Nov 032019
 
 November 3, 2019  Posted by at 6:43 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Nelly’s Tzistarakis Mosque in Monastiraki Square, Athens c1930

 

It’s been too long, way too long since I wrote about our Athens fund, I know, and I apologize. It’s just that for the longest time, things were too unclear and changing too fast for me to write an article. I was waiting for things to settle down to a point where I could have faith they weren’t going to turn upside down again within days or weeks. Well, we finally seem to have reached such a point. But again, I know it has taken too long.

 

In -mostly- chronological order, here’s what happened. In early 2017, I had a meeting with Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, the man I -and the very generous Automatic Earth readers- had been financially supporting since 2015 in his O Allos Anthropos organization to feed homeless and refugees in Greece.

At that meeting, Konstantinos had promised to bring the administration he said he had kept about what the money had been spent on. But instead, he started rattling off what he could remember off the top of his head. Which was impressive, but that was not the issue. He had told me numerous times he had it all on paper, but it was not true. And I knew it was not something lost in translation either.

It wasn’t that he had spent it on himself or kept it in a box, I checked that with as many people as I could, and I could see how he lived. That wasn’t it. He was simply disorganized. And he somehow thought he had the right to be. Because after all, he was the boss. And that’s true enough, it was his idea and organization. But being the boss doesn’t give you the right to say things that are not true, when tens of thousands of euros have been donated to you and your project.

Being the boss comes with obligations attached, and he apparently didn’t like those. A boss needs to look ahead, organize, delegate, make sure there’s continuity, be careful of how he treats employees, who in his case were all volunteers to boot. He did none of that, not structurally. It’s one thing that all that money lands where it is needed, but it’s another where tomorrow’s money will come from. Things a boss must have his eye on.

I had said many times that he could not continue to count on my readers for that money, that I thought at some point it would be enough. I drew up a plan to address the Greek diaspora in New York, Boston, Melbourne, Sidney etc., for financial help, for instance through their Chambers of Commerce. And I said I would always be there to help, but that I was not going to do it alone. Not speaking Greek would have disqualified me anyway.

But nothing came of that. There was never a serious effort. I had not expected that. In hindsight I think maybe it was because he saw it as a challenge to his authority, to have to communicate in a language he didn’t speak. That he couldn’t play the boss over that.

Long story short, as 2017 went on, I didn’t see how I could continue my involvement with the project. I couldn’t ask for donations to someone who rejected all accountability. But then just as I was about to say I quit, two things happened.

 


Monastiraki Sqaure. The same mosque as in the 1930s picture above. It hasn’t been used as a mosque for a very long time. In the background on the hill, the Akropolis.

 

The first was that I increasingly heard about dissatisfaction among the people who worked with/for Konstantinos, with the way he ran things. They didn’t want to continue any more than I did. That led the people who run the ‘kitchen’ in Monastiraki Square, which had always been my main meeting point with everyone, to declare themselves independent of O Allos Anthropos (it took quite some time, but they did).

Monastiraki had always been part of the entire set-up, but also separate. It was run by my friend Tassos -longtime translator between Konstantinos and I- and his friend Filothee, partner of famed Greek singer Antonis Vardis, who died of cancer in 2014 but had always supported Konstantinos. By the end of 2017, I decided I would try and continue to support at least them.

They insisted from the start on not ever having to handle money, because they didn’t like the way Konstantinos had. And they came up with a clever plan for it; more on that in a minute.

The second thing that happened in late 2017 was that I received an email from a Greek man -let’s call him ‘Mark’- who said he was living abroad with his wife and young children but planning to move -back- to Greece, and he wanted to help me with a lot of money. We mailed to and fro for a bit, he sounded credible, and in March 2018 I went back to Athens to meet him (a few days before he was bound to leave again for 6 weeks).

The meeting went fine, we kept mailing, and in June 2018 we took the first step in that ‘clever plan’. Tassos and Filothee had set up a deal with a local supermarket chain in which they would receive ‘coupons’, or ‘checks’ for an amount I would pay to the supermarket. No cash. Mark chipped in some money as well. This still works fine to this day, and everyone’s happy with it. When Filothee needs food, she gets it in bulk and pays with coupons. This is what they look like:

 

 

But then the strangest thing happened. ‘Mark’ disappeared, I think it was August. I’ve never seen him again. And I’m still thinking today: why would you do such a thing? Why all the time spent on the mails and meetings and promises and then nothing anymore? Why not just say: sorry, I don’t have the money, or I don’t want to any longer, or well, anything? Why just vanish? Just a few words would have been enough.

Other than that, though, things appear to be running well right now. I paid for another €1,000 worth of coupons this July and handed them to Filothee, and she still has quite a few left. Less fun is that Tassos last year moved to Shanghai. His wife is from there and his construction business for large projects went belly up in Athens, where there are no large building projects. He was over in August, but left again. Plenty big projects in China.

Not that we sit still, either. The gang has decided to start a second kitchen in the port of Piraeus, because they saw the need there. Filothee explained that in Monastiraki, most people who come for food have a roof over their head, but it’s often six to a single room without electricity or water. No amenities, they can’t cook their own food. In Piraeus, they feed ‘real’ homeless.

The new rightwing government has approved new asylum laws that make it much easier to evict refugees. They are also evicting squatters from buildings across the city, many of them refugees, who are now taken to camps, that are still beyond squalid. Some people face a six year waiting time for their asylum requests. Not that Greece can be blamed for too much, it’s the EU that is failing terribly. Greece is simply the outer border of the union.

Camps and islands are insanely overcrowded, Turkey sends more people across the Aegean again, and winter is coming. Nor is there much that anyone can do to help in that situation, because after 5 years that help has been fully institutionalized through the hanky-panky between Brussels, Athens and the NGOs, and very little of the money involved gets to where it belongs.

We gave it our shot, Konstantinos despite his shortcomings really tried, and we did manage to achieve lots of stuff, but some problems are just too big. We’re talking thousands, tens of thousands of people even, and more keep on coming all the time, and at some point that requires not a band of good willing folk but a society, a government, or something even bigger than that. And that’s where it all goes wrong. It always does.

But we still try, with all our faults. We don’t have millions or even billions, but we can still help people. And so that’s what we do. Filothee does, I do, and I’m sure Konstantinos does as well, though I haven’t seen him in a long time. It’s just what you do.

 

 

And now it’s time to move on to the part that I’m really bad at, and which has kept me for ages from writing this article: asking for donations. Not donations for Greece, I can do that, but those for the Automatic Earth itself, debanked and perhaps going under. I tried to explain that a few days ago already, that the way sites like this are funded has changed irrevocably in my view.

Google and Facebook take all the money and everyone else can take a hike. Unless the Automatic Earth disappears behind a paywall (which I don’t want) OR our readers start chipping in more than they have. Easily more than 5,000 people read the Automatic Earth each day, so at 5 cents a day -and what is 5 cents?- we’d be fine. But it doesn’t work that way. People are used to free.

Still, I don’t want to confuse the two, Greece and the site itself, too much. Then again, I have spent a lot of time here in Athens over the past years, and that isn’t free -I pay double rent for half the year-, and my personal presence here is greatly appreciated by the people who run the Monastiraki kitchen. As they expressed in the note you can see below. They appreciate that it’s not just a check being sent, but I go visit them all the time to see how things are going.

Anyway, I’m obviously still bad at this. So if you’re inclined to donate to either the Automatic Earth or the Monastiraki kitchen, or both, you figure it out. Put us on your Christmas charity list and be generous, be part of helping out those who have least. You may read raving pieces on Greece and Athens and tourism and Airbnb, but this is still a very challenging place for all but the rich.

