Torch Tiles

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

Human Trafficking in Greece
Meet Alicia. At 16, she took a trip from Africa to Greece to receive medical treatment. Upon her arrival, her dad’s friend took her passport and ID and locked her in an apartment with a woman she did not know. After the woman attacked her, Alicia learned that her dad’s friend sold her into prostitution. Alicia was one of the estimated 40,000 victims of human trafficking in Greece for prostitution. Fortunately, Alicia escaped the apartment and received the medical attention she desperately needed along with safety and shelter. Thanks to the shelter, Alicia became a legal citizen of Greece within a year and found a job.

What is Human Trafficking?

Alicia is one of the millions of women, men and children who become trafficking victims across the world each year. Human trafficking is the illegal trade of people to acquire labor or commercial sex. Victims of human trafficking are often economically and socially marginalized. Traffickers take advantage of their vulnerability and use force and deception to set traps, such as faulty jobs and romantic relationships.

Human Trafficking in Greece

Human trafficking in Greece has become the country’s top crime over the years for many reasons. For starters, trafficking data has significantly increased due to standardized data collection and reporting. Also, Greece has the 11th longest coastline globally, making it popular for organized crime groups. The coast borders many parts of Europe, Asia and Africa and is a fitting transit and destination location. In 2018, the organization A21 estimated that there were 89,000 victims of human trafficking in Greece and over half were victims in the sex trade.

The majority of traffickers in Greece are Greek. Meanwhile, most sex trafficking victims are women and children, and labor victims are men and children. The most trafficked victims in Greece are migrants and asylum-seekers who depend on smuggling and forced labor.

Human trafficking is unlawful and punishable at the state, federal and international levels. Greece’s response to human trafficking currently ranks at Tier 2. According to the U.S. Department of State, a country that falls in Tier 2 lacks the minimum standards for addressing human trafficking. The U.S. Department of State has prioritized several recommendations for Greece, many of which A21 is already pioneering.

A21 Fights Human Trafficking in Greece

A21 is a global anti-human trafficking organization that has the mission “to end slavery.” Since its launch in 2008, A21 has nearly one survivor enter its care every four days. In 2019, A21 rescued and secured freedom for hundreds of victims and won 20 trafficking lawsuits. This is impressive as prosecution numbers for human trafficking are small. For example, in 2019, the Greek government only prosecuted 25 defendants. If all A21’s lawsuit victories occurred in Greece, every three out of four cases would have ended with justice.

A21 currently has two offices in Greece, one in Athens and one in Thessaloniki. As mentioned, A21 has initiated many efforts to eradicate human trafficking in Greece. All of these efforts address the U.S. Department of State’s “prioritized recommendations,” significantly improving identification measures and restitution.

A21 Greece has significantly increased victim identification efforts in the country including training first-responders, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement, etc. A21 Greece provides presentations, awareness programs and campaigns about human trafficking, how to identify signs and reduce risk.

A21 Greece works with Greek authorities to secure survivors’ safety and justice that enter their care. This collaboration formed Greece’s national hotline for human trafficking, Line 1109. A21 Greece also provides legal assistance and resources for victims.

Although the U.S. Department of State did not recommend implementing restoration and rehabilitation programs for victims, A21 in Greece already has a headstart. A21 Greece has holistic care and support services such as the Guesthouse of A21 and A21 Greece Freedom Center. The Guesthouse of A21 is a short-term hostel for rescued victims. The A21 Greece Freedom Center is long-term housing, providing survivors with resources and support to become fully independent. Some services include counseling, job searching and vocational skills training.

Let Freedom Ring!

On Thursday, November 12, 2020, another victim of human trafficking in Greece entered freedom. Like many other victims, someone she trusted tricked her into sexual exploitation. Thanks to Line 1109, A21 Greece’s sponsored human trafficking hotline, the authorities intervened and brought her to safety. Now she is receiving the necessary care and support and representation in court.

Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, with over 40 million enslaved victims. Governments around the globe are working diligently to improve eradication efforts. However, they cannot do it alone. Organizations like A21 have immense resources, training and services that aid in rescuing and restoring victims.

