Sunday, April 2, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 33: Greek Grandmothers

While our country turns away tired, poor, and hungry from our shores, people who have far less are welcoming in refugees and people in need. For example, grandmothers in Greece.

Emilia Kamvisi is an 87-year-old grandmother and daughter of Greek refugees who fled Turkey in 1922. She said she never expected tragedy to hit home but felt compelled to help, having heard stories of her own family. "In this old age I will die with a clear conscience," she said. Kamvisi and two friends aged 89 and 85 became famous when they were photographed bottle-feeding a Syrian baby last autumn, as they helped refugees who had survived the treacherous boat journey from Turkey. She and local fisherman Stratis Valiamos, who has rescued hundreds of refugees from drowning, were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 to symbolically represent the "behavior and attitude of Greece, organizations and volunteers towards the huge refugee crisis." Watch their story here.

Last year, Greece was the main gateway into Europe for more than a million people fleeing war, persecution, and poverty in countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Kamvisi said the scenes reminded her of life under Nazi occupation. "We saw people crying in the boats, people leaving their homes, people sleeping in the streets."

Another Greek grandmother at work saving refugees from her small house in Idomeni is Panagiota Vasileiadou, 83, who took mercy on and showed compassion to Iraqi and Syrian refugees desperate for food to feed their children or clean water to shower and wash their clothes. She started by giving them food and clothing. Then she began opening her home to five refugees. As a daughter of ethnic Greek refugees herself – who left Turkey in a population exchange after the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish war - she is now doing all she can to help the latest wave of refugees by giving out food and clothes. They call her Mama. Here is her story.

Greece, struggling to meet the needs of its own citizens after years of economic depression, has struggled to deal with the refugees. Locals and volunteers like Kamvisi, Valiamos, and Vasileiadou fill the great gaping need, practicing the gospel of radical hospitality.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

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