What I would like to do is to hand Filothee another $1,000 in coupons before I leave for Christmas, that should be sufficient for both kitchens -Monastiraki and Piraeus- until I get back in spring. And I promise it won’t be this long again between articles.

Thank you so much for making this all possible.

 

 

 

 

For donations to the Monastiraki kitchen and the Automatic Earth, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner, and a Patreon one top right hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Monastiraki apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to the social kitchen.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote before about our support for homeless and refugees in Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

Dec 21 2016

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017

Mar 23 2017

The Automatic Earth Still Helps Greeks and Refugees

Dec 24 2017

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund – Christmas and 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 212016
 
 December 21, 2016  Posted by at 7:15 pm Food Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, Athens December 2016

 

Apologies, but I have to talk one more time before Christmas about why I’m in Greece, again. Some of what I am about to say will repeat earlier articles, but I promise, there’s plenty of new things. Because I’m coming to grips with the situation I’m in here, seeing the landscape, seeing things in their perspective.

I never had much use for -humanitarian- aid, I always had the same suspicion of what was going on in the field that just about everyone else has (where does the money go?). But then when I first went to Athens in June 2015, and asked Automatic Earth readers if they wanted to donate a little something for the poor in Greece, and that little something became $12,000 before I knew it, that all changed.

It meant I had to dig deeper and look closer, because this was me handing out other people’s money, and a lot of it. That’s how I met Konstantinos Polychronopoulos in July 2015, and I have since focused on him and his “O Allos Anthropos (The Other Human) ‘movement’, because in my view he represents the ideal fashion in which aid should be delivered. No overhead that gets subtracted from donations -other than equipment-, no salaries for anyone, just one on one aid.

There are about a dozen articles I’ve written over the past year and a half about him and his people at O Allos Anthropos, linked at the bottom of this article. And yes, I will also ask you once more to please donate to the Automatic Earth Fund for Athens (Paypal widget, top left hand column). Much as I don’t like asking anyone for anything when it comes to me, I simply can’t afford to be shy when it comes to this Greek Social Kitchen project.

Problem is, Konstantinos receives hardly any funding, except for the Automatic Earth. A bigger problem, as I’ve found out, is there’s a direct link between providing the most effective aid and not getting funded, strange as that may sound. And that’s what I want to talk about right here. That and what you and I could make possible for Konstantinos in 2017.

Look, I never cared for this kind of thing. I always felt that humanitarian aid is the responsibility of a government (still do, really). Not that I want a government to move into every nook and cranny of people’s lives, but when people in a society fall through the cracks and live in hunger or other forms of misery, their government should be there for them. It’s what we pay taxes for.

Moreover, I always thought that if you do get involved as a citizen, aid should be something you do close to where you live. And I don’t live in Athens. Where I do live is up for grabs, but it’s not Athens. Still, what I have become involved in here is a rare instance of what aid should be, and then it’s much less important where it takes place; besides, there’s a lot more need here than there is in either Holland or Canada, the closest I get to calling any place home.

 

 

In thinking about why it’s so hard to get proper funding for Konstantinos, as I told you end November, in The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas, a large role is reserved for the fact that aid has become an industry like so many others. And that is really unfortunate, for many reasons.

But the past few days something else cropped up in my mind as well, which I feel defines the problem even better. That is the concept of “institutionalization” as forwarded by Austrian philosopher and priest -in New York and Mexico- Ivan Illich in the 1970’s. What Illich meant was that ‘institutions’ in society monopolize entire fields within that society.

Schools, colleges, universities have a monopoly on education (doctors and hospitals have a similar monopoly on health care). Only the degrees that educational institutions hand out recognize you as being smart -or fit for a job-, and the only people who hand out these degrees are those who have spent years wrecking their brains to get such degrees themselves. You’re not smart because you have a brain, you’re smart because you follow a program preset by people who have followed -very- similar programs. That’s “Institutionalization”.

A few quotes from Illich’s book 1971 book “Deschooling Society” (please stick with me, you’ll see where I’m going):

“Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. Only by segregating human beings in the category of childhood could we ever get them to submit to the authority of a schoolteacher.”

You couldn’t lock up adults in classrooms the way we do kids. But what can kids do, they’re largely defenseless.

“Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags.”

Your teachers went through the same brain-deafening torture that you now do, and they’re not about to admit that this was time wasted. Even if they realize it.

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.”

Why do children learn in school? Only because they’re locked up in them umpteen hours a day. They could -and would- learn wherever they go (children learn, period, they couldn’t help it if they tried), but they’re not allowed to go ‘anywhere’.

“School appropriates the money, men, and good will available for education and in addition discourages other institutions from assuming educational tasks. Work, leisure, politics, city living, and even family life depend on schools for the habits and knowledge they presuppose, instead of becoming themselves the means of education.”

You’re not supposed to learn at home or in the world around you, learning is the monopoly of the schooling institutions. Of course you learn most of what’s valuable and useful outside of school, but we don’t talk about that.

Illich was equally clear about medicine:

“Modern medicine is a negation of health. It isn’t organized to serve human health, but only itself, as an institution. It makes more people sick than it heals. We must rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation. Effective health care depends on self-care; this fact is currently heralded as if it were a discovery.”

This monopoly our societies have provided to schools, teachers, doctors and hospitals has gotten ‘certified’ by the fact that they are the only ones in their fields who are funded by society, leaving any and all others too poor to even challenge them for their monopoly positions. It’s a closed circle.

In short, institutionalization is good for institutions, but never for those people they are supposed to be serving.

 

 

So how does this connect to Greece, to Konstantinos, and to all the people he’s trying to -devoted his whole life to- feed, and help in other ways? Here’s how: aid has been institutionalized too. There’s a set of rules, and if you don’t comply, you don’t qualify for funding. The funds then go to less efficient sources who do comply.

Konstantinos and I sat down for another talk last week, always interrupted by his incessantly ringing phone, and always accompanied by our dear friend and translator Tassos, because I wanted to know what these guys see as their future, what they want 2017 to bring that 2016 hasn’t yet.

One of the things that was said, and that’s what reminded me of Illich and institutionalization, is that if Konstantinos would want O Allos Anthropos to be registered as an NGO, and apply for funding through ‘official channels’, not only would he face ream upon ream of paperwork, he would also be forced to demand that every single person he and his people all across Greece serve a meal to, show them an ID. Or else be refused, hungry or not.

And not only would that go against everything Konstantinos stands for, and every reason he wants to serve “Free Food For All” (the main English-language slogan they have), it would mean he’d be from then on in part of the ‘framework’, the ‘institution’. And that framework, as we have seen in earlier articles, is not functioning anywhere near the way it should.

If you see pictures of long waiting lines for food, that’s because of that ID obligation. Sign here please, so the NGO can cash in another $5 or $7 per meal (O Allos Anthropos does it for less than $1 per person, and their meals are better).

Aid for the poorest and most miserable has been institutionalized. The priority has become whether those providing the services follow the rules of the ruling institution (in this case the EU), not whether those services are the best and/or most efficient they can be. Not only is it a giant waste of taxpayer money, Brussels has turned this, as it has done with many things concerning Greece, into a power game.

Tsipras want to help pensioners and underfed schoolchildren for Christmas? How dare he. Meanwhile, new stats this week said 9 out 10 unemployed Greeks get no support from the state, and 350,000 families have no wage earner. 300,000 educated Greeks have emigrated to find work. Scorched earth.