– LaCherish Thompson
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Camps in Greece
Over the past five years, Greece has struggled to accommodate the thousands of migrants arriving on its borders. Since the beginning of the migration crisis in 2015, over one million migrants have arrived in Greece in order to seek asylum in the European Union (EU). While many have traveled onward to stay in other European countries, large numbers have remained in migrant camps in Greece. The nation has struggled under this pressure.

Greece’s location makes it a prime port of entry for incoming migrants. However, the country has recently been accused of refusing to accommodate refugees due to overcrowded migrant camps. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this situation, as Greece has struggled to maintain a high standard of sanitation and healthcare within migrant camps. The EU and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are working to improve the situation and support Greece.

Who Are the Newest Migrants?

The refugees currently arriving to migrant camps in Greece originate from countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Palestine and Syria. Fleeing war-torn countries, oppressive regimes and extreme poverty, they travel through Turkey and Northern Africa, risking their lives to seek asylum in Europe. Greece has become a hotspot for arrivals since the start of the migration crisis. The nation acts as a European port of entry due to its geographic location near Africa and Turkey.

Turkey also worsened the situation by announcing in March 2020 that Europe is open for asylum seekers and urging migrants to travel to Greece. These declarations came in response to the EU not providing funding for Turkey’s own refugee arrivals. In response to Turkey’s statements, Greece declared that it would not accept illegal immigrants and vowed that it would protect Europe’s external borders. However, Turkey does not qualify as a safe third country and therefore, according to EU law, Greece should not return migrants to Turkey. This situation has increased pressure on Greece to accept and support increasing numbers of migrants. No new deal between Turkey and the EU has been reached yet.

Greece’s Actions

In August 2020, Greece was accused of refusing over 1,000 asylum seekers that arrived from Turkey by sea, turning them away in rafts. Pushbacks at land borders and police brutality have also been reported in the last year. These actions go against the EU’s laws regarding respect for human rights. It also goes against the obligation to not return asylum seekers to dangerous environments. The Greek government denies these allegations, suggesting that Turkey is responsible for conducting a misinformation campaign to diminish Greece’s credibility.

However, credible footage and interviewed victims have recently added to the mounting evidence that Greece is not upholding the standard of human rights required by the EU. To ensure the protection of human rights and those of asylum seekers, the UNHCR is currently investigating reports of Greece’s abandonment of migrants. The organization is also supporting migrants’ rights within migrant camps in Greece.

Migrant Camps and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions of the thousands of migrants currently located in migrant camps in Greece, on both the mainland and the islands. Greece’s measures have generally been beneficial in controlling the spread of the virus; however, the migrant camps lack specialized sanitation and healthcare and have become increasingly overcrowded since arrivals spiked in early 2020. These circumstances contribute to an environment that is particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, the Greek government has tightened restrictions on the movement of migrants in camps. Major outbreaks within the camps have been prevented, but some camps, like those in Moria and Lesbos, have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and imposed strict lockdown measures to avoid spreading the virus. The camps are also routinely providing thorough health checks. Furthermore, in an effort to address the overcrowding of migrant camps, officials have been relocating migrants to hotels or apartments, which sometimes reduces the availability of public services.

In Search of Solutions

Greece’s migrant crisis has continued since 2015 and has recently been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, tensions with Turkey and an increase in asylum seekers. Despite the country’s best efforts to control the situation, migrant camps in Greece are under extreme pressure.

In September 2020, UNHCR officials visited Greece to assess the situation and create a plan to help Greece cope, focusing especially on accommodation and the COVID-19 response within migrant camps. The UNHCR is now working with Greek authorities to implement accommodation transitions and cash-based assistance programs. It is also calling upon the EU and its member states to increase their support for Greece through financial assistance and the relocation of asylum-seekers.

Through these measures, Greece’s new and current migrants are receiving support until the EU can provide increased assistance. Solving the migrant crisis in the long-term, however, will require coordinated efforts between the EU, surrounding nations and humanitarian organizations.

