Finding hope among the ruins

May 31, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Image RemovedDuring the next few weeks we will be featuring key articles from the second issue of Transition Free Press. We start today with the news pages and a frontline report from Athens by Lia Zorzou. Our news pages cover the bigger frame in which the Transition movement sits and its grassroots solutions to the challenges we face, in the fields of energy and economics in particular. This issue’s front page, for example, looks at fracking for gas and oil and the coal industry, with insights from Transitioners in the Appalachian mountains. As global carbon emissions rose this week to 400ppm and austerity imposed by banks beggars nations from Spain to Egypt, here is Lia’s story about finding hope among the ruins in Greece:

While austerity measures are now an everyday reality for most Greeks, for an increasing number of people resourcefulness, problem solving and action have replaced anger and frustration. Two years ago people were walking the streets of Athens with long faces and eyes full of despair. Today many are giving their time to help and support others in need, but most importantly to help themselves: to talk, to laugh, to feel useful and to live differently, focusing on what is most needed to make them happy instead of being seduced by corporations and advertisers who create desires rather than fulfilling needs.

There are many initiatives in Greece where you can now buy food directly from the producers at fair prices. You can use local currencies to exchange food or services. Park spaces that were unused and sites that were abandoned have been transformed into useful play areas and gardens. Roof and balcony vegetable gardens are appearing on blocks of flats.

Initiatives that support homeless people and others that offer food regularly to the most needy have flourished. People are giving space in their own houses to help people and families in need. For example, a group called There Is Love, which helps families in need, has been operating in the Moschato area of Athens since 2003, but, according to the organisation’s president, Eleni Manolaki: “We’ve done far more work in the last two years because there is so much need now.

“In 2012 we helped a number of single parent families that lost their homes and all their possessions to find clothes, food and a place to live,” she added. “Residents of the Moschato area offered their empty flats which were renovated with the help of volunteers and the support of the local council. The bills of these houses are being paid by our members.” Mrs Manolaki acknowledges that this can not be done for all, or for a long time, but she’s happy that it has saved some families for now: “By changing these people’s lives for the better you gain more caring people; the people who have been helped in the past are the ones that come back to support the others that need help now.”

Image RemovedThe Metropolitan Community Clinic in the Hellinikon district of Athens provides free medical assistance to the unemployed and those who have no social security or very little income. Seven pharmacists, 40 doctors and 150 volunteers have, over the last 10 months, taken care of more than 1,500 citizens in need.

The clinic is supported by volunteers from the Sotiria state hospital. But the work of the clinic doesn’t stop with the provision of care. Staff assess each case and will provide support to patients who have ended up ill due to a lack of medical care and who want to take legal action against the government. Clinic staff also seek to publicise the true current situation of the Greek health service so the world can understand how the austerity measures are affecting human life. Georgios Vihas, the chief cardiologist of the clinic, is also keen to stress that: “This clinic offers a way to deal with the health care problem at the current moment in Greece, but we are not by any means trying to replace a much needed national health service.”

New thinking is flourishing everywhere. Theodosis Boudisimo runs a not-for-profit organisation called ‘i.d.e.a.’, which uses volunteers to help anyone with an idea turn it into reality. “Corruption was a major defect of the Greek government and public sector,” says Theodosis, “so we set up i.d.e.a to be as clean as possible.” There are different code numbers to match each activity and different bank accounts to differentiate between the daily expenses of the organisation and the expenses of each activity; everything is publicly available for anyone who wishes to check. Regular actions by i.d.e.a. include: food handouts to the homeless every Friday and Sunday in the centre of Athens; clothing giveaways every second Saturday; and food support direct to the homes of families whose situation is particularly desperate.

Meanwhile, Transition Moschato Town is developing a reskilling service for the unemployed and for those who want to learn a new skill. The long term aim is to create a skills exchange or time bank.

At first glance all these groups seem to be offering temporary assistance rather than long-term transformation. As the crisis and the effects of it touch more and more people, the groups will need to find mechanisms to stay alive and working. At the same time, Greeks who previously were not strong at volunteering are now offering their time to support others. A new culture of volunteering is emerging in Greece which has already transformed our communities and which will hopefully transform the economy as well by finding new ways to exchange goods and skills that are good for the many rather than the few.

Lia Zorzou is an environmentalist and acadmic whose work includes flood river management and renewable energy projects. Lia is also a founder member of Transition Town Moschato in Athens and is working to promote Transition in Greece.

Images: young boy, old civilisation (Lia Zorzou); photowall of Mountain Heroes from Appalacian Mountain Top Removal protest, (Earth Justice)

Tags: austerity measures, Greek economy