 

 

The EU has transferred hundreds of millions of euros to dozens of NGOs, but conditions in refugee camps around Greece, and personal conditions of people who are either inside these camps or elsewhere, are often still deplorable. Part of the blame rests with the Greek government, undoubtedly, but they can’t even take care of their own people, and the EU gives them very little to deal with the refugees.

The official line is that the government in Athens is not efficient enough when dealing with the issue. But the reality is the government feels it’s easier to comply with Brussels, and the city of Athens feels it’s easier to comply with the government. And they’re all fine, thank you, the PM and the mayor live in nice abodes. But they leave the homeless and refugees in no man’s limbo.

This is the huge void in which Konstantinos operates. Trying to help those people that others can’t or too often won’t. To at the very least feed them, and do what he can in other ways. Which without funding is an impossibly frustrating thing to do.

Not that he will ever show it, anymore than I want to make this sound like some kind of lament. Let’s instead turn to the future. Because there are of course plenty of plans. How we’re going to pay for them is a whole other story…

 

 

But first, a few maps I made. The first one shows the -5- places where there were ‘kitchens’ (in pink) when I hooked up with Konstantinos in July 2015, with no. 1 the ‘Big House’ on Plateon Street, as well as the -‘subsidiary’- locations (in red) where food was served with assistance from the Big House. I left the island of Lesbos off the map, because it’s so out of the way. It’s one the second map though.

 


click map for full navigable version

 

The second map shows the 39(!) locations where food is served now (green are kitchens, yellow are ‘subsidiaries’), plus 9 other ones they would like to add in 2017 (in blue) . Click on the maps for a full, navigable version. I couldn’t embed them, sorry.

I should add that these are not all places where food is served 7 days a week, there is no money to do that. Often, unfortunately, it’s just once a week.

 


click map for full navigable version

 

This, I hope, gives you an idea of where your money has gone: the difference between the first map and the second is to a large extent due to your donations. Your money helps to feed people, in a very direct manner.

But that’s not nearly all yet. In the past few months, Konstantinos has traveled to Perugia, Italy, and to Barcelona, Spain. According to him, Social Kitchens are being set up as we speak in Barcelona and Alicante.

For 2017, he has invitations to visit – and help set up kitchens in- Manchester and London in the UK, The Hague in Holland, the Lebanon, Gaza -to let Israelis and Palestinians cook together, and a camp with 1 million refugees in Jordan. All with the Free Food For All principle in mind, not the Present Your ID or You’ll Go Hungry idea that the EU and NGOs adhere to.

 


Konstantinos in Barcelona: El Otro Hombre

 

2017: In Greece, as I said, 9 more kitchens are waiting to be opened. Moreover, there are advanced plans, for which again there is no money, to start a -mobile- medical (and food) service for elderly Greeks in remote areas, where there are no facilities that are ‘reasonably accessible’ to them. All the necessary volunteers, doctors, nurses, you name it, everyone is on board.

But it will still take €8,000 to arrange for a vehicle that is properly equipped. Yeah, that’s all, surprised me too; I don’t know how he does it, but Konstantinos is confident he can do it for that. Donated equipment, volunteer crew, just paying cost for the moderate conversion of the vehicle. He’s a master at shoestring.

Once that is done, of course Konstantinos is dreaming of adding more such vehicles. Greece is a large enough country, and ever fewer people have access to health care. Then after that, one Big House will not be enough if instead of the 5,000 meals now served daily, the amount would, say, double (which it really should). So he also dreams of more Big Houses, central kitchens.

One sad detail that was mentioned is that the present -only- Big House is also a facility where many people, mainly homeless, go to take a shower, and do laundry, make sure their kids get properly educated, etc etc. But per address in Greece, water is one price up to a limit; if you use more, you pay a lot more for that. So offering laundry and shower facilities for those who have none, ends up costing an arm and a leg. One of many problems.

I must admit I have no idea where we’re going to go from here. But I’m not going to stop trying to keep this movement moving. I may fail, but it won’t be for a lack of effort. Because Konstantinos and his people deserve that I do that, and all the people they help, deserve it even more. I’ll be sure to keep you posted in the new year.

 

Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. We’re around $30,000 for 2016 alone, another $5000 since my last article 4 weeks ago. I swear, for as long as I live, this will never cease to amaze me.

And then of course what happens is people start thinking and dreaming about what more they can do for those in peril. Wouldn’t you know…

A Merry Christmas to all of you, to all of us. Very Merry. God bless us, every one. Thank you for everything.

If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it.

There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed.

And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

Nov 292016
 
 November 29, 2016  Posted by at 7:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Andrea Bonetti Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

 

To anyone who reads this, please send it to as many of your friends and family and others as you can. Tweet and retweet, post and share on Facebook, do whatever you can to make Christmas a better time and place for the poorest Greeks and refugees. And, of course, please donate!

 

 

It’s 4 weeks before Christmas and it’s time. Time for me to go back to the basics, the streets, the people of Athens – the people of Greece as a whole. Back to my friends at the O Allos Anthropos (The Other Human) Social Kitchen who by now serve 5,000 meals a day every day spread over a dozen+ locations on -less than- a shoestring, to the poorest Greeks and to refugees. To my dear friend Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, the little engine that could, and does, drive the entire ‘intervention’.

It’s time also to announce a Christmas/New Year’s fund raiser for these people here at the Automatic Earth, to coincide with our usual annual fundraiser for the Automatic Earth itself. As always, please donate through the Automatic Earth’s Paypal widget at the top left hand side of our pages. If you don’t fancy Paypal, there’s an address for checks and money orders on our Store and Donations page.

Donations that end in $0.99 or $0.37 all go straight to O Allos Anthropos. In fact, I will deliver them in person, something that is necessary because of continuing capital controls in Greece. And no, don’t worry, I don’t pay my travel and stay in Athens from the donations for O Allos Anthropos. Every donated penny goes where it belongs. Guaranteed.

 

I never intended to get involved in aid, I have as many reservations about institutionalized aid as so many people tell me they have. All I wanted to do initially was to donate a few dollars when I first visited Greece in June 2015. But things have taken off from there, both because of Automatic Earth readers’ generosity (over $30,000!) , and because I found what I have come to regard as the perfect vehicle to deliver aid.

O Allos Anthropos is that vehicle, because it does not fit the mold the ‘aid industry’ has built. The flipside of this is that it has a hard time getting funded. It’s mighty ironic that the one ‘organization’ that is by far the most efficient in delivering aid, should also be the one that has by far the hardest time getting support to do that.

‘The Other Human’ Social Kitchen does not rely on government contacts and contracts, as the established aid industry does. It also doesn’t pay hefty salaries (no salaries at all) or have huge overhead. It’s a loosely organized group of dedicated poor Greeks, often homeless themselves, caring for and feeding other poor Greeks and refugees, helping where they can as far as the funding allows.

It’s the difference between top down and bottom up. And yes, it’s crazy that such a difference should exist even in delivering basic needs to the most needy among us, but it’s there.

 


From Human-The Movie, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

 

There is a list of about a dozen articles with links at the bottom of this page that I’ve written about my visits to Athens over the past 15 months. And there are 4 new videos of Konstantinos and the O Allos Anthropos ‘movement’ inserted in the article. Do watch them, together they paint a great picture.

But first, please allow me to explain why I support the Greek people the way I do. There are several reasons.

 

Number one is the state of the Greek economy. The effects of austerity policies on Greek society were front page news a year and a half ago, but since then, the world has largely left the country alone (15 minutes of fame only) while things have gotten worse fast, and an additional issue, that of the refugees, was added.

