSF argues that restricting access to adequate care is a result of government policy that is creating unsafe and inhumane conditions for children and their families. MSF demands the need to remove limitations for access to public healthcare and implement a system that will provide immediate care for children suffering from chronic and complex medical conditions.

The Smile of the Child

Another organization fighting for the healthcare rights of this vulnerable population is The Smile of the Child. The organization was founded in 1995, in memory of Andreas Yannopoulos, a young boy diagnosed with cancer. Before Yannopoulos died, he expressed his vision of creating an organization that would bring smiles to the faces of Greek children. The Smile of the Child has taken a stand to improve the health and wellbeing of children in Greece. The organization has raised awareness through its Mobile Laboratory of Information, Education and Technology by conducting seminars and instruction on first aid. The Smile of the Child delivers support to children with health problems by providing access to ambulances throughout Greece. The organization partners with law enforcement, social groups and other public entities to advocate for the safety and wellbeing of children.

While Greek authorities have been criticized for obstructing access to healthcare, organizations are taking a stand to ensure the healthcare needs of Greek children are met. As the need for adequate healthcare rises, the Greece government will be challenged in addressing the growing demand.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

Greek teachers are making a differenceIn Greece, the debt crisis and political breakdown have triggered inequalities throughout the education system. While education is free, public schools have suffered from budget cuts due to bailout agreements. The result has been a decline in the quality of education. The aftermath of the social crisis in Europe has also led to educational poverty and students failing to achieve minimum education standards. Many students with only basic education often face poverty or unemployment. This is exemplary of the strong correlation between educational attainment and social outcomes. Greek teachers are making a difference in the way their country approaches education to combat this issue.

The Current Situation in Greece

Currently, the level of teaching in Greek schools is being criticized due to the lack of teacher evaluation standards and teaching structures. As a result, more Greeks fear obtaining adequate education in public schools to prepare for higher education. The Panhellenic exams required for university admission in Greece have caused an increase in Greeks pursuing more expensive private education classes. However, with the rise in unemployment rates and a decrease in salaries, poor and middle-class families are unable to pursue private education. In 2015, according to the World Economic Forum Inclusive Growth Development Report, Greece was ranked last of 30 economies due to the relationship between student performance and parent income.

The Varkey Foundation

Greek educators are identifying ways to leverage education through creative curriculum approaches. The Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Award recognizes Greek teachers making a difference through their work across the globe. These teachers work with students to promote inclusivity and integration of migrants in the classroom. Additionally, these educators advocate for child rights and focus on the well-being of the student.

One recipient, Andria Zafirakou, received the Varkey Foundation 1M Global Teacher Prize in 2018. Her commitment to education has led to new initiatives to encourage creativity in schools. Born to Greek-Cypriot parents, Zafirakou has dedicated her entire teaching career to educating students from ethnically diverse communities. She has a passion for education advocacy and changing the lives of young people from underprivileged communities through creativity and art. Following that creative drive has led to her great success as the best teacher in the world.

Artists in Residence

In an amazing act of charity, Andria Zafirakou used her 2018 prize winnings to found Artists in Residence (AIR). She recognized the decline in the number of students demonstrating an interest in art and students pursuing careers in art. As such, the charity focuses on individual student well-being and outcomes in school by providing a curriculum encompassing art education.

AIR strives to increase student aspirations, provide inspirational life opportunities, and prepare students for jobs in creative industries. The program develops a rounded curriculum that supports social and cognitive learning through engagement in art activities. Firstly, it establishes partnerships with schools in developing academic and holistic educational programs. Then, artists and professionals in the creative sector provide their expertise to students by inspiring learning in art.

This collaborative approach exposes students to new skills and opportunities in art, which are truly key to a well-rounded education. Moreover, AIR has been effective in enhancing public awareness and engagement in developing programs to support art education.

Lack of proper education in Greece has proven to be hazardous to societal functions. Nevertheless, through collaborative efforts in educational reform and the people of Greece’s commitment to education, Greece’s educational system is expected to see improvements. However, teachers are indispensable in addressing these issues. Greek teachers make a crucial difference by discovering innovative ways to implement change within the education system one school at a time.

Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

Philanthropic Organizations in Greece Due to income inequalities and the lingering effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, many Greeks continue to be threatened by poverty. Of note, insufficient incomes caused 22.2% of the population to be “severely materially deprived” in 2015. While housing, food, education, training, healthcare and legal aid are difficult to access for those living in poverty, philanthropic organizations in Greece are making a difference across the board.

Hellenic Hope

Child poverty in Greece has impacted more than 686,000 children. Children are more susceptible to having limited accessibility to nutritious diets and living in inadequate conditions to meet their developmental needs. Hellenic Hope is an organization that aids in providing support to children living in poverty in Greece. Hellenic Hope is focused on raising funds for organizations to fight the child poverty crisis in Greece while increasing awareness about child poverty and encouraging collaborative efforts internationally. Since its establishment in 2012, Hellenic Hope has partnered with various organizations in Greece to provide food and clothing, as well as emotional and educational resources. In 2015, Hellenic Hope participated in SOS-Eliza VIMA/STEP program to protect 95 vulnerable children. SOS-Eliza focuses on child abuse prevention and works with vulnerable families impacted by unemployment, poverty and social isolation.