Angelica Smyrnios
Photo: Flickr

Energy Poverty in Greece
Greece is addressing energy poverty and its variety of adverse effects on households using innovative approaches. With 58% of Greek households identified as lacking efficient energy, this issue has significantly impacted the overall physical and mental well-being of its citizens. Cardiac issues, respiratory illnesses and mental health stressors due to unaffordable energy bills demonstrate the need for innovations in poverty eradication in Greece.

Energy Poverty Among Vulnerable Populations

According to the European Union Energy Poverty Observatory, energy poverty impacts 50 to 125 million people within the European Union population. In fact, in Greece, 90% of households lack sufficient energy. The inability to obtain adequate energy to power appliances, electricity and air conditioning systems demonstrates the true impact of insufficient energy access. Due to low incomes, poor-quality housing and high energy prices, innovations in poverty eradication in Greece are critical.

Innovative Energy Initiatives Create Jobs

Since its transition to renewable energy in the 1990s, Greece has faced unforeseen obstacles due to government legislation, business regulations, investor subsidies and funding deficits. Since 2010, modifications of such initiatives have led to progressive developments and growth opportunities.

Some expect that innovations eradicating poverty in Greece through renewable energy could boost employment and economic opportunities. In fact, projections have determined that job openings including electro-mechanics, construction and energy farm installation could contribute to 50% of these potential opportunities. Job generation will increase household income and minimize the inability to afford adequate energy by reducing unemployment and creating growth.

Global Organizations Addressing Energy Poverty

Greece has demonstrated its commitment to resolving energy poverty among vulnerable households. In 2015, the state formed a partnership with Greenspan Greece to develop the Solarize Greece Campaign, which promotes renewable energy in an effort to alleviate energy poverty. This initiative involved the installation of photovoltaic systems in low-income family households. By 2018, Greece was able to increase renewable energy production to 20% of the gross energy consumption.

With hydroelectricity, wind power or photovoltaic sources generating 29% of energy, the country exhibits dedication to developing renewable energy technologies to combat environmental challenges.

Innovations in Renewable Energy Production

Plans to increase renewable energy sources in Greece are in the works. Using renewable energy production, the country will continue to progress in its fight to eradicate poverty. The Ministry of the Environment and Energy of Greece proposal, for instance, will include two production units and three reservoirs to expend energy from renewable sources. This system is expected to enhance pumping production and efficiency, performing 70.1% faster over the next 50 years.

Energy reform within Greece must remain a priority to rectify the social, economic and environmental destruction that energy poverty causes. Through the development of innovative energy technologies, Greece is making strides to achieve 60% of renewable energy sources by 2030. These actions will reduce the use of harmful coal technologies used to generate electricity by shifting to solar energy and pumped storage. Given the benefits of renewable energy in reducing household energy poverty, Greece is becoming a role model for other nations in protecting its people.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

Glimpse into Refugee Camps
Youth UnMuted is a platform that empowers and raises awareness of displaced youth through artistic modes of storytelling. The non-governmental organization engages refugees and migrant youth in community centers and refugee camps through pop-up style workshops in places like Lesvos Island, Greece. Youth UnMuted also seeks to educate others about the refugee crisis. For example, a new way it has attracted attention to this issue is through a 360 Virtual Reality (VR) experience to offer a glimpse into refugee camps.

360 Virtual Reality

The immersive experience was born in one of Youth UnMuted’s 2018 winter workshops, and functions as an educational tool to completely understand the components of a refugee camp in Greece. The VR experience offers people the chance to observe “the voices of young people and the context in which they are forced to live.” It also hones in on child refugees’ stories by telling them directly. The VR experience was developed and filmed in a Greek refugee camp. Children in the camp chose the parts of the camp they wanted to share and posed within the scene. Additionally, they assisted with the photography used to develop the program to offer a glimpse into refugee camps.

While Youth UnMuted released the VR experience before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still relevant in the current climate. It shines a light on the dire and unsteady circumstances of those living in the camps. Young victims of forced migration already face marginalization, and COVID-19 only enhances the situation. For example, already-present tensions in Greek refugee camps have heightened over confirmed cases of COVID-19 due to overcrowdedness that physically and mentally affects health.