The treatment of Greece by its creditors continues to be scandalous, the EU, ECB and IMF behave like a nest of boa constrictors. In a nutshell, it has intentionally been made impossible for the Greek economy to recover. No matter what else you may read, it is a cruel joke to even suggest that an economy and society in which 25% of adults, and over 50% of young people, have been unemployed for years on end, could ‘recover’. If you read headlines like ‘Greece Edges Out Of Recession’, you’re being played.

Add to the mix that consumer spending makes up some 60% of GDP in Greece, but many of those who do have jobs work for €100-€400 a month, and pensions have been cut to less than €700 for 60% of pensioners (basic pension is about €380), and 52% of households -must- live off pensions of elderly family members because most unemployed get nothing. 7 out of 10 jobless are long time unemployed, and get nada. Close to half of pensioners live below the poverty line. Never ending tax raises have put the cost of living beyond reach for millions.

Moreover, tens of thousands of the best educated young Greeks (and 1000 doctors a year) have left the country because there are no jobs and no prospects. The education system was once as highly touted globally as the health care system, but both have been gutted so dramatically now it’s hard to see how either could ever be rebuilt. 15 months ago I donated some money to social clinics, now I receive long and detailed lists of medicine that is simply no longer available. With a cry for help.

Under these circumstances, spending can only go down, and that means GDP growth is mathematically impossible. Nor has a bottom been reached; the situation will deteriorate until conditions allow for spending to rise, and no such thing is in sight. The Troika parties keep hammering on more ‘reforms’ -advertized as an investment in the future-, which invariably make matters worse, while they keep quarreling about, and delaying, debt relief. Boa constrictor. Slow strangulation. In the latest talks, the creditors are demanding additional austerity measures for 2019-2020… That is the reality for Greece.

 


From Destination: Utopia

 

Number two is the refugee situation. When I first got to Athens, refugees were not yet a major concern, the Greeks themselves were. Much has changed since then. After the initial large wave, most of which ended up in Germany and other countries, borders were shut and Greece was left to deal with those who remained. Promises to ‘fairly’ resettle refugees in the rest of the EU were largely ignored. There are presently about 60,000 refugees in Greece, and they’re stuck where they don’t want to be, in a country that doesn’t have the means to take care of them.

Brussels refuses for Greece to move the refugees stuck in camps on the islands, to the mainland, for fear they will try and travel north. Still, 60,000 should never be the problem that it is. However, the EU never sent the personnel it once promised to deal with asylum applications. Greek Immigration Minister Mouzalas said last week: “We had an agreement for 400 staffers. Just 35 have arrived. We had a new agreement for another 100 and are still waiting..”. Of course, when the applications are delayed, so is the need for Brussels to resettle the refugees. Convenient when there are elections coming in Holland, France and Germany.

But it is Greece that gets the blame for this; Athens should move faster, is the word. And because it doesn’t, Brussels doesn’t send the humanitarian funds it makes available, to the Greek government; it sends them to international NGOs instead. Which leads us to:

 


From Chris Gal

 

Number three is the reality of humanitarian aid. First, let me say I don’t mean to sound -overly- negative about this. But at the same time I feel obliged to explain to you why I’m asking for your support despite the aid that’s already flowing through ‘official’ channels. To put it mildly: things don’t work the way they could. There is aid that reaches the target groups, and there are many well-intentioned people involved, but the overall efficiency with which that happens leaves much to be desired.

Many people are reluctant to donate to large (i)NGOs because they are suspicious of their culture(s). I am not an expert on this, but from what I have heard and seen over the past while, that suspicion does not look so crazy. What it comes down to is that humanitarian aid has become an industry. In the Greek situation, this means that the about €300 million (reported numbers vary) dispersed by the EU so far (€700 over 3 years) to assist Greece and Italy with their refugee influx, has by and large been divided over some 150 NGOs and other aid organizations.

But the stories about underfed, poorly housed and overall miserable refugees and migrants keep rolling in. And more often than not, the Greek government gets the blame. However, if €300 million is not enough for NGOs and aid organizations to make sure 60,000 are properly fed and in general taken care of, what is?

What I had heard and observed on the ground was confirmed in September – in one of these ‘glad it’s not just me’ moments – by a series in the Guardian called Secret Aid Worker. An anonymous aid worker with experience in multiple countries wrote this:

Secret Aid Worker: Greece Has Exposed The Aid Community’s Failures

At the time of writing, the number of refugees in Greece is approximately 60,000. The problem is not overwhelming. This time we are in an EU country. I feel safe wherever I am – this means I can conduct a visit to monitor the impact of a programme or ensure I am consulting refugees about what they want. But I don’t, because it is something we have talked about but not done for many years, and there is little pressure to change.

The disconnect between the sector’s standards and the reality on the ground is more stark here than in any other mission I’ve been involved in. We have historically been unaccountable, failing to sufficiently consult and engage affected communities. In Greece we are continuing to operate in the same ways as before, but without the traditional excuses to rely on.

When we have enabling infrastructure, a socio-political context that is easy to operate in, access to Wi-Fi, technology and adequate funds, and yet are failing to meet the refugees’ basic needs (even for something as simple as safe accommodation), reduce serious threats (such as the prevalence of sexual violence), or to be accountable or innovative, it suggests we are disinterested or incompetent. Perhaps both.

In Greece the aid community is being exposed. Our exposure is further compounded when we are unfavourably compared to organised and efficient groups of volunteers who work with less and achieve more. In comparison INGOs and the UNHCR seem money-orientated, bloated, bureaucratic and inefficient.

Across Greece there are volunteers working both independently and as organised groups, meeting needs and filling gaps. They take over abandoned buildings to ensure refugees have somewhere to sleep, provide additional nutrition to pregnant and breastfeeding women, organise and manage informal education programmes, including setting up schools inside camps.

All of this while INGO staff sip their cappuccinos in countless coordination meetings – for cash distribution, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, food distribution and child-protection. Often to avoid engaging meaningfully in the discussions, we furiously take notes. If any response has called into question whether the humanitarian sector is still fit for purpose, it’s the response to the refugee crisis in Greece.

A good example of this is that it was O Allos Anthropos that was asked last year by the lady who ran the Moria refugee facilities on Lesbos, to run the food supply (the kitchen still operates). The NGOs and their millions in funding failed to do it. Konstantinos did, after he organized food donations by the people living on the island, and after I gave him some of your donations, so he could pay for transport etc. needed to make it possible.

O Allos Anthropos doesn’t fit the model developed by the industry that aid has become. In many aspects, that’s a good thing. But it also means it’s a daily struggle to do even the most basic good. And yes, we need to try and change that. But breaking the aid industry mold will not be easy. And in the meantime, the need will continue to be there, and it will keep growing, and Konstantinos will keep trying to fill it.

 


From Solidarity Networks 1: the mini doc series

 

One thing that struck me about the aid industry was reading that British politician David Milliband makes $600,000 a year as head of IRC, the International Refugee Committee. And when he makes that kind of money, so do others involved in the ‘industry’.

And then there are people like Konstantinos, who doesn’t make a penny, who has devoted his entire life to helping people in need, and the contrast is so big it borders on insane. Of course Konstantinos is not alone in this; there are many people who work to aid others without asking for anything in return.