METAdrasi

METAdrasi is a grassroots organization established in 2009 that strives to eliminate human oppression. Founder, Lora Pappa developed this organization to protect the rights of people displaced by war or prosecution. In 2019, METAdrasi was awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. The organization received a $2 million award for its work with refugees, migrants and unaccompanied children in Greece. The funding will allow the group to strengthen its advocacy efforts in Greece. Through the efforts of social workers and interpreters, METAdrasi has rescued refugee children from detention centers, conditions of homelessness and other unsafe environments on the island. METAdrasi has been able to help approximately 11,000 children in 4,000 escorting missions. In addition to this, METAdrasi continues to expand its services through innovative approaches that allow the organization to provide legal support, certification of victims of torture, education and protection for unaccompanied children.

Kivotos tou Kosmou – Ark of the World

Kivotos tou Kosmou – Ark of the World is a philanthropic institution in Greece founded by Father Antonios Papnikolaou. The organization provides services for children and young mothers who are in need or in danger. Kivotos has been able to care for more than 220 children who have separated from their parents and support 150 single-parent families. With approximately 150 apartments, Kivotos provides housing so that these families can remain together. The organization also provides education, training and access to scholarships. While Kivotos has helped teenage mothers by teaching them parenting skills as well as offering mental health care services and therapy.

While rebuilding from the financial collapse has been slow, thoughts of a prospering economy remain. Still, philanthropic organizations in Greece are finding ways to make a difference in many lives today. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development urges government reform to address poverty and inequality in Greece with hopes of economic recovery.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

University of Southern California (USC) has a course called “Innovation In Engineering and Design for Global Crises.” As part of the class, a team of USC undergraduates visited the Moria refugee camp to learn from and engage with the displaced peoples about their experiences. The need for more livable housing was the impetus for students’ project development. The result was Torch Tile — an adaptable, low-cost, user-friendly solution to the sheltering challenges of the displaced peoples in Moria.

Living Conditions of the Sprawling Moria Refugee Camp

On the eastern coast of the Greek island of Lesvos, is the Moria refugee camp. Moria is the largest refugee camp in Europe. It is the landing pad for the daily stream of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey via a harrowing boat trip across a six-mile stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. The camp was originally designed to shelter 3,000 people. Currently, it is overflowing with over 13,000 refugees.

Tents sprawling the foothills surrounding Moria have constituted as impermanent shelters or “homes” for these refugees. Some asylum-seekers have even established residence with flowers, hand-made tandoori ovens and power cords for hijacking electricity. Despite these additions, the tents are no match for the temperature swings of Greece’s climate. In the summers, heat waves can break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters on the island bring lasting snow from the sea moisture. Asylum-seekers can expect to wait a year before their asylum applications are processed ensuring they will experience both extreme weather conditions.

In the past, asylum-seekers have employed cardboard and tarps in an attempt to block out the extreme cold and heat. Increasing the temperature a few degrees led to refugees living in environments with dank, humid air that condenses on the tent inner walls. Running water is only available inside of Moria, and these moist environments put asylum-seekers at risk for health complications. Many suffer from pneumonia and heat stroke, which there are limited resources with which to treat.

In stepped the Torch Tile.

The Product

After over thirty different prototypes and dozens of hours of overnight testing, the team created the Torch Tile. The users’ needs were at the forefront of the creation’s design. The product comes in 36 or 55 sq. ft. sheets that can be laid side-by-side (like tiles) to fully surround a tent. The sturdy, lightweight and flexible material of the tiles is Aluminet.

The knitted screen-like material allows for airflow, reduces indoor humidity and lets light into the tent for visibility. Secured using zip ties and draped over the tent ceiling, the Torch Tile cools the interior by deflecting outdoor heat and light on warm days. Similarly, in winter weather one layers a tarp over the Torch Tile to warm the tent by 5-15 degrees by reflecting body heat inward.

Then, the team founded Torch Global Inc., a nonprofit currently fundraising to mass produce tiles for distribution. The goal is to provide tiles for those in Moria and for the unsheltered populations in Los Angeles.

Protecting Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The distribution of Torch Tiles has been paramount to enabling people to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. One Torch Tile user from Los Angeles shared, “I have COVID and can’t isolate because my tent is too hot. This product will keep my tent cooler, so I can actually stay inside and isolate.” Recently Torch Global Inc. fundraised $13,000 for the ordering of 1,500 more Torch Tiles — protection for 1,500 more people in their homes.

The collective, global mobilization and coordination of resources necessary to resolve the refugee crisis in Greece is unlikely to occur soon enough. Even when it is, situations and conflicts will likely displace more people in the future, and asylum-seekers living in tents will be inevitable. By thermo-regulating shelters, Torch Tiles alleviate one aspect of refugees’ vulnerability and address the downstream effects of displacement.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr