Greece: I am broke. Please help my child.

Tommy Standun of SOS Children's Villages International interviews George Protopapas, National Director of SOS Children's Villages - Greece.
George Protopas - SOS Children's Villages Greece
George Protopas - National Director of SOS Children's Villages Greece

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March 23, 2012: My name is George Protopapas, I am the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Greece.

The goal for SOS Greece is to manage to survive the coming two-and-a-half years; they are going to be very difficult, very tough. Now we have children in the villages from single parent families, we protect because the mother is long-term unemployed, she is lacking a house, unable to find work now and probably in future. One extreme example of the financial crisis was a 4yr-old girl was abandoned in a kindergarten by her mother with a note on her chest “I cannot afford to live here, I am broke please help my child”. It is something unfortunately I believe we will probably see more often in the coming year Greece. For the moment, most cases come from low and poor class. Greek middle class families are affected by the crisis but I believe they will be the victims in the coming two years. They will probably need serious support to survive.

For SOS Greece in the past year we had a 150% increase in applications for all kinds of support. Mainly financial reasons, out of them 87% are Greeks. The municipalities or the government have closed 60% of services, the social security has broken down in Greece because the public sector collapsed in Greece in terms of social protection and security. Therapy, counselling, educational support -- this is lacking now in Greece. This is why families turned to SOS Children's Villages; because they know that their children will find a family environment and a house to be protected.

We are [also] protecting abused babies and infants to 4 or 5-year-olds. This combines protection of the infant on a 24-hour basis and at the same time you have to work with the biological parents and try to counsel them or treat them to care for their child. If this procedure is unsuccessful, then you can look either for a foster or adoption procedure ... or as a last [resort], the child [becomes part of an SOS Family]. Out of 65 [individuals], we treated very few (seven) went back to their biological families, 20 were adopted or entered foster care, and 17 [became members of SOS Families]. The rest are in the special home for babies or infants.

We have seen a lot of neglect in the maternity hospitals in Athens, due to poverty, that means we need more space for these cases because it is out of any health or psychological perspective to leave children or babies in a maternity hospital for years.

The worst situations are in Athens. We have a lot of children without family protection who get involved in theft – we have an increase in theft in Greece by at least a 600%. You can see 13-14-year-old children attacking old people, increased drug use and prostitution.

Concerning some of our SOS Staff, unfortunately we had to dismiss some people to cover taxation because, Greece apart from not receiving any government funds for programs, it is the only country worldwide that levies taxes on charities.  We have taxes on donations, inheritances, taxes on income from rent, on the value of properties, everything. Unfortunately, we had to dismiss some of our pedagogic experts, or maybe accounts, such personnel.

We are also reluctant to continue programs in the future. That is why (even though we are receiving a lot of applications to protect children), for the moment we are acting on a family strengthening programs level only – because we do not want to hire extra personnel, especially mothers ... or receive children in the Villages because then you have to react as a parent. You have to take care of the children there. We do not want to increase our obligations to these children as long as the future appears difficult and unfocused.

SOS is unique in providing a house, a mother and all the principals of Herman Gmeiner [the found of SOS Children's Villages]. Most [NGOs] that have previously received heavy state financial support are running out [of funds]. They have personnel unemployed and unpaid for more than 5 months now. I was in a meeting with other associations and for them it a appears that they will reach a year unpaid. I don’t know how long they will last, This is a reality in Greece. There are few association like SOS that work in the country for the children that are surviving.

The Greeks in general, but especially towards SOS, are still acting in warm solidarity – of course the amounts of donations have declined by 50-70%. That means we have to look for thousands to fill the gaps. All our expenses are covered by private donations. They continue to support. Of course now with 5-10 Euros, but they are there; that is morally very important.  We try to make a more hopeful future for ourselves and for the country.

Starbucks has supported Greece for more than 7-8 years, with close collaboration with SOS Greece. [In addition to funding], the most important thing Starbucks does is to offer jobs to former SOS children. So, it is not only that they support the day-to-day and annual expenses involved in running the Villages, but they also protect the future of the children we protect – which is the most important. With Starbucks in Greece we have done a lot of things. Also the Starbucks representative in Greece has extended support to the SOS Children’s Villages in Bulgaria and Romanian which is something good. If we had more alliances like Starbucks things would be more prosperous for the coming years. 

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