Konstantinos doesn’t want to try and fit O Allos Anthropos into the established -international- aid mold. He doesn’t want to fill out paperwork on a constant basis, and rely on permissions, approval or validation from governments and other ‘high-up’ bodies. He wants by the people for the people. But he has come to realize since we met that if he wants to address the ever growing demands made on him, he can’t do it with no money at all.

Recently, he was invited, and traveled to Perugia, Italy, where people want to start their own version of O Allos Anthropos. This week, he is in Barcelona, where the same questions have been asked. And unless he starts saying No to ever more people, he will need funding.

I mentioned a long list of drugs and medical paraphernalia that social pharmacies are asking him for help in acquiring. People die in Greece, they suffer pain, they tumble into misery, from afflictions that just a few years ago were easy to treat. That’s how bad things have gotten. Earlier this year, Konstantinos told me he had an idea to set up a service to deliver food and drugs to old people in villages in the Greek countryside, in the mountains, remote villages that today often house only older people because the young have all left. A great idea, but how is he going to pay for it?

On December 4, O Allos Anthropos will have a party to celebrate its 5th anniversary, and 2 million meals served. By far most of those were served after the Automatic Earth got involved and your donations made it possible to expand the Social Kitchen to the 17 or so locations across the country, and the islands, where aid is delivered under the O Allos Anthropos banner.

In the first few years, it all operated by people donating food directly. But food donations have fallen by 50% or more this year, because ever fewer Greeks can afford to donate. It is time for the rest of the world to step in. And that doesn’t have to cost millions. The $30,000 you have donated over the past 15 months have achieved miracles already.

In an ideal scenario, I would like to be able to collect $50,000 a year for Konstantinos to do his work. More than $100,000 would not be needed, unless things take a dramatic turn for the worse. Talking of which, any of you who work in the medical field and would like to help alleviate the medicine shortages, drop me a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com, and I’ll tell you what’s most needed.

 

Please, those of you who have been involved on location or otherwise in delivering aid, understand that I don’t mean to insult you. Most of you come with the best intentions, and many do great work, often against the grain. But I think the account of the Secret Aid Worker above cannot sound entirely unfamiliar to you. So much goes wrong that it must be plain for most of you to see.

And it’s perhaps good to wonder whether international volunteers are the best option to deliver aid in countries where locals are available, and willing, to do the same work. The difference is one gets funding and the other does not. Maybe that, more than anything, should change.

But for now, because it’ll soon be Christmas and because we want to give Konstantinos and his people a wonderful Yuletide and a positive start to the new year, please help us by donating generously.

Because whatever economic and/or political and/or election issues you may have gotten worked up about lately, in the end, and certainly at Christmas time, it is about people. Indeed, it is about helping strangers.

 

 

For donations to Kostantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos.

Please give generously.

 

 

I made a list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 


Jodi Graphics What Greece lost in one year, 2014

 

 

May 092016
 
 May 9, 2016  Posted by at 6:52 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  15 Responses »


NPC “Melvin Jones, 5, who pierced heart with scissors” Washington DC 1925

Well, I guess I’m going to have to write this some time, even if I don’t really like to. Here goes. I haven’t written an original article in 8 weeks or so now, and there’s a reason for that. That is, two days after I flew from Athens to Amsterdam mid-March, I got myself a -for lack of a better term- nasty injury. And I have no idea where it came from. Crampy seat on the plane? There’s a link to earlier hip issues, I know that, but this was (is) severe.

What happened was the IT (ilio-tibial) band in my left leg (ligament on outside of thigh, runs down from hip to shin/ankle) seized up pretty much entirely; muscle contraction squared -or cubed-. All of a sudden, I couldn’t stand up straight any longer, nor could I walk other than in a hunched Quasimodo way and just for a few feet, and because when muscles contract in this fashion they get extremely painful, 24/7, lying down hurt a lot too, and I therefore basically didn’t sleep for weeks, other than occasional bouts of 1 hour and change brought on by utter exhaustion, and from which excruciating pain would wake me. I must have lost 150 hours of sleep in the first month, easily.

At times I was thinking that this was hell, but hey, I had a room to be in that was mine, a couch to site or lie down on, and I could have my groceries delivered and pay for them. As you will know if you’ve read me over the past year, I met a lot of people who don’t have these things. And who despite that, or maybe because of that -who knows, really- work their behinds off every day to make sure other people are taken of. More about that in a bit.

The family doctor had no idea what pain I was talking about and prescribed a useless generic painkiller (Dyclofenac). I then, 3 weeks in, focused on a treatment that my friend Steve Keen, the famed Australian economist and another fitness buff, had been talking about when we met earlier this year in Athens and had dinner with Yanis Varoufakis: myo-fascial release. And I found a physio practice that advertized it.

Then it took these people, in turn, over a week to figure out that the manual massage part of this treatment was of no use, but after that they started to do what I came looking for: dry needling, meant to ‘blow up’ the trigger points in the muscle. That helps. So yes, economists ARE good for something.

I can walk now, though it’s all far from perfect, and it’ll take more treatment. I can walk short distances but that’s it and I’m still exhausted most of the day and need to sleep a few hours in the afternoon. It’ll take treatment, and it’ll take time too.

All in all, that’s what kept me from writing. You can’t do that, or I can’t, when constantly in pain and/or fatigued. It kills the focus. I haven’t missed one day of doing a Debt Rattle news overview, but that was all I could do and had the energy for.

Next thing is, I promised to be back in Athens later this week, and I intend to go; the rent for our friend Konstantinos (Kostas) Polychronopoulos’ Social Kitchen nerve center is due the 15th, and I said I’d pay that with your Automatic Earth for Athens Fund donations -like I did in February-. I could perhaps have found another way to arrange for it to be paid, but the timing feels good now.

Because we need to figure out where we’re going with this, with the involvement of The Automatic Earth and its readers. To be specific: the first AE for Athens Fund I started about a year ago, when things were so hugely different from what they are now, and from which I expected to get just a few hundred dollars, today adds up -this is all in euros, worth $1.14 today- to €10,204. Since I donated €5,000 of that, €5,204 remains.

The second fund, started in December specifically for Kostas’ Social Kitchen when I saw how overwhelmed they had become with the refugee flows on top of their aim to feed Greece’s poor, is at €11,539. I gave Kostas €9,550 of that to date, so it’ll all be gone with the €2054 in rent for May, June, July that will be paid this week.

Converted -back- to US dollars, the currency 97% or so of Automatic Earth donations use, that means you crazy folk donated over $25,000 for Greece in a year’s time. Once again, I would never have expected to. And I’m very grateful, as is Kostas, and as are the large groups of volunteers he works with, and the people we all feed.

So, you know, the question is: what are we going to do from here on in? I will of course ask you to donate more, we are one-on-one feeding people here who go hungry otherwise. And looking after them in other ways. It doesn’t get much more direct than that.

But I realize you are not an endless source of funds. So, given how much you’re already given, and given the increase in need that exists in Greece, we’d have to find another, a wider approach. And to be honest, I don’t know what that should be, or what it would look like.

You see, a year ago, before the main refugee stream came knocking, there was very little involvement of NGOs in the country. Not on the islands, and not in Athens or Saloniki. That has changed beyond recognition since. And it’s the NGOs that are well-funded with western taxpayer money and -donations, so once they come in, they flex their muscles. Often not a great development.

They think they know what to do, while first talking with locals like Kostas would make sure their funds are spent much more efficiently. An example I mentioned before is an NGO that ‘peddled’ meals on Lesbos (Mytilini) late last year for which they received €7 from headquarters, while Kostas makes meals for 50 cents.