Drivers of Displacement

Poverty is at the root of the conflicts that child refugees and their families flee from. A lack of resources in one’s country is often the main reason for relocation. COVID-19 has a devastating effect on global economies and is likely to cause further displacement.

Youth UnMuted Workshops

The majority of displaced young people that Youth UnMuted meets in refugee camps are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. This diversity can lead to some language barriers. However, the use of art in pop-up workshops has helped to mitigate this obstacle. It is the most impactful and cost-effective way to interact with children from various cultures.

In 2018, Youth UnMuted reached over 300 youth from May to June and more than 500 youth from October to December through its five-day workshops at refugee camps. The organization simultaneously raised nearly $19,000 in individual donations, $1,000 in grants and over $45,000 in Greek volunteer services.

Other Projects

The organization has tackled other projects, such as an online magazine that elevates refugee voices from Tijuana, Mexico and Greece, which currently has five issues. Amid the spread of COVID-19, Youth UnMuted has remained in touch with refugee camps. It provides pre-recorded sessions that teach mindfulness techniques and practices, gives writing prompts and provides ideas and themes for future in-person workshops. Youth UnMuted’s most recent project is Now You Hear Us, a podcast showcasing the voices of young people who have experienced displacement worldwide. Along with the VR experience, this project is a tool for education about migration and forced displacement. The podcast will feature newcomers in the United States, resettled youth in Canada, Youth Advisory Board members who now have asylum in Germany as well as young people in Greek refugee camps.

Youth UnMuted is an example of an organization seeking to educate others about the effects of forced displacement by giving people a glimpse into refugee camps. Through its efforts, many child refugees have found their voices.

Isabella Thorpe
Photo: Unsplash

Forced Child Begging
In many impoverished countries, especially Greece, India and Senegal, forced child begging is prominent. This practice means that parents or another group of adults will send children out on the streets to beg for money from tourists. With the COVID-19 virus, tourism has decreased drastically. This means that these children no longer have anyone to beg from, which is both good and bad. Child begging is very damaging to the children forced into it, but it is also how many families suffering from extreme poverty sustain themselves. Here’s what the impact of COVID-19 means for both child beggars and their families.

The Problem

Forced-begging is incredibly damaging for children. Not only does it put them in dangerous situations and leave them vulnerable to abuse, but it also keeps them out of school. If a child is being forced to beg by an adult who is not their parent, it can lead to them being separated from their families. Since this practice involves child trafficking, it is hard to record exactly how many children are victims of forced begging, and very little data exists on the issue.

While data in forced begging is almost non-existent, data on general child labor is more plentiful. Forced-begging takes place primarily in impoverished countries. In fact, child labor in general is overwhelmingly a sign of a poor country. According to data published by the United Nations Children’s Fund, in the world’s poorest countries, just over one in four children is involved in child labor. While this statistic may look bleak, it also means that if these countries were to become more developed, child labor would likely become drastically less prevalent.

An Unfortunate Necessity

Forced begging is also how many families keep themselves fed. In the era of COVID-19, child beggars face a number of hardships. First, they are at risk of catching the disease. These children spend much of the day on the crowded streets where they are exposed to many people and their risk of contracting the virus is higher. Second, there is hardly anyone left to beg from. According to data published by the World Tourism Organization, the change in international tourism in April 2020 was -97%. These families have lost a major source of their income, in a time when their country’s economy is likely struggling, especially if that economy relied heavily on tourism.


The human rights organization Anti-Slavery has been fighting to end forced child begging for almost a decade. The organization works specifically to end forced child begging in Senegal, where child begging is commonly perpetuated through Koranic schools, where students’ schoolmasters will often require that the children beg. The organization has been working to get the government of Senegal to recognize how drastic the problem of forced child begging is, and to take action to prevent it.

Making sure that education is available to child beggars is also a vital step in getting these children off the streets. The World Bank has been working to support Senegal’s government in its efforts to improve education and bring education to poorer areas.

The drop in tourism hurting the forced child begging industry is both a positive and a negative; it could leave families without income, but it could allow child beggars a chance to get an education and stay off the streets. However, this outcome is only possible if education is available. When the tourism industry begins to grow again, it is vital that these children don’t return to the streets.

