What about the Children?

23 Jun

What is happening in Greece right now is a real tragedy.

People often ask me to talk about the country I was born in nearly 33 years ago, and then left in 2004. My sister, my father and my friends tell me how they try to survive, how they no longer believe in the future, and how it is hard to explain what is going on to their children.

The other day, my friend’s 7 year old daughter was waiting for him when he came back from the bank, “What did the bank say daddy? Are we going to lose our house?”

My father fell into depression when he realized that although he’s been working since he was 15 years old to build his own business, he’s lost everything. He can’t pass on anything to his children and he can’t help my younger sister and brother, who still need his support.

The despair has brutal consequences for some.

In June, the Minister of Health presented a report  to the Greek parliament revealing that the suicide rate in Greece increased by 40% in the first half of 2012.

The Greek Association Klimaka opened a hotline for suicide prevention. They receive more than 100 calls daily, instead of the 10 before the crisis.

And then there are those who set themselves on fire.

There are also those families who, unable to send their children to school, or even feed them, have no choice but to place them in foster homes, and wait. For better days.

A friend who works at the SOS Children’s Village in Athens confirmed that children are fainting at schools for not eating. Physical education teachers prefer to cancel classes fearing that their students will pass out. Parent Associations are organizing and ensuring food distribution for their children themselves. “Illegal” markets are improvised behind toll stations and fairs. Places where families can find free food.

More and more people are feeding their families by picking garbage bins at night. Unemployment  is increasing constantly, hitting new records this year: 21% (54% in the 15-24 age group).

It is now difficult to be treated in Greece, hospitals are full. For a common cold, a father prefers to take his child to the emergency department at a public hospital where he will pay 5 Euros for consultation, rather than to a pediatrician who will charge up to 50.

Doctors of the World are asking for donations on television to help the poor.

Yes, the country is on the verge of an explosion. And how could it be otherwise? The obsession of draconian austerity plans  have plunged the country into its fifth year of recession. How can one live on 500 euros per month when rent alone is 300 euros?

“Did you hear about Ms Lagarde’s comments?” I asked a 36 year old friend who has been working crazy hours as an independent counselor and had to move back to her parents house. “Yes, I’ve heard, frankly I don’t give a shit anymore about what those people say. I haven’t been paid for the last 7 months and like most people here, I just hope they won’t cut my electricity so at the very least, I can keep on working from home. I don’t have enough money to put gas in my car.”

In a recent interview in the Guardian, the Head of IMF Christine Lagarde was asked of what lies ahead for the children of Greece: “Well, their parents are responsible, right? So parents have to pay their taxes” she said. She also admitted  having “more sympathy for poor African children than Greeks suffering under the country’s economic problems and austerity measures.”

This is certainly shocking rhetoric but symptomatic of how the world is looking at Greece. For the most part the media and governments are looking at the debt, the Euro, the market consequence of the default. They are not looking at the people, the children, and their real life struggles.

Born in Greece, I grew up in a bilingual French / Greek environment. I lived between Greece, Africa and France. My husband, “I”, French of Lebanese and Syrian origin is also multilingual: French/English/Arabic, and has lived in France, Africa and Canada. Our little girl “N” was born in China in 2011.

5 Responses to “What about the Children?”

  1. Winnie S. June 24, 2012 at 5:55 am #

    Thanks for writing this and putting a human face behind the rhetoric. I think people hear the word ‘austerity’ but don’t really grasp how it affects people’s ability to provide for their families.

  2. Heidi @ homeingreece June 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    As an American living in Greece (and married to a Greek schoolteacher who has had students suffer from the issues you describe) I can confirm that this is a clear and understated picture of what is happening here. Something that you didn’t mention that I would point out is that the price of goods is extremely high in Greece, and has gone up considerably over the past few years. Meat, eggs, cheese, and fruit are all luxury items and I know almost know one who buys them. We sure don’t! Greece is still the same beautiful, welcoming, fascinating country it has always been, and I feel very lucky to live here, but it is very hard to survive. My husband’s pay is a little less than half of what it used to be, but everything costs more, they reduced the standard deduction by 60%, and now we owe an enormous tax bill that, if we don’t pay, will just grow until they throw us in jail. The thing that saddens me the most about the taxes isn’t paying them – I don’t mind supporting the Greek state at all – but the fact that 99% of that money will go straight to some European banks and none of it will go to fund schools, hospitals, public works projects, etc. I found your site through a friend and I see that it’s about being a mom – something I’ll never be, because we, like most people we know our age (30s) can’t afford to have a child. I don’t mean that in a “we wouldn’t be able to afford swimming lessons” kind of way. Just a “we wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for the birth and so the hospital would keep the child, which is becoming a trend here” kind of way.

    • natasha devalia June 24, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

      The last two lines of your comment, along with most points made in the post are flabbergasting. It’s easy to take things for granted in our everyday lives….and very hard to imagine how they’d turn out in a crisis situation. Thanks for sharing all these stories.

    • pascalinap June 24, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

      Heidi, I am truly touched by your story.
      You are right I didn’t mention the fact that a few hospitals in Greece are refusing to admit women if they can’t afford to pay the childbirth costs in advance.
      I have also noticed that infant formula is 130% more expensive in Greek pharmacies and so are many essential products!
      Childbirth can not be a privilege for the wealthy. Greece’s creditors have no right to put women before the dilemma: If I pay, I give birth. If I can’t, I don’t!
      Thank you for sharing.

  3. dr. Azhar Syarif - Nieuwegein - Holland June 30, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    my sympathy for all families in Greece and children. It is very sad to see European bank, IMF ignore the rights of children and women

    keep strong ..

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