By Ashleigh Christina Lovett
Manager, Government Relations & Advocacy
PIRAEUS, Greece—Children and families are bearing the brunt of the five-year economic crisis in Greece. Faced with unimaginably difficult choices, many families are breaking down and children are living without the services and support they urgently need.
During my recent trip to Greece, I met with vulnerable families whom SOS Children’s Villages (SOS) supports. The head of one of them, Cleo*, sat down with me to explain how the economic crisis has placed a heavy burden on her family.
She told me that her husband—they are recently separated—lost his job five years ago. Despite his best efforts, he was never able to find another job. Without steady income, she and her family were on the verge of homelessness for years and lived without healthy food and medical care. Cleo says that the emotional toll of their daily economic struggle was a major factor in their separation.
Today, Cleo works as a house cleaner. While she used to work three days a week, now she works just one. She currently earns just 20 dollars a week, and the weak Greek economy—unemployment is at 25 percent—makes it nearly impossible to find a steadier job.
Her only child, Nicolas*, is 12 years old and suffers from dyslexia and obesity-related health issues. The issue of obesity for Nicolas—Greece has the highest child obesity rate in the world—is made worse by the fact that the family can’t afford nutritious food. Treatment for her son’s dyslexia alone would cost about $820 per month—41 times the amount she earns each month cleaning. Because of that, Nicolas went without any care for this condition for many years.
“I was initially looking for a place where my son could get educational support services, and I randomly, luckily, learned about SOS Children’s Villages,” Cleo told me at the SOS Social Center in Piraeus, Greece. “In looking for support, I was happy to find that there was a place where I could get support, too.”
At the SOS Social Center in Piraeus, which is located about 8 miles southwest of Athens, Cleo works with a social worker who helps her find available public support such as welfare and free dental care. The social worker also provides guidance to Cleo about maintaining a healthy routine and environment for her and Nicolas.
The SOS Social Center in Piraeus is one of seven such centers that SOS runs across Greece. In total, 1,150 families—among them 2,260 children—receive much-needed support at the SOS social centers including: material goods such as food and clothes; psychological support for parents and children; educational assistance for children, including children with disabilities; and job-focused training for parents.
At the center, Cleo’s son Nicolas meets with a child psychologist and works with a special education teacher who helps him learn to cope with his dyslexia. SOS also provides Nicolas with a private tutor for math, Nicolas’s favorite subject. Nicolas and his mother are provided with food on a weekly basis.
“SOS’s support has helped me take control of my situation,” Cleo said. “I feel empowered to try and improve my situation however I can.”
It’s summer break now in Greece, so Cleo and Nicolas spend time together outside whenever they can. Cleo walks and Nicolas rides his bike. They go to the beach fairly regularly and attend seminars at a local hospital where Nicolas learns how to cope with stress, emotional issues and his weight.
For Cleo, finding SOS meant finding a safe place to receive support during this very difficult time in Greece. But, she told me, it also has meant finding a “second family.”
To learn more about how the economic crisis is affecting children and families in Greece, visit our Greece Page.
*The names were changed to protect the privacy of the people interviewed..
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