Sophia Gardner
Photo: Flickr

Hepatitis in GreeceThough hepatitis is a prevalent virus in countries throughout the world, Greece, in particular, has been facing difficulties preventing its spread. Recent economic struggles have negatively impacted the Greek health care system, leading to a lack of vaccinations. However, Greece is slowly but surely resolving the issues their healthcare system has faced, working hard to eliminate hepatitis. Here are seven facts about hepatitis in Greece.

7 Facts About Hepatitis in Greece

  1. In 2008, the vaccine for hepatitis A (HAV) became free to all children. Hepatitis A affects the liver and can be found in contaminated food and water. Between 1998 and 2006, the reported cases of HAV were highest among children up to the age of 14. Rates of infection have decreased, however, since the vaccine was made free. It has become essential in preventing cases of HAV, and instances of the virus will continue to slow over time.
  2. HAV vaccines are recommended for travelers visiting Greece. This is not just to prevent the traveler from getting HAV, but also to prevent asymptomatic patients of HAV from spreading it to others, as symptoms may not develop for 15-50 days after exposure.
  3. Immigrants are a high-risk group for hepatitis. Albania is a country with one of the highest rates of hepatitis B (HBV) in the world, and 65 percent of immigrants in Greece are from Albania. Though immigration may be a source of HBV in Greece, it is important to note that hepatitis B is preventable by vaccines, and combinations of antivirals have been proven to treat HBV in recent years.
  4. In recent years, Greece has gained access to studies of groups considered “high-risk,” to HBV. These high-risk groups include HIV positive patients, prisoners, refugees, pregnant women, and drug users. By studying high-risk groups and HBV patients within them, Greece has been able to gain more accurate data on the exact number of cases within the country, as well as preventative methods.
  5. Public-oriented programs targeting hepatitis control are working. The Viral Hepatitis Prevention Board (VHPB) has a very active presence in Greece and has assisted the Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP) in expanding its strategy from just addressing HIV/AIDS to addressing viral hepatitis as well. These programs work to educate Grecians on hepatitis, make vaccines more accessible to vulnerable communities and study existing cases of acute and chronic hepatitis.
  6. The most common risk factors for developing hepatitis C (HCV) in Greece are easily prevented. They include perinatal transmission and sexual transmission. However, the risk of transmitting HCV through medical procedures has significantly decreased. Sterilization and an increase in single-use syringes in hospitals have led to this.
  7. Many infected individuals are asymptomatic. After Greece’s National Public Health Organisation (NPHO) discovered that 75,000 of 300,000 carriers of hepatitis B or C were not aware that they were infected, the National Action Plan began requiring that Grecians born between 1945 and 1980 must be checked for hepatitis antibodies, in order to identify adults that have HCV but are asymptomatic. The goal is to eliminate HCV by 2030.

Although hepatitis is a virus found worldwide, Greece has faced its fair share of struggles grappling with it. Many at-risk are part of the most vulnerable populations in Greece: immigrants, people struggling in poverty, individuals who already have medical conditions, and those lacking access to medical care and education. However, treatments and vaccinations are always advancing. With improvements in the country’s economy and healthcare system, cases of hepatitis in Greece will continue to dwindle.

– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Greece: What Happened and How to Help
The economy and poverty in Greece are two subjects that connect to one another. Starting in 2010, Greece has been climbing its way out of an economic crisis. The country is slowly paying back billions of dollars in debt due to chronic fiscal mismanagement. In the last decade, poverty in Greece has grown rampant. Incomes have crumbled over 30 percent and more than one-fifth of Greeks are unable to pay rent, electricity and bank loans. Additionally, one-third of families have at least one member who does not have employment. Due to its financial downfall, over a third of Greece’s 10-million-person population is in poverty. Many citizens doubt that this nation will be able to turn things around fast enough and help those most in need.

