What Solidarity Looks Like in Athens

Claudia Leisinger
Human Rights

The economic crisis has taken a great toll on the Greek people, especially in Athens. Young people cannot find jobs, pensions are being cut continuously, and businesses are closing. But there are people all over the city who are defying this difficult situation by working for humanity and solidarity. Here are the stories of four people that we met in Athens.

Tassos from Steps

Tassos Smetopoulos is the founder and director of the NGO Steps. One of their projects is "One Stop," which they call "a small celebration of solidarity." Their goal is to give people at least some of their dignity and happiness back. Every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon, they open their doors on 55 Athens Str, offering first aid, laundry, showers, haircuts, warm food, music, games for kids, and legal advice to people in need.

Tassos Smetopoulos from Steps demontrates solidarity in Athens, Greece
Tassos Smetopoulos from the NGO Steps demontrates solidarity in Athens, Greece
NGO Steps demontrates solidarity in Athens, Greece
Soup at the
Tassos Smetopoulos from Steps demontrates solidarity in Athens, Greece

Tassos was born and raised in Athens. A dedicated social worker with almost 4,500 hours of street work, he has initiated nine social programs. He has travelled through Europe to visit other organizations and social programs and learn from them.

Even before the crisis, the public sector in Greece never offered good social services, he says. So when the economic storm came, the state and its services were simply swept away like a shaky house. Where the state is failing, movements from the ground, like his, have to step in. He wants to support as many people as he can and make visible to the world what is happening. "What we are doing is not only social work—it's political action," says Tassos. 

Esther and Laura from the Echo Refugee Library

Athen AkropolisAkropolis in Athen, Greece

BMW Foundation Global Table in Athens

How can we re-engage the disenchanted and neglected members of society in order to promote a more inclusive model of civic participation? At the BMW Foundation Global Table in Athens, participants discussed opportunities to identify new frameworks for collaboration between local, regional, national, and international actors.

Thousands of refugees in Athens are waiting—for their asylum claims to be heard, for their journey to continue, to be reunited with their families. Their lives are put on hold. Esther ten Zijthoff, who hails from Holland and Peru, and Laura Samira Naude, from South Africa, came to Greece in 2016 to volunteer. Since then, they have turned a van into a library and an education hub for refugees, first in Thessaloniki and now in Athens. They want to help refugees to use their time, instead of simply filling it. The Echo Refugee Library is equipped with WiFi, tablets, and books. They also offer language learning resources, small group tutoring, and advice on university and job applications.

Echo Refugee Library in Athens, Greece
Echo Refugee Library in Athens, Greece
Echo Refugee Library in Athens, Greece

Debbie from the Melissa Network

Debbie Valencia, from the Philippines, co-founded Melissa in 2014 as a network for migrant women. Melissa offers, among other things, language courses, music therapy, and childcare—often by the migrant women themselves. The project's headquarters are located in an old mansion in Athens near a stronghold of Golden Dawn, a Greek xenophobic, right-wing party. The women try to deal with this situation through an open dialogue, for example by inviting neighbors to their events.

Greek for "honeybee," Melissa directly refers to women's diligence and resourcefulness, which they use to help each other. The project brings together migrant women from diverse origins to share their experiences, hopes, and concerns.  Melissa gives these women a voice, "so that they can advocate for their own rights and welfare," says Debbie.

Debbie Valencia from the Melissa Network in Athens, Greece
Girls from the Melissa Network in Athens, Greece
Gilrs from the Melissa Network Athens, Greece

Through the work of Tassos, Esther, Laura, Debbie, and so many others, people who face exclusion and social isolation find hope and the help they need to take back control of their lives. Share this story to inspire others to follow their lead.

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