Greek Crisis Awakens Greeks’ Character

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before,” said Rahn Emmanuel, President Obama’s first chief of staff, in response to the financial crisis that best the United States in 2008, shortly before Obama took office. What Emmanuel meant by that statement, he explained, is that in times of crisis, a nation should turn it into an opportunity to emerge even stronger than before. In Greece, there are signs that is happening – maybe not in terms of the economic and political infrastructure, but in terms of the character, integrity, and humanity of the Greek people themselves.

The country is up to its ears in debt. We Greeks owe money to people, banks, governments, and a mysterious bunch of other entities that I fail to fully grasp.

But this will not be the first time we see the other face of the moon. For those of us who still have a home in the motherland, the past two or three years have been a hard and bumpy ride. We had to face adversity and find (or devise) numerous different ways to deal with it.

Take schools, for example. It is no big secret that schools are left to their own devices. Educational funds were cut to less than half; semesters began and kids had no books, no heating, no lunch at school, no school guards, no cantinas. Crisis hit the schools.

But what about the parents? I read on K magazine the stories of parents who took matters into their own hands. They decided that each had a part to play; depending on their abilities, profession and skills. Some painted the walls, the classrooms, and the blackboards, fixed broken doors, bought chalk, and moped the classroom floors.

Forgotten PTAs revived and parents gathered for good brainstorming, money being the main priority. Cookie sales (that’s a new one for Greeks!), lotteries and such, helped them raise the funds they needed to shape up schools.

Parents also asked local stores to donate goods (such as lottery gifts), and the response was touching. In a school in Dionysos, 80 parents, 2 teachers, 1 Saturday and 16 hours later, 15 classrooms were painted, 120 bad bulbs were replaced, windows were fixed, all desks and floors were washed, and curtains were changed. Mindblowing, eh?

There are numerous instances all around the country documenting the new era that has begun: an era of cooperation, social solidarity, innovation, and volunteerism.

It is not just parents and teachers, however, that have worked around a new way of facing and overcoming hardships. Take the case of Social Kitchen: the other human, as it is called, which is a kitchen on the go. Every single day a small group of volunteers cook onsite and distribute the food to all those who need it. And they do not discriminate: race, age, and nationality, are of no importance.

The idea began from a single person, Kostas Polichronopoulos, who had a life- changing experience. He saw two kids fighting for an apple they had just collected from a trash can. Even though he was unemployed himself since 2009 and suffered from depression, he decided that this was no way to go.

He roamed the farmers’ markets and saw people, gathering the leftovers, trying to put beans on the table. So, one day, he sketched up an outdoor kitchen and cooked food for the less-privileged souls. Soon enough, with the donations of the merchants in the farmers’ market, he gathered volunteers and expanded the kitchen to feed up to 3,000 people per month.

His movement provides more than food for the belly; it provides food for thought (to us) and nourishment to the soul of thousands of people. Eating among dozens of people each day, exchanging a ‘’good word’’ as we Greeks love to say, sharing the love, experiencing the solidarity and restoring the faith in the human race, are simply ideals that no affluent government will ever be able to inspire.

Polichronopoulos was awarded for his contribution by an “everyday heroes” show, but little did he care! He makes clear that he does not take any donations from the municipalities or any companies. Why? Simply because acts of love are manifested right in front of his eyes every single day, people providing for people, solidarity, and kindness with no strings attached no advertisement budgets, no hidden motives.

We learn to become better, we reinvent ourselves, we face our inner qualities and we put them to work.

Crisis or no crisis, we have always been one thing: human beings that care about our fellow human beings. That is the common denominator that many have chosen to push aside and forget. But when a crisis, pushes us to the edge, it tests our inner core and rewards us with an open mind, love, and an unimaginably satisfying soul-exalting feeling.

All it takes is a change in attitude. The rest will follow.