‘The Greek diaspora is making a real impact’: THI Australia’s CEO, Stergitsa Zamagias-Hill

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By Stergitsa Zamagias – Hill*

Last month, after an absence of a couple of years, I was in Athens again on a personal trip and worked as a volunteer with The Hellenic Initiative Australia’s partner charities in Greece. 

Walking around Piraeus late one evening, with the temperature barely 7 degrees, I came across elderly people sleeping on metal benches for the night. Layers of cardboard and blankets created a mattress, and their belongings were simply in a box close by. This was a vastly different picture to what I’d seen at Piraeus in previous years while waiting to catch the afternoon ferry to the island of Poros. 

On this night, I was with our partner charity, Emfasis Foundation, and a remarkable team of people who are out every night helping the homeless and isolated in Attica. We had essential items including long lasting food, facemasks, sanitiser, blankets and care packages. 

I was struck by the close relationship the Emfasis team members had built with all the people we met that night. They visit the same spots regularly to provide help and comfort to the people they have spoken to in the proceeding days and months. The relationships were touching and were based on care and respect.

Top image: Volunteering with Emfasis at Piraeus, Bottom image: Stergitsa (3rd from the left), the Emfasis team and Natasa (in the red coat) a beneficiary of our support.  

I was touched by the trust the people had placed in the social worker and psychologist that were speaking to them about their situation and who made follow up appointments to access social and medical services. Hearing the words ‘thank you’ and seeing the smile that followed as we left them with a care package was so heartwarming. 

It was obvious to me just how effective every dollar of our support to Emfasis has been. It was inspiring to witness the dedication and empathy displayed by charity staff towards the homeless people sheltering in the cold. 

Earlier in the day, I volunteered with the Boroume and the Farmers’ Market program which The Hellenic Initiative Australia has been supporting since 2015. Pushing borrowed shopping trolleys from the local supermarket to the Halandri farmers’ market, we collected 235 kilos of fresh vegetables and fruit generously donated by the farmers at the end of the day. Two days later we collected a further 260 kilos of fresh food at the Ellinoroson market. The generosity of the farmers, even though they too are doing it tough because of the cold snap that had destroyed many of their crops, was remarkable. 

Stergitsa volunteering with Boroume at the Farmers’ Markets

As I was unloading the food from the trolley into the waiting local charity van, I could see the workers were overwhelmed by the amount of produce we had collected. This local charity is regularly caring for over 100 people who benefit from these food distributions.   

A visit to the farmers’ market as a volunteer is an opportunity for anyone travelling to Greece this summer. If you have a few hours to spare you can choose from thirty farmers’ markets in Athens and Thessaloniki and take part in this wonderful volunteer program organised by Boroume.

All you need to do is stop at the stalls to see if there is any leftover produce and put it in the trolley for the selected local charity to repurpose the saved food into meals. Not only do you get to see the colourful farmers’ markets in Greece, but you are also making a valuable contribution to Boroume. 

I left Athens feeling deeply satisfied that The Hellenic Initiative Australia and the Greek diaspora is making a real impact in providing hope and support to the vulnerable communities in Greece today. 

As Greek Australians who are immensely proud of our Greek heritage, we welcome news that Greece is on a path to economic recovery and seeing major international investments now happening in Greece. The challenges that vulnerable and socially excluded communities and families living on or below the poverty line face remain, and that is why the help of the Greek diaspora is still needed. The huge increase in the price of utilities such as electricity and water together with food insecurity are common areas of concern for so many people earning as little as 400 euro per month. 

COVID19 has had an impact on our fundraising activities, and any amount you can donate to The Hellenic Initiative Australia is welcomed. As you can see every dollar goes a long way to bringing a smile to the people that are supported by our charity partners in Greece. 

*Stergitsa Zamagias-Hill is The Hellenic Initiative Australia’s Chief Executive Officer which raises funds to provide much needed aid to vulnerable and socially isolated communities across Greece. Since 2015 it has committed more than AU$1.5 million, helping thousands of people in need across health, social services, education and employment pathway programs. A registered charity in Australia, all donations of $2 or more are tax deductible.

*If you are interested helping The Hellenic Initiative Australia you can contact Stergitsa by email, stergitsa@thehellenicinitiative.com.au or donate online https://au.thehellenicinitiative.org/donate/

 

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