5 Facts About the Growth of Poverty in Greece

  1. In 1999, the euro launched in 11 European countries. However, Greece did not meet the fiscal criteria due to its budget deficit and debt-to-GDP ratio.
  2. Greece adopted the euro currency in 2001 but did so by distorting its finances. During that time, Greece’s budget deficit was well over 3 percent. Additionally, it had a debt level above 100 percent of its GDP.
  3. In 2004, Greece held the summer Olympics in Athens. This cost the country approximately $12 billion, which it did not have.
  4. The United States suffered through a crisis of its own which triggered a global banking and credit crunch in 2007-2008. As a result, borrowing costs rose around the world, subsequently affecting Greece.
  5. The E.U. and International Monetary Fund granted $146 billion in loans to Greece over the course of three years in 2010. In exchange, Prime Minister Papandreou promised to cut spending and increase taxes.

According to economist and former finance minister of Greece, James Galbraith, the last decade will go down in Greek history as a period of asset-stripping, poorly funded health care and education, unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures, homelessness and even suicide.

The Good News

While financial devastation has affected Greece and its people, there is some good news. Greece now has more control than ever before when it comes to its economy. For the first time since 2010, Greece can borrow money at standard rates. The hope is that Greece will be able to pay back loans faster and with less burdensome contingencies.

How the United States is Helping Greece

The United States government and its people are attempting to help solve the issues regarding the economy and poverty in Greece. One way that people can help is simply by donating. Foundations such as SOS Children’s Villages works with children, families and communities to prevent family breakdown and ensure that children’s rights are met. Meanwhile, The Hellenic Initiative is an organization that is answering Greeks’ call by providing a critical safety net to families that the crisis hit the hardest along with their relief partners. By donating to one or both of these organizations, children who have experienced abandonment or became orphans will receive a second chance, vulnerable families will be able to obtain psychological support and Greek hospitals will be better equipped.

Greek Americans who have dual citizenship can also help solve the problem of the economy and poverty in Greece because many can still vote in Greek elections and use their voices to make a difference. As for appointed leaders, Americans can urge their senators and congressmen to continue supporting Greece by exporting defense articles, medical, construction, food processing, specialty agriculture and packaging materials. Another way to show leaders that helping Greece matters is by simply emailing or calling them.

Though it has been a tough decade for Greece and its people, everyone and everything is capable of resilience. It may take a while for the nation to fully recover, but it can get there faster with a little hope from its people and a little help from the United States.

Stacey Krzych
Photo: Flickr

IsraAID Responds to Global Crises
Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, the nonprofit organization IsraAID responds to global crises, such as natural disasters and poverty, and sends teams of volunteers to help those in need. After its founding in 2001, IsraAID responded to crises in over 50 different countries. Its expertise in crisis relief includes emergency aid distributions, pinpoint trauma support and prevention training for local government and non-government professionals. These are some of the global crises IsraAID has responded to:

Typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines

IsraAID sent its first mission to the Philippines after Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. Working in collaboration with local partner Operation Blessing International, IsraAID dispatched a team of nurses and doctors to assist in the emergency medical operations. In 2013, another typhoon devastated the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people, injuring more than 28,000 and affecting over 16 million people overall. IsraAID responded within 48 hours with its medical team on the ground less than four days after the event. It spent the first three days of its efforts assisting the local health workers in one of the many hospitals the typhoon had destroyed. After that, IsraAID spent the next two years operating with the local government, instigating programs in medical support, psychotherapy and the rebuilding of the fallen cities.

Earthquake in Nepal

After a major earthquake left Nepal in ruins back in 2015, IsraAID sent a team to help the local police force locate survivors and provide emergency medical treatment. This was a relief to the local authorities and medical personnel outnumbered by the number of injuries and the chaos that ensued. Working alongside the authorities and an emergency response from the Israeli Defense Forces, IsraAID volunteers risked their lives to save and treat the survivors who the rubble had trapped. IsraAID not only provided the immediate essentials of food, water, shelter and medical aid to the Nepalese but also focused its efforts on long-term recovery via farming, fishing and a new supply of clean water. It also provided psychosocial services to the victims, helping them cope with and build resilience in the wake of the tragedy.