But I don’t want to delve into negative things, had plenty of that lately. You can still donate money to the Social Kitchen, which prepares some 10,000 meals a day (!), by using the Paypal widget in the top left corner of TheAutomaticEarth.com, and donating a number that ends in either $0.99 or $0.37. Not a penny will not go to helping those who need it most. The Social Kitchen is run entirely by volunteers, nobody gets paid for the work.

You can also of course always donate to The Automatic Earth itself, which needs to remain funded too, or none of these activities would be possible.

So you’re up to date, I have screwed up the guts to negotiate an airport, and we’ll talk again once I get to Athens. And we’ll take it from there.

The EU may still dump Greece, though that won’t happen until July when it has a huge debt to pay to the ECB and the Brexit referendum is conveniently in the past, but Erdogan and Turkey can go full-tard bonkers at any moment in time and drop more refugees on Greece than ever before.

Summer is coming.

Mar 022016
 
 March 2, 2016  Posted by at 8:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos On Lesbos (Mytilini) 2016

Monday morning I started to write a -long overdue, I know, and I apologize- article on what’s going on with the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund and with me, still here in Athens. But I was ‘cut short in my tracks’.

I found I just couldn’t go on in the vein I was in when I read that on one side of the European continent, refugees and their children were being bulldozed and sprayed with tear gas in the Calais ‘Jungle’, while at the very same moment, 2500 kilometers (1500 miles) away, tear gas was also being sprayed on refugee children, by Macedonia police, across their border with Greece. Rumors are there were Austrian and Czech troops on the scene as well.

It just seemed too crazy. Because what do you say to that? The obvious and inevitable questions, when seeing that, are: What are we, what have we become, what kind of civilization is this? Is it even a civilization at all? How does one define ‘civilization’? Shouldn’t perhaps a civilization be characterized and defined by the fact that acts and policies executed within it can be deemed ‘civilized’?!

And if that is so, what does this make us? Could we perhaps agree that a civilized society would never engage in -to name but a few examples- any of the following? That a civilized society does not bomb children, it does not let them drown without trying all it can to help, and it does not spray tear gas on them. Is it really such a stretch to accept that as minimum requirements to be labeled ‘civilized’?

Europe, have you completely lost it? How on earth can you tear gas infants? What is that? What’s that you said? They just got in the way? But that means you knew they were there, right?

And again, what does that make us? We do all of these things, and with impunity. None are forced upon us. We do them of our own free will. Or, rather, we elect people who then do them for us, in our name. But we know they do them, and we don’t protest, nor do we un-elect them. Once more, what does that make us? One thing’s for sure: it certainly does not make us civilized. Barbaric is more like it. Medieval, at best.

Now, while I think this is a global issue, if only because the entire world seems to be bombing Syria -just waiting for China to join in-, the immediate culpability and responsibility lies with Europe. But Europe has nothing. Yeah, promises to provide funds at some time in the future, to solve problems that are playing out today. That they can do.

And when those funds finally might arrive, you can bet they’ll largely be handed out to the wrong parties. I don’t want to rehash the complaints in Greece about NGOs, UN etc., but neither have I seen or heard much that will make those complaints go away.

The first and most pressing response needs to come from Angela Merkel, because she is the de facto leader of Europe. That this kind of power structure is very unfortunate since Merkel is more beholden to Germany than Europe is something I explained before. But even then. Merkel has mostly been AWOL. While the leader on paper, Jean-Claude Juncker, is even less visible.

The only thing Europe seems to have done, and do correct me if I’m wrong, is send armed forces to stop people who have come to Europe across perilous seas, losing thousands of their children, friends and neighbors in the process, because they were fleeing .. armed forces. That is bizarre from pretty much any angle.

One of the first things I wrote about the refugee crisis, it must have been about a year ago, was that the only proper response and approach to a situation like this is to put the people first. To make sure they don’t go hungry, they don’t get sick and die, and they don’t drown for no reason. But Europe, both as a whole and in its ‘separate units’, instead has put political issues ahead of the people. So 4000 drowned in 2015, and 400 already this year. And those are just the registered ‘cases’. How about we double those numbers?

And how about we let those numbers sink in? All those promising lives lost for no reason at all? How many potential Einsteins drowned in the Aegean? How many Florence Nightingales? How many loving and delicate mothers and fathers? You can take this from a humanitarian or a religious point of view, and you can pick your religion too while you’re at it, but there’s no philosophy or faith that justifies letting children drown while you’re sitting poolside with a Margarita or at home picking out your next best biggest TV screen.

This is not about opening one’s borders as widely as possible, or about allowing one’s own culture to be entirely submerged or overtaken, it’s about being civilized, about being recognized in history books as an actual civilization deserving of the label. About treating people like human beings, treating them the way you would want your children and your friends to be treated. The way you yourself want to be treated. And then take it from there, with your dignity and your humanity intact.

This is something I will never understand, I’m afraid. And that’s my angle back to the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, and to my friend Konstantinos (Kostas) and his Social Kitchen (O Allos Anthropos) project. Because Kostas proves, and all the volunteers who cooperate with him do, that there are still humans in this world. I guess one might say that Kostas is what in Yiddish tradition would be called a ‘Mensch’, a term strongly associated with integrity, honor, valor.

I‘ve been going through some of the earlier pieces in which I talked about him, and I noticed the numbers I presented, on meals served per day etc., were sometimes a little off due to communication difficulties. Since I worked hard to get more accurate numbers now, let’s see if we can correct that. Do note that they are really in a constant state of flux these days.

At the moment, as per my latest meeting with Kostas and our -dear- mutual friend and translator Tassos on Friday, there are 10 different ‘chapters’ of the Social Kitchen active, most in the Athens (Attica) area, but also in Thessaloniki and on the islands. That’s up from 2 or 3 ‘kitchens’ 8 months ago. The total list: Athens, Mytilini Island, Egaleo, Haidari, Salamina Island, Ilion, Megara, Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Drapetsona. Yeah, it’s growing fast. They’re not all active 7 days a week, often – or partly- due to a lack of resources. Some cook once a week, some 2-3 times.

But the biggest change by a mile, since the beginning of February, is the 7 days a week Social Kitchen in Mytilini (the capital of what we know as Lesbos, which Greeks often just call Mytilini, Mitilene, Mitilini) in the government facility -don’t want to say ‘camp’- of Moria. The lady who runs the facility has asked Kostas to come cook every day because there were no other provisions. Which is pretty crazy given all the NGOs operating on the island.

A few months ago, he had to tell her he couldn’t afford to do it, but in the perhaps best part of this story, all the food now gets donated by the local population (I’ve said it before, Greeks do solidarity well). And this is no small feat. It means 2500-3000 meals every day, and since the Greek government has been forced to slow the transfer of refugees from Mytilini to Piraeus, the number is set to grow, perhaps fast. This comes on top of the perhaps 1000 meals provided every day in Athens and other places.

And it could be much more, if resources were available. There are 12(!) more locations on a ‘waiting list’ who have asked to join Kostas’ project but who have neither equipment nor funding: Patra, Pyrgos, Sparta, Kalamata, Korinthos, Ioannina, Larissa, Preveza, Nafpaktos, Zakynthos island, Heraklio Crete, Ierapetra Crete (time to go to Google Maps, I know).

When we were talking a few days ago, Kostas said he’s not so much pre-occupied with providing the food itself. That he can manage. Perhaps a bit optimistic, but if he’s anything, that’s it. And in his position, you would have to be. He carries a lot of weight and a lot of people, those who work with them and those they feed, on his shoulders.

What worries him at times are the fixed costs.

