“Here, we earn what we need”: in Greece, a help center unlike any other



“Here, it is the feeling of helping another human being that dominates and the very wayin which you do your job is different ”, says Marina, a volunteer pharmacist at the alternative center of Kapnikos Stathmos (literally “tobacco station”), an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki in northern Greece. His pharmacy would make any pharmacy in the world green with envy. Everything is stored there, listed and protected from the surrounding humidity.

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“Thanks to our software, we know precisely our drug stocks”, welcomes Ilias Tsolakidis, a Greek computer scientist who works in Germany, while devoting himself to this center like no other. He was even one of the linchpins nearly fifteen years ago. “I lived just in front of this disused place formerly dedicated to the cultivation of tobacco, he remembers. It was the ideal place to house our citizens’ initiative which had just been created. The social needs of the city were immense. Then the migratory crisis pointed its nose in 2007 and the financial crisis followed. We started collecting food, medicine, blankets. We did not know where to store them so we occupied the premises. “

Help for 8 hours of work per month

Since then, a unique case in the history of the country, the success of this center, which volunteers have rehabilitated, forced the authorities to legalize its occupation for the next 20 years. “Our success, adds Giorgos, a volunteer., is due to the fact that the inhabitants of the region as the migrants benefit from the same programs. “

“But here, we don’t give. We earn what we need, argues Ilias. Each person who receives help chooses where and how they can work 8 hours a month, which entitles them to their 35 kg of food or hygiene products. It’s his salary, not a handout, he specifies. We find our lost dignity in exile and we prepare for their integration into Greek society. “

Bare backs and scarves rub shoulders

As proof, at Kapnikos Stathmos Greek is also taught to little refugees. “Children absorb like sponges, explains between two lessons Maria Marakou, volunteer teacher. Here I really feel like I’m doing somethingthing for the refugees because the children act as interpreters for their parents, cut off from everything. If they speak Greek, they can interact with the people in the yard, maybe find a job and start a new life. They will no longer just be refugees, they will become neighbors, friends. “

Little by little, the mothers of the children are also getting involved.In the gleaming kitchen in varnished wood, bare backs rub shoulders with tight scarves to make chocolate truffles. Everyone has a smile on their face. Little Ijam, an 8-year-old Afghan boy, is excited to discover a dish unknown in his country. “Little by little, they are discovering what we eat at home, explains Maria, worth all seminars! “

Everyone knows who gives what

While many associations run out of steam after a few years, Kapnikos Stathmos is staying the course. Recipe ? “Anyone can come and propose an initiative, explains Ilias. If it is adopted, the person who proposed it is responsible for carrying it through; all of these distinct actions form the Kapnikos Stathmos. “

So there are those who watch Mount Olympus every summer to stop fires, those who organize the collection of blankets for the homeless, those who clean cemeteries etc. A formidable weapon of this organization which has around 1,500 active volunteers, some 25,000 people registered on the list receive all the proposals and can get involved on a case-by-case basis.

In an emergency, everyone is helping out. At the height of the migratory crisis, Kapnikos Stathmos took over the entire management of the nearby Yazidi refugee camp. And thanks to the total transparency of the centre’s accounts, everyone knows who gives what, where the least money goes, the least kilo of lentils. An appreciable virtue in a country where corruption is found at all levels of the administration.

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