Several months ago I became an Ambassador with Visit.org – a company that works to enhance the mission of great social organizations by facilitating mutually beneficial virtual and in-person interactions between people and communities around the world.
During my recent visit to Athens, Greece I decided to meet with one of the many organizations that Visit.org works with. On the day I arrived I met with Shedia-a street paper that works to provide employment for homeless who have been affected by the economic crisis in Greece. I met with Chris Alefantis, the founder of Shedia, who shared with me the history of the paper and what they’ve done for those in Athens. They even have a soccer team that has done quite well over time even playing in the Homeless World Cup!
Photo provided by Shedia
Shedia provides a City Tour that can be booked via Visit.org What does the tour include? See Athens from a different perspective. Learn about the most important organizations that provide social services such as soup kitchens, shelters, clinics, day centers, drug-rehabilitation centers, grassroots initiatives, and more.. But, the most significant part of the tour is the personal narrative that each guide shares with the participants. It’s a unique opportunity to meet, discuss and interact with people who have been hit the hardest by the current social and economic crisis, hear and learn from the story of an ordinary citizen, who lost everything virtually overnight. These are tours about human stories that must be told, they are tours about overcoming stereotypes and dealing with personal fears. One of the aims of the “Invisible Paths” is to raise awareness and mobilize the community in a common fight against poverty and social exclusion. The Tour starts at Shedia’s headquarters, where there will be a short introduction about our organization, mission, vision, and all of our projects. Take the opportunity to get to know us better, ask questions, and learn about our actions to support our fellow citizens.
The highlight of the visit for me was meeting Lambros and Maria-both of whom are formerly homeless and work with Shedia selling the paper and providing tours to visitors.
Lambros and Maria were both hit hard by the crisis. Not only did they lose their jobs but they lost their homes too. In reality, this could happen to any of us and I was amazed by their strength to use their experience to tell their story to not only help themselves but to help their community. They shared with me that between the ages of 18-29 years of age 68% of Greeks are unemployed. This number was staggering to me. 68% of that population struggles every day with the lack of a job…many having to resort to living on the streets.
As we walked thru what they call the ‘invisible path’ Lambros and Maria shared with me about their life and what Shedia has done for them. The tours allow them to work on their social and public speaking skills sharing about the community they love. Lambros said something that really stuck to me. “When people see us selling our papers they don’t shy away. They know we are good people that are working hard. Every day someone grabs my shoulders and tells me that I am doing a good job and to stay strong. During the crisis, this job has been good for my mental state just knowing that I am needed.”
I noticed Maria’s confidence may have been affected by her situation however Shedia has allowed her to stand tall in front of groups of people and share their reality….her reality. She was a shining light.
As we parted ways I removed one of my Alex and Ani bracelets which each hold a special message. I handed Maria the bracelet which says “Today is an Opportunity” and told her to look at it each day reminding herself that she has a purpose. With a huge smile on her face, she hugged me and said “this will make me always remember you.”
My visit with Shedia was my first glimpse of Greece. I had only been off the plane for a few hours and was struggling with only one hour of sleep. These beautiful souls made me forget my exhaustion. Many emotions consumed me during this visit. We experienced sadness seeing the long lines that waited outside many soup kitchens and I was shocked to see needles on the ground in some areas from those hit with a drug addiction. We laughed sharing stories with one another. Talking about our families and our hopes for the future. Lambros and Maria are no different than any of us. They have so much to offer and unfortunately was just dealt a bad hand of cards. This can happen to any of us…at any moment. It’s up to us how we move forward when facing crisis. It was a day I will never forget.
If you are ever in Athens, I highly recommend booking a tour with Shedia to learn more about the crisis and experience a population that is often forgotten.
Visit.org works with organizations all over the world that not only give back but help you understand the community you are visiting. No matter your location, I highly recommend signing up to receive more information on how you can Be the Change -> HERE.
Please note: out of respect for the homeless in Athens I decided to refrain from photographing any faces as I felt it wasn’t appropriate. Here are a couple of photos of one of many areas we walked thru.