I walked over 24 hours ago to Monastiraki square, where a Social Kitchen team always cooks on Tuesday, in memory of a famous Greek musician, Antonis Vardis, who was a very early supporter of the Social Kitchen, but tragically died of cancer in 2014.

Only, this time, the team couldn’t start at 2pm -to serve food at 5pm-, because their equipment was not there. Kostas had decided, from a distance, he just got back from Thessaloniki, that using it to prepare 4000 (!) meals in ‘The House’ to be sent to the port of Piraeus had bigger priority (emergency, starving refugees), and the 300 or so homeless in the square would have to wait. 3 hours or so. Hungry and homeless. That’s where the need stands. That’s reality in Athens.

But to get back to the practical side of things, or let’s call it the fixed costs, here’s an overview.

There’s ‘The House’ as they call it, and so will I, a pretty simple apartment-sized location that has been the nerve center of the operation for a while now. Problem is, the rent used to be paid by supporters until January 1, but they couldn’t afford it any longer -there’s a million stories like that in Greece, of people who can no longer afford things. So now that’s what Kostas worries about. Losing the nerve center is like the worst thing that could happen.

It allowed for those 4000 meals to be cooked yesterday. It offers laundry, service, homework facilities to homeless and their children. The Social Kitchen couldn’t operate without it.

Anyway, on Friday, I paid that rent, with your donations, to the tune of €2054 for 3 months. And told him I’d guarantee the next 3-month payment, due May 15, as well. Because that takes worries away. From someone who must worry, whether he shows it or not, all the time. Here’s the receipt – we went to the bank together-:

Not that the rent for the nerve center is the only fixed cost. By a mile. In fact, the cost for gas for transport for all the kitchens is easily €2000 a month. The propane tanks they need for cooking come to at least €1000 a month. Breakfast, laundry and shower for the homeless in ‘The House’ comes to another €2500 a month (no kidding).

And if that doesn’t scare you away enough, the by far largest expense, as I found out this week, and I would never have thought of this -guess I’m not all that bright-, is in the containers the food is served in. It seems such an obvious thing, but it’s absolutely not. Kostas gets these things already at a steep discount from what even supermarket chains are paying, but even then, it’s -close to- killing the Social Kitchen. Here’s what we’re talking about, these simple thingies:

This may seem like nothing, but it’s something alright. The discount price he pays is €5 per 100 units. Now start multiplying. That urgent 4000 meals he had to do yesterday, just that one ‘shipment’, cost €200 just for the containers. Multiply that by 30 days a month and you get €6000. Times 12 is $72,000 a year. Yup, that is crazy. But the Social Kitchen can’t serve its food without containers either. And -flat- paper plates won’t work because most of the food has too much liquid in it.

Ergo, Kostas has come up with an -about 50% cheaper- alternative, one that if we could make it happen might save the Social Kitchen some $20,000 a year. But there are a few hooks. His alternative, made of ‘hard paper’, is not available in Greece. They would have to be imported from Romania. But you need import permissions for that. And that requires having a company. Something the Social Kitchen refuses to become.

And what’s more, these containers would have to be paid in advance. Something for which there is no money. Everything necessarily operates on a day-to-day shoestring basis. If there is some money, they go buy a few thousand of the aluminum containers down the road. The kind of advance planning that would be required for the -much cheaper- alternative is simply not possible, and therefore not an option.

I think I should just press ‘Publish’ now, because there is no end to what I could write about this. I’m here where it happens, finger on the pulse, and I’m afraid of what this might become. 70,000 or 100,000 or half a million stranded in Greece, all those numbers look possible right now. It’s impossible to say.

But at least there are people here doing what they humanly can to alleviate the misery, even as Europe is clearly not. But the fear of course is that there’ll be a breaking point in Greece, where the already severely strained government will simply run out of resources. And the citizens will, too.

EU promises don’t count for a thing, until they become a tangible reality. But things still happen, and move forward; thousand of refugees arrive here every day. And drowning them all in the Aegean is not an option. Merkel’s best hope is Turkey PM Erdogan, and that’s a terrible best hope to have.

It could all be simple. Just make the people your first priority, and everything else will fall into place. We’re human, and we’re a social animal. That’s what Greece, and the Greeks, prove on a daily basis. But not the rest of the continent.

So, much as I’m hesitant to ask you for support again, I must. ‘My people’ here provide the most basic of necessities: they feed the refugees and homeless. There was a report coming out of Idomeni, on the Macedonia/Greek border, yesterday, that mothers couldn’t breastfeed anymore because they themselves hadn’t eaten in days.

That’s what we, and you, can help prevent from happening.

The way to do it is the same as it has been for a while now: donate through our Paypal unit, top left corner at The Automatic Earth, an amount ending in either $0.99 or $0.37. That all goes straight towards the Social Kitchen. Other donations go to The Automatic Earth itself, which also runs on -and really needs- donations.

There is still some money left from the two donation ‘drives’ I’ve done, which totalled over $20,000 (!) -you guys are so fantastic-. In the past few weeks, I’ve given Kostas €7,550, and earlier I donated €5,000 to volunteer clinics, to Kostas and to Myrto Lemos’ Support Center for street children. That means there’s about $8,000, or €7000 left, and as I said, I promised to pay the rent for the nerve center on May 15.

That leaves about $5000. I have to say ‘about’ all the time, because between what they skim off donations, plus the conversion from USD into EUR, Paypal takes quite a bit, 7-8% in total, which I really don’t like, but it has a (quasi-) monopoly. Thing is, I’m hesitant to spend it all today because of might be coming to this country, and the people fleeing to it. It might be wise to have a war chest for when for instance Kostas really needs it.

Let’s finish for now with a personal thank you note from Kostas, as translated by Tassos:

I want to thank you deeply for the donations, all the people, the readers of the Automatic Earth, who have put their trust in me, without knowing me personally. Ilargi wrote about what we are doing after he met me and saw what we do. I thank all of you that you sent your money to support the fellow humans who are in need. But the most important as I see it, is that you heard and trusted your heart. For me this is solidarity, to hear and trust your heart, because your heart deeply knows and can’t be wrong.
 
I am Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, the man who has dedicated his life to the Social Kitchen -O Allos Anthropos- and I kindly invite you whenever you are in Greece to meet us, to eat with us and to have a coffee together at our Social Kitchen house in Athens, which is open for all Humans and that means you too!


Social Kitchen on Mytilini Island (Lesbos) 2016

Dec 252015
 
 December 25, 2015  Posted by at 5:50 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Elena Angelopoulos Refugee mother feeds child at ‘The Other Human’ social kitchen on Lesbos 2015

No, I’m not planning to let this rest. And I’m not planning to write the whole article again either. Our readers have once again been crazy generous (thank you so much!), but in the spirit of Christmas I ask more of you to do more.

We can be a veritable force for good, and that’s not something we get a lot of shots at, not together. And that’s what this is all about, it’s about community. ‘Together’ is the key word that drives Kostas in all he does. ‘We eat together’.

This is a call-out to the entire -financial- blogosphere to help the Automatic Earth help the poorest Greeks, and the refugees in Greece.

Please repost, rewrite, retweet, donate. Let’s grab our humanity by the horns and not allow this situation to deteriorate even further than it already has. It doesn’t have to.

This -late- spring I went to Athens. Because it seemed a place where things were happening, with Syriza, with Varoufakis in place. It turned out that during my stay, things did happen politically and economically, but not for the good. The EU and IMF crushed the Greek spirit. It was exciting, but then it was not.