The Dadaab Refugee Camp and Famine in Kenya

Since 2007, IsraAID has been sending emergency relief teams to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya—the largest refugee camp in the world—to aid the victims running from violence and famine. Later in 2011, when a drought caused one of the worst famines to ever strike the Horn of Africa, IsraAID returned to Kenya with a distribution of food and relief items for the refugees and locals still suffering from hunger and chaos. It also offered that same assistance to the people of Turkana, Kenya’s poorest county. IsraAID has maintained a steady presence in Kenya since 2013, helping those in poverty and the refugee camp with medical treatment, water management and psychosocial support.

Refugee Crisis in Greece

During the refugee crisis in 2015, IsraAID responded by sending a team of volunteers to Greece. Special mobile units provided immediate medical and psychosocial aid, distributed supplies and identified particularly vulnerable groups, such as children. IsraAID volunteers also rescued refugees whose boats had capsized and provided sleeping bags to anyone who had to sleep on the ground. Throughout the crisis, the volunteers provided food, clothing, medicine and hygiene kits to the refugees, as well as psychotherapy training to the local government and non-government professionals so that it could better care for the traumatized population.

Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria devastated the Puerto Rican population in 2017, IsraAID responded with a Spanish-fluent team of psychosocial and medical support, as well as experts in water and sanitation. At the time, the country’s poverty rate was 43.5 percent and the unemployment rate at 10.3 percent, on top of 95 percent of the populace losing electricity as a result of the storm. IsraAID provided emergency relief programs in the distribution of food, water and basic supplies, medical treatment and mental support. The team then shifted focus to long-term recovery and implemented a system to provide water and sanitation to the people of Puerto Rico.

The aforementioned countries and many others have benefitted greatly from IsraAID’s support, and IsraAID responds to global crises to this day. The organization has even established ongoing training programs for water management, psychosocial services and other relief efforts in the countries listed above, as well as in Japan, South Korea, Haiti, Jordan and South Sudan. As IsraAID responds to global crises, those in need have a chance to lead better lives.

– Yael Litenatsky
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Corruption in Greece
When the Greek economy began to publicly collapse in 2009, it started to drown in a depression the likes of which many could not handle. Instead, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund stepped in with the largest bailout in the history of global economics. Greece got a second chance for a price of 240 billion euros. Many expected this to mark an end to illicit financial practices in Greece, however, in the past decade, corruption has managed to stay alive and well in a country with a new lease on life. These are 10 facts about corruption in Greece to help better understand what is happening and why.

