A year ago I sat, bewildered reading headlines about a humanitarian catastrophe beginning to unfold in Greece and a diaspora that had not yet mobilized. Since January of 2012 when my first Huffington Post piece was published, a lot has changed.
The Greek Orthodox Church in America has sent a few million dollars to church-sponsored soup kitchens, the AHEPA has mobilized its own network and the International Orthodox Christian Charities and the Hellenic Relief Foundation (to name only a few organizations) have undertaken remarkable work.
But despite these efforts, the true nature and scope of Greece's humanitarian crisis is beyond comprehension. A German trauma expert warned of a civil war on the horizon, calling Greece a psychotherapist's worst nightmare.
We Greek North Americans are offspring of hope. Our parents and grandparents came to the New World in search of a better life. It was Hope that was their driving force and it was their belief in hope that drove them, in many instances, to leave the comforts of home and family, only to face adversity and uncertainty. We are here today, living successful lives and doing what we do in our respective jobs, families and communities-- because of hope.
We owe it to our family and friends in our ancestral homeland to give back some of that hope, now, more than ever.
We can no longer sit back with cynicism in our hearts and minds and complain about the corrupt system, the bribes, and the low-life politicians. Today, the average Greek is suffering-- and it's not his or her fault, but the fault of a small-- but powerful percentage of people who have raped the nation.
We cannot purport to be "Greek" Americans, "Greek" Canadians, "Greek" Orthodox Christians or "Greek" anything, for that matter, and not have a genuine concern for the "Greek" side of our identity.Greece is under threat. And by extension, anything Greek is too-- including our own Greekness.
No matter how safe we feel and how comfortable our existence is in our churches, our communities and our various organizations and causes-- we cannot be Greek by convenience. We shouldn't "use" our Greekness just to sell a souvlaki or a piece of moussaka at a festival. And if is our Greek Orthodox Christianity that drives us, we should look up the word symbonia in the dictionary. Compassion. It's a basic tenet of the faith.
Greece and our Greekness need us now, more than ever.
Unemployment amongst Greek youth is at an all-time high, with over 50% of young people without work. Children do not have access to basic healthcare and medicine and the nation's most vulnerable people are increasing in numbers by the day.
In the city of Athens, a city that was once beaming with color and pride, there are now more than 20,000 homeless.Health officials dealt with a malaria outbreak in 2012-- a rarity in modern, civilized societies and HIV infection is increasing in alarming numbers that have European officials scared. Suicide rates have skyrocketed-- from the lowest in all of Europe to amongst the highest.
Thousands of young, talented and educated citizens have already left Greece, creating a severe brain drain. The middle class has been decimated. Faith in the country's institutions has been shattered.
Since writing my first piece, I received hundreds-- perhaps a few thousand-- emails and messages saying "How can we help" and "What are you doing to help." Well, it has taken almost a year of planning and preparation and support, advice and mentoring from friends including Jim Gianopulos (Fox Films CEO) and actor Melina Kanakaredes, who both have deep connections to Greece and who both helped me realize the position of influence I was in to mobilize my network via the Greek America Foundation.
Furthermore, it was my own partner of twenty years, Brandon Wilson-- not even a Greek by DNA but someone who has embraced this culture-- to look me in the eye and say "We need to do something about this."
While we agree that much is needed in the area of structural, government and public sector reform-- and yes, there is corruption and severe institutional problems that need to be addressed... We must address the core issues of humanity at this time and hope that with the support that we can offer, we can change things on a grass roots level... one person at a time, with hope. I cannot change the system. I cannot prosecute the corrupt or bring the criminals to justice.
We have launched Project Hope for Greece, a grass roots movement of people who care about Greece who want to help make a difference. We will mobilize a network of donors throughout North America and raise money for a central fund that will support various initiatives in Greece.
Our areas of funding will focus on (1) the most vulnerable in Greek society; (2) entrepreneurial and vocational support for the unemployed; and (3) education for disenfranchised youth.
Heavy emphasis will be placed on transparency and ONLY organizations and institutions that pass stringent financial reporting tests will be selected as beneficiaries. Furthermore, we have a zero-tolerance policy of Greek government involvement. None of the funds we donate will go anywhere near a government official or entity.
We will raise funds through a continent-wide network of "Ambassadors of Hope" who will each commit to raising $1000 from small events they will host and invite their network of family and friends. Our goal is to find 300 in year one to complete their events by May 1st so we can announce our results during the Greek America Foundation's Gabby Awards Weekend, where Greek North Americans will come together to celebrate their "best and brightest" and simultaneously let Greece know that we care.
Some Ambassadors will host small dinner parties, others are giving up their birthdays and asking for donations to Project Hope for Greece in lieu of gifts. As of 12/20/12 almost 30 people have already signed up to be Ambassadors. Donations to the fund in any amount are also being collected.
Hope-- elpida-- is all that remained in Pandora's Box when she opened it, freeing all of the world's evils. That's not coincidental, as hope is the most powerful tool we can offer to the people of Greece... There is plenty left in the world and together, with all of your help, we can make a difference with a critical mass of goodness... One person at a time.