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What can you do? Help, in any possible way and at any price.

by Daphne Vloumidi

Daphne Vloumidi delivering her remarks at the Garden of the Righteous of Milan

Daphne Vloumidi delivering her remarks at the Garden of the Righteous of Milan

Following we publish the remarks delivered by Daphne Vloumidi during the ceremony of 14 March 2018 at the Garden of the Righteous of Milan, in which she was honoured as a Righteous for rescuing the migrants, who landed on the island of Lesbos in 2015, even facing arrest for helping them move, defying the prohibitions of the local authorities.

Good morning,

Thank you for the honour you are bestowing on me, for welcoming me here today.

I was born in Greece in 1956, six years after the end of the civil war. I was brought up into a family that taught me to love freedom and the democratic ideals. I do not know how exactly such values are passed on, whether we learn about them or they already belong to the personality of every one of us, and are given a name only in the adult age.

Now, I would like to share with you some experiences of my life, key moments in the shaping of my worldview.

As a child, I visited an exposition of the drawings by the Jewish kids, each with his or her name, date and place… Auschwitz. I drew houses, trees and butterflies as well, but I was alive, they weren't!

Then I remember a poem, which made me cry when I listened to it for the first time during a literary soirée:

Way Down South in Dixie
(Break the heart of me)
They hung my black young lover
To a cross roads tree.

Way Down South in Dixie
(Bruised body high in air)
I asked the white Lord Jesus
What was the use of prayer.

Way Down South in Dixie
(Break the heart of me)
Love is a naked shadow
On a gnarled and naked tree.

At age 12 I entered the Italian school in Athens. After a first difficult year, I understood why my mother had chosen that school for me. At the wall of our classroom, in fact, there was not the picture of Papadopoulos (the dictator on power those years), and during our school trips we did not sing the scout songs, but instead Bella Ciao and Fabrizio de André's songs.

After 1974, as the dictatorship ended, with the democratic ideals of my family and my Italian teachers, for some years I chose political engagement. Then disappointment came. Politics is not good for me, I don't like it. But nor do I like a quiet life on my sofa.

In 2000, Athens had already welcomed many refugees, above all Kurds from Iraq, who were asylum seekers. Many groups tried to help them. The needs of those people are endless. With a group of other people, we became the bridge between the refugees and the Greek society. I worked as a volunteer in Athens for ten years.

Since 2010 I have spent most of the year in Lesbos. With my husband, I work in our family's hotel. Our guests are tourists from all over the world. But there are not only tourists on the island. There are also foreigners, who are not tourists. They are refugees. They speak languages we can't speak, but almost all of them play soccer.

That's an opportunity to create again a bridge uniting us all... organizing a football competition.

Goal! The garden of our hotel was full of cheerful voices and laughing faces. End of the match, beginning of friendship. There was a party atmosphere: a carefree day for the refugees and reflection for the tourists. The refugees versus tourist soccer match has now become an institution. Many of our guests plan their holiday according to of the date of the match not to miss this exceptional day.

Then came the year 2015, and we all know what happened. What can you do? Help the people, in any possible way and at any price. There are many things to do. Do you - who already know something, who in the past have met many refugees, who have eaten and laughed with them, listened to all those terrible and harsh stories - believe also this time you will succeed, you won't bow your head, you will not be in despair... you are strong and you know... But suddenly the truth slams you.... you are tired, despaired, you cry. You feel all your efforts are nothing but a drop in the ocean.

I will tell you the truth. What gave me the strength not to stop helping were not my faith or my dream of a better world, but the real daily needs of all the thousands of people who arrived every day on our island, not on holiday but to seek rescue from the death that was threatening them at their door front.

I thank you from the deep of my soul for the honours you are bestowing on me and which I share with all those who have supported me and with whom I have worked in that terrible time: my family, my friend, the local population, the tourists, and many more people.

Please receive my greetings, and I hope our Garden keeps on growing, with new trees and blossoms.

Daphne Vloumidi

Analysis by Daphne Vloumidi

14 March 2018

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