10 Facts About Corruption in Greece

  1. The Price One Pays for a Civilized Society: Oliver Wendell Holmes was an American Supreme Court Justice and not an expert on the Greek economy, however, his definition of taxes shall be important in these 10 facts about Greek corruption. It expresses the importance of paying taxes to maintain a civilized society. Tax fraud is rampant in Greece. When millions of citizens lie about their income to get away with spending next to nothing on taxes and large corporations do the same (albeit on a larger scale), the tax burden often shifts to the middle class. When life in the middle class becomes unaffordable, poverty grows and the problem seems increasingly unsolvable, eroding the public’s trust in its own institutions. Former U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Magdalena Carmona, stated that “Tax fraud perpetuates income inequality. A government that does not do everything it can to fight tax fraud is a government that is not doing everything it can for economic equality.”
  2. Crime and Lack of Punishment: Millions of Greeks take no issue with lying about their income due to the fact that there are little to no consequences for it. Greek citizens and officials expect their names to disappear in a void of red tape and missing files, and it works more often than not. However, despite the general sentiment that corrupt officials can get away with their crimes, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, leader of the New Democracy Party, began actively pursuing financial corruption in his government. Perhaps the most notable of his achievements was the arrest of former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos. Prosecutors had reportedly given him a 20-year prison sentence after they determined that he might have stolen close to a billion euros from defense contracts.
  3. Fakelakia: Corruption thrives in places that have normalized it. Generally, bribes in Greece happen through small envelopes stuffed with cash to expedite services from household utility maintenance to hospital care. The practice is so common that fakelakia, meaning little envelopes in Greek, has become shorthand for bribes. Anyone can do it in Greece, from high-level officials to everyday citizens. In an effort to combat this, a young woman named Kristina Tremonti started an anonymous whistleblower website in 2012 for people to call out corruption without risking persecution. According to Tremonti, “names are not revealed for the whistleblower’s protection. Once a significant number of complaints have been lodged against a particular clinic or doctor the authorities are promptly notified.”
  4. Justice is for Sale: It is not just everyday Greek citizens who have become all too familiar with bribery. According to the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption group, the Greek judicial system needs more clearly defined rules concerning professional conduct and integrity for judges and prosecutors in the judicial system. As the system is now, it does not resolve corporate regulation cases in an efficient manner. When it does, “over a third of companies perceive the independence of courts as fairly or very bad.” In addition, almost half of all Greek citizens believe corruption to be a common practice in Greek courts.
  5. Corruption is Classic: While overhauling a nation’s government to root out corruption is certainly a victory, as Samaras began doing in 2014, the process can be a bit messier than most people might want to deal with. When a corrupt system is the only system with which people are familiar and it goes away, the immediate aftermath is a nation of citizens who do not know what to do next or how they should do it. Older generations suffer frustration that they can no longer fully utilize a system they have known all their lives. A Greek senior citizen reported to the Guardian that, “Nothing gets done anymore because it’s so much more difficult to bribe civil servants… Now nothing works.”
  6. Expectance of Failure Can Ensure Failure: The desire to hold on to as much money as possible is not the sole motivation for the tax fraud crisis in Greece, it is also about withholding that tax money so that a government the people perceive as untrustworthy cannot spend it. Without public funds to spend on health care, social security and school systems, all public services suffer as a result, thus reinforcing the public’s belief that the government doesn’t have what it takes to help them. In the early years after the financial crisis, under-the-table payments to doctors and clinics totaled 300 million euros or $334,949,950.66 U.S. Greece has made some progress in recent years, though, and now dental and health care costs have reduced by half.
  7. Many are Guilty of Corruption: Tax dodgers or corporations are not the only offenders of bribery in Greece. Corruption is so widespread in Greece that even rehab networks and humanitarian organizations have a history of doing things under the table for the sake of efficiency. The former president of Kethea, the largest rehab network in Greece, even went on the record saying, “Even agencies like Okana, dealing with the very sensitive issue of drug addiction, have been found to have abused funds on a massive scale.”
  8. For the Record, There is not Always a Record: When people do not include economic activities in national records to avoid paying indirect taxes to the proper authorities, they are part of a country’s shadow economy. Obviously, funds that go into a shadow economy are nearly impossible to track, but the majority of funds in the shadow economy are the result of undeclared employment. Getting payment under the table means fewer taxes for everyone involved. The issue may not seem too pressing, however “various studies have calculated that the shadow economy makes up between 20 to 30 percent of GDP [in Greece], an unusually high percentage for a developed country.” To put that into solid numbers, the shadow economy took up 22.4 percent of the total economy in 2015. That means 40 billion euros went unaccounted for that year.
  9. Holding Greece’s Corruption Accountable: Through these are 10 facts about corruption in Greece, financial and political corruption are prevalent all over the world. That is why a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) called The Combating Global Corruption Act proposes requiring the U.S. State Department to rank countries on a three-tier system. Countries compliant with anti-corruption regulations would rank as a first-tier country whereas countries like Greece with a history of apathy towards rooting out corruption would rank as a third-tier country. This bill would let U.S. officials put money into anti-corruption policies with seized resources. Essentially, those who helped perpetuate global poverty would have to pay to clean up their own mess.
  10. Ninety Years of Financial Instability and Still Going Strong: Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. The Greece that the world knows today is almost two centuries old and for 90 years of that time, it was either in the middle of restructuring debt or in default.

Despite Greece’s challenges with corruption, it is slowly moving in the right direction through Kristina Tremonti’s whistleblower website, government efforts and the reduction of costs for health care services. With the implementation of The Combating Global Corruption Act in the U.S. and Greece’s internal efforts to reduce corruption, these 10 facts about corruption in Greece may disappear into the past.

 – Nicholas Smith
Photo: Flickr