It is in times of crisis and social turbulence that the need for volunteering most arises. The current situation in Greece has contributed to one of those times when the presence of humanitarian aid has developed into a network of volunteers who value the human factor. The network referred to is the Voluntary Health Clinics that have been set up to meet the growing demand for free medical care and medication.
The Clinics are staffed with doctors from several fields, health professionals, and people who offer their time in a very organized fashion. They keep records and set specific appointments for patients, while the public also provides them with medication in the form of donations. Sophisticated equipment, such as dental equipment, is offered by individuals, and /or groups, as long as their contribution isn’t exploited in the form of advertising for personal gain.
In Greece today the unemployment rate has officially reached 24.6 % of the population that is about eleven million, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority. As a result, a high percentage of the potential workforce has no social security, including those who, after having lost their jobs, receive the unemployment benefit, something that only lasts for a relatively short period of time. Way beyond this, there are also other social groups, for whom these clinics cater, who qualify for medical care. These include a growing number of homeless people, others who officially live under the poverty line or even refugees who are currently entering Greece. In this case, it is the doctors and volunteers who visit them on the site where they are temporarily settled.
The increase of unemployment and the multiple difficulties of the public medical system have led to the creation of those clinics. The effort was initiated a few years ago with the opening of the first Voluntary Health Clinic on the island of Crete followed soon by the second one in Hellinikon in Athens, in 2011. Today there are about 40 clinics that work autonomously but at the same time cooperate if needed.
Their purpose is to help out those who absolutely cannot find help anywhere else, it is not in their intention to replace the existing National Health System, nor is it in their power to do so.
Apart from the medical aspect there is also a sentimental sight in those situations:
“I have worked here voluntarily from the beginning of this venture.” says Mrs Maria Rota, psychologists from the Voluntary Health Clinic in Hellinikon. “Apart from the financial difficulties that each person faces, the crisis has influenced their emotional well- being. Satisfying their basic needs, such as finding food or a place to sleep, provides a sense of accomplishment even though it is the bare minimum requirement of human survival. People in this living situation may not believe that a better future lies ahead” she adds.
What is really impressive is that voluntary work has taken the form of a chain effect where everyone can be involved including patients who sometimes participate if necessary.
“It is really touching that in emergencies, the public response is immediate, even patients themselves may help. This becomes known owing to announcements in the media, the Internet or even by word of mouth. As for me, I feel that I am doing the impossible” states Mrs Pinelopi Barberi, volunteer at the same clinic.
Indeed this effort seems to have been receiving constant support, which is always welcome, by people in Greece and abroad both within Europe and overseas.
“There is also an academic aspect to this initiative. Students who are working on their PhD’s elect to base their thesis on this model whereas other individuals from other countries have expressed interest to get more insight in this project so as to attempt to implement it in their own countries” adds Mrs Barberi.