I remember the conversation vividly. A Greek telecoms engineer called me, back when I was a headhunter, and cried down the phone: "please, get me out of here - I will do anything". I've spoken to a lot of people looking for work in my time, most of whom disappeared from memory the moment I put the phone down. I had to take a long walk after that call and I still think about it often.
I want to help. I do what little I can for my own family, who live in Greece now - some in Athens and the rest in the rural villages of Laconia, but I want to help my country too. Anyone who knows me may think that a little strange. After all, I am a born and bred Brit with an English accent so acute, you could probably pin down which road in north London I grew up in with nothing more than a recording of my voice. However, my father is Greek and his entire family before him is Greek. My grandfather fought in a world war and a civil war for Greece. My aunts and uncles married and raised families in Greece. My cousins were educated in Greece. They are all a part of me. They all played a significant role in my upbringing. They all consider me to be one of them. If Greece is their country, then it is my country too.
So, I started to look around on the internet for more information on what the Greek diaspora is doing to help the homeland. Gregory Pappas, President of the Greek America foundation bemoaned the lack of support shown by the Greek American community, traditionally a powerful force whose lobbying efforts have frequently given Congress and the White House a headache, especially in their dealings with Turkey.
Writing in The Huffington Post UK earlier this year, he said:
"I am embarrassed to admit that my own community - good people who work tirelessly and passionately every day for the promotion of the Greek faith, heritage, language, history and ideals - have been absent thus far from the conversation about how we can help Greece - or more importantly, how we can help Greeks right now."
Shipping heir, Peter Nomikos, appears to be bucking the trend. He is the founder of Greece Debt Free, a non-political, non-governmental, internet and social media-based mechanism for Greeks and philhellenes to support Greece. The plan is simple: cancel the Greek debt by buying bonds on the secondary market at a reduced rate with donations from communities across the world. Incidentally, almost a third of the donors so far are from Germany. So, maybe you shouldn't believe everything you read in Der Spiegel or the Daily Mail after all. Australia too, with its vibrant Greek community, has been chipping in, providing a home for over 2,500 Greeks who have had no choice but to leave their country.
What about the UK? The Office of National Statistics estimates the number of Greek-born UK residents at around 290,000. The figure for ethnic Greeks living in the UK (that's me) is around 400,000. A sizeable chunk of this community lives right here in London, with the highest concentration in Hyde Park, Regent's Park, Chelsea, and Kensington - these folks have clearly done well for themselves.
The Hellenic Centre has a list of all affiliated organisations, which include: the Anglo-Hellenic League, the Hellenic Bankers Association, and the Hellenic Medical Society. All three share the same web page which has one event advertised for November 2012 and absolutely no information on what they are doing for Greeks in Greece. London Greek Radio (LGR) another hub for the Greek community had plenty of disturbing news items on its website including a new poll which showed neo-fascist Group Golden Dawn now in third place with 10.5%. Nothing though on the diaspora, what they are doing (if anything), or how to get involved.
So, this is my request: I want to make contact with all the unsung heroes throughout the global diaspora who are already doing their bit; most importantly though, I want to help bring out of the woodwork all the Greeks living in the UK who, like me, fear for their families and the future of their country. If just one person emerges with a bold idea of how to help, then I will consider it a great achievement and the least I can do for the country and the people who helped make me the person I am today.
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