John, 43 years old, has been a shopkeeper all his life. His record shop in one of the southern suburbs of Athens was a meeting place for music lovers. Two years ago he was forced to close it due to lack of customers. “I am luckier than most, he smiles. I have found a seasonal job and the summers are long in Greece”. What happens in the winter, I wonder. “I collect unemployment but also go to my father-in-law’s olive grove and help him out. It is not a lot of money but I get the olive oil of the year. I have no children, my wife works, I am better off than many others”.
I met John at the Metropolitan Social healthcare Center in Ellinikon where he works as a volunteer three times a week. The Center started with about 60 volunteers and today has about 150. The Municipality of Elliniko – Argyroupoli covers the administrative expenses. What does John do at the healthcare center? “I collect the information and direct the patients to the relevant doctor. I make appointments, give information, help out wherever needed. As I said I am better off than most so I want to give something back”.
Annoula is about 43 too. She is divorced and has a teenage son. Her ex-husband helps with the expenses. “He still has a job but is also insecure”. An award – winning graphic artist for 20 years Anna lost her job when the record company she worked for went bankrupt four years ago. With her redundancy pay she set up her own office creating newspapers lay outs, collaborating with various municipalities in their cultural events. “I was doing well for some time. When the crisis hit the municipalities- who were among my best customers – and they stopped paying me I found myself on the rocks. They cut off my electricity supply and my telephone line. My ex-husband and close friends helped out but it is an ongoing struggle. I am thankful I don’t have to pay rent. I had to stop my son from English lessons and tuition for the exams but he is fifteen, he has to eat well. I am thinking of going to live on my father’s home island where everything is cheaper and I could rent the Athens house but that would be detrimental to my son’s future. I am looking for a job, any kind of job but so far have found nothing.” She is not eligible for unemployment benefits and her state health insurance will soon be over. “ I remember at this time last year I was collecting money to help another friend pay her electricity bill. I can’t believe it is happening to me now”.
54 years old Joanne works for one of the best known fashion brands in Athens. She has not been paid for ten months. Her husband is a pensioner and her son is studying in Crete. “I was watching on TV how the banks gave a loan to a television channel and I know that they refused my company! What do you make of it?”
George has just finished his studies and has been looking for a job for less than six months. “The starting salary is about 550 Euros if you are lucky. Employers take advantage of the situation and avoid paying the state insurance fund which means that I am not entitled to health care and of course I shall never get a pension. My friends and I are thinking of starting our own internet company selling photographs, videos, news about Greece. George’s parents are diaspora Greeks and they have no village so their only hope is immigration but they are not so keen about it. “I remember my father always talking of the home country. I want my son to live here and have a home. I shall do my best to help him. We have to be patient”, says Peter, George’s father.
Four people hit by the crisis, four stories of struggle and survival. All four are active in the solidarity movement, everyone in his/her way. All four are striving to keep their integrity and humanity. This is the bet Greek society has to win.