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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 September 2019
4 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 SEPTEMBER 2019 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Has the Greek crisis been a catalyst for social change? On the occasion of a conversation series on the Greek crisis that concluded this week in Australia, Maria Karra, co-founder of Emfasis Foundation, takes us through the work of the NGO supporting the homeless and shares her thoughts and insights on societal changes witnessed during austerity years ZOE THOMAIDOU This week, members of the diaspora were briefed on social changes resulting from the economic crisis in Greece and how a new wave of philanthropy can help tackle challenges facing the country today. Organised by The Hellenic Initiative (THI) Australia, the dinner and conversation series 'Rising to the challenge - Greece at the Crossroads of Social Change', was held in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, with keynote speakers including the heads of two of THI's charity partners, Desmos Foundation and Emfasis Foundation. On this occasion, Neos Kosmos asked co-founder of Emfasis Foundation, Maria Karra, to give readers a snapshot of the organisation's activities and impact so far and share her thoughts and insights on how Greece's crisis not only scarred its people but also paved the way to a new era. WHAT IS EMFASIS FOUNDATION? Emfasis Foundation emerged in 2013 as a response to one of the most harshly felt effects of the crisis, an increase in homelessness. PHOTO: SOLONAS MALKAS Operating in Athens and Piraeus, at the core of Emfasis' activities lies an internationally recognised support methodology, Social Streetwork. As Maria explains: "We 'reach out' to those who do not come to us for help, so that we make the first move to meet them in their environment, on their own terms and conditions." This happens through: - Maintaining a daily presence on the streets of greater Attica providing humanitarian help, counselling and family support with the help of experts (psychologists, sociologists, social workers, etc.) alongside trained volunteers - Deploying Mobile Support Units, an integral part of Streetwork, supported by THI Australia. Crews report daily to the Emfasis' social service on findings from daily operations, highlighting incidents that need investigation "Our ultimate goal is to strengthen beneficiaries' abilities to access fundamental standards of living such as housing, work and care, the restoration of their dignity and self-confidence, improving their overall quality of life." And, as she adds, they never underestimate "the impact of the simple act of listening what they have to say with acceptance, compassion and without prejudice." "After almost 150,000 hours on the streets, we know it can save lives." CRISIS AS AN OPPORTUNITY But Emfasis is not the only organisation rising from the ashes of an austerity-stricken welfare state. According to a University of the Peloponnese evaluation of the NGO sector in Greece, the recent double hit experienced by the country, as a result of the debt and the refugee crisis - has "stimulated the enhancement of the sector through the strengthening of existing organisations as well as the creation of numerous new ones," Maria cites. The tally is currently sitting at over 700 active organisations. Yet, there is another notable change recorded. "Organisations like Emfasis initially focusing on relief and distribution of goods, witnessed the highest participation of the civic society percentage wise," says Maria attributing the development to an increase in community eagerness to help the most vulnerable. "The shift has undoubtedly happened. Sometimes in erratic spurs, without structure or real focus, nevertheless the shocking chills of watching own friends, colleagues and neighbours experiencing poverty, unemployment and inability to pay for anything beyond basic healthcare triggered our sense of solidarity." WALKING THE TALK Even though Greece is no longer in the headlines, its people including younger generations are still experiencing the effects of the crisis. "We sense the frustration of the young tech-savvy and entrepreneurial volunteer. They are desperately seeking for an inviting entrepreneurial work environment to breed their ideas, in the hope for a better Greece. "Since the birth of Emfasis, I have been interacting with tens maybe hundreds of our younger Greeks. They seem to be receiving conflicting messages. On the one hand, the family wants them to get a 'safe' job, because 'there is crisis'." On the other side, Maria goes on to explain, a series of 'walls' obstruct their way: insufficient post-university career mentoring, youth employment programs as quick fixes, scarcity of positions related to their studies and the list goes on. To reverse the situation, Maria suggests focus should be placed on "job opportunities strictly based on merit of effort, ethics, character traits, values", as well as social education and adequate mentoring. At Emfasis, she says, they walk the talk. "We made a point to hire young previously unemployed social scientists, who were never given the chance to work on their field before." Sponsored volunteer em- powerment programmes are also within their portfolio. While cautious, Maria appears optimistic towards future prospects for the Greek youth, provided a shift away from individual agendas prevails. "There is certainly no more space for error, the country and its people must rid of unhelpful and divisive populism influences and work collectively on a realistic fanfarefree plan for a solid future. It will take time, but it can be done."
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