Before I left for Greece, I asked our Automatic Earth readers if they would like to add something to the -financial- help I wanted to bring with me; at that time it was already clear that austerity was hitting the Greeks very hard (it’s gotten much worse since). I thought I’d get perhaps a few hundred dollars for the ‘AE for Athens’ fund. As of today, the counter stands at almost $12,000, a humbling number. Now it has become a responsibility.

Because I want to be careful with other people’s money, I’ve donated ‘only’ €5000 so far. And that includes a recent -second- trip I just got back from on Sunday (and no, I don’t pay for the trips from the money donated for Athens). €2000 of this money, I donated to a man I was fortunate to meet and become friends with, Kostas, full name Konstantinos Polychronopoulos. I first wrote about him here: The Man Who Cooks In The Street.

Kostas started -literally- cooking in the street some 4 years ago, something that soon became Social Kitchen ‘O Allos Anthropos’ (the other person, human, human being, the fellow man). As he describes quite eloquently in this little video, Kostas has very lucid ideas about what he aims for. He wants to not just give food to the hungry and homeless of Greece, whose numbers have started to swell rapidly since his effort took off, but also sympathy, and dignity, and simply conversation. ‘We eat together’ is not an empty slogan.

Because of his ideas of how he wants things to be, Kostas refuses to be beholden to governments, NGOs or corporations. Kostas insists he wants his project to be by people, for people, coming from one human being’s empathy for the other. Food for the soul is essential too.

We had an meeting on Saturday night with a group of people he’s gathered around him (there are dozens of volunteers by now, many -formerly- homeless). I donated another €1000 from our fund, but I was primarily interested in how he had been doing since we last met in July. Turns out, ‘The Other Human’ has grown at least 5-fold.


Kostas Tzioumakas Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

Because of media attention (I was not the only one who contacted him), Kostas gained some fame this year. And ‘offers’. The European Union awarded him a prize, which he -naturally- refused to accept. Coca Cola offered him a six-figure number to put their advertizing all over his operation, but that for him is his soul vs the devil. He also doesn’t want to become an NGO and spend half his time doing paperwork. It must be about people.

Existing NGOs are a story all by themselves in the Greek situation. I have no personal experience with what they do in the country, but I keep on hearing bad stories. Kostas’ people showed me a photo of bowls of food that they say refugees refuse to eat (and dogs too…), but that NGOs want to force on refugees because they get €7 per bowl handed out, from whoever it is that pays them. To compare: Kostas and his crew feed people for €1, max.

A good example of how the ‘locals’ look at the UNHCR, the Red Cross and other NGOs is this video by a native Brit who lives on Lesbos, Eric Kempson: Major Aid Agencies Are Deceiving The General Public on Refugees. Warning: there’s a few select F-words sprinkled in. Eric does angry well.

I was saying before how ‘The Other Human’ had grown at least 5-fold. That is a bit of an understatement. There are 5 now different ‘kitchen teams’ running (vs 1-2 before), and they hand out over 3000 meals a day today instead of the 300 earlier in the year. There simply is that much need. The Greeks themselves are getting poorer, fast, and refugees have become a major ‘target’ group as well.

Kostas began running operations on Lesbos over the summer, and has a team in place there now as well as on Salimani island and 3 different locations in the Athens area. And there’s no doubt he would like to do more.

Before, costs would be covered by food donations and sympathizers giving €5 or €10 a month from what little they have. Between pensions cuts, pay cuts and capital controls, the number of Greeks who have next to nothing rises fast. It’s no exception for former supporters to now come to rely on Kostas for their own food.

Nor is it exceptional for grandmothers to still insist on giving $5 from the €400 that’s all that’s left of their pension. Greeks do solidarity well.

But the numbers are getting out of hand, so many people need help, and it promises to get much worse in 2016, looking at the new austerity measures the troika is forcing upon the country, and the expected numbers of refugees arriving. The donations that used to run ‘The Other Human’ are simply not enough to cover operations any longer, let alone expand them where most needed.


And while the €1000 I donated earlier this year went a -relatively- long way, the second €1000, though at least as much appreciated, won’t go nearly as far. When I was told ‘The Other Human’ have been forced to cancel some cooking events now -for the cold and hungry homeless, for crying out loud, who are increasingly people that used to have jobs and homes and all until recently-, simply because they can’t afford to feed the poor, that actually hurt, and stung. That felt personal.

What we have here is a man who’s devoted his entire life to helping other people, no holds barred. And he’s by no means alone in that. The ‘social kitchens’ run 7 days a week. And if there’s anything I can do to make it possible for Kostas, and his crews, to keep on doing this, the way he sees fit, and they do, I will. I may fail, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

There is the food that needs to be provided, there are transport costs, they need to pay the rent for the building where donated food and blankets etc. come in, and that doubles as a school for homeless kids, as well as a laundry and shower facility for the -longtime and newly- homeless (the troika just forced through a new provision to make it easier for banks to throw people out of their homes in 2016).

Since this has grown beyond the scope of the Automatic Earth alone, I want to appeal to all of you, my friends and ‘competitors’ in the -finance and broader- blogosphere, for your help in what I think is about the worthiest cause there is. People are dying out there, and hurting, not just the babies that drown before they reach Greek shores, but also the ones that make it.

Medical care is crucial, so is schooling, and of course food, and shelter. With Kostas and his large team of volunteers, we have the people in place to provide all of this. What’s missing is the money. Not for them, they ask for nothing for themselves, but for the people they try to help.

There are hundreds of thousands of you who read the Automatic Earth, and our friends at Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, Aaron Krowne, Steve Keen, John Rubino, Mish, Jim Kunstler, Max Keiser, BI, Wolf Richter, Jesse’s Café, Davis Stockman, Bruno at Stealthflation, the Transition people, my dear friend Dave Holmgren, and those are just the ones that come to mind in the first few seconds, and that I’ve had personal contact with, and even then I’m still forgetting many (sorry!).

Between us, we should be able to help Kostas do what he thinks must be done. If only simply by drawing our readers’ and friends’ and families’ attention to this. If everyone donates just $5, we can feed and clothe all kids and their moms and donate some humanity for Christmas to those who need it badly. And perhaps for next Christmas too. It’s about the power of numbers, which y’all know about.

What Kostas and I discussed on Saturday is to run this -if there are any donations to begin with, that is- through the Automatic Earth for now, so he doesn’t get bothered up the wazoo by his government. We may have to change that at some point, but we’ll tackle that one when we get there. For now, this is about saving people’s lives and dignity, today.

The Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

To tell donations for Kostas apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37 (don’t ask), will go to ‘The Other Human’. And no, I don’t cheat either on my friends or the poor -nor anyone else-, you’re going to have to trust me on that one.

If someone would like to start a crowdfunding campaign for the cause, please contact me at: contact •at• TheAutomaticEarth •dot• com.

Jesus was a refugee. Who got help. Tiny Tim got it too. I think I’ll rest my case.


Elena Angelopoulos Kostas comforts on Lesbos 2015

Dec 222015
 
 December 22, 2015  Posted by at 2:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Elena Angelopoulos Kostas comforts on Lesbos 2015

This is a call-out to the entire -financial- blogosphere to help the Automatic Earth help the poorest Greeks, and the refugees in Greece.

Please repost, rewrite, retweet, donate. Let’s grab our humanity by the horns and not allow this situation to deteriorate even further than it already has. It doesn’t have to.

This -late- spring I went to Athens. Because it seemed a place where things were happening, with Syriza, with Varoufakis in place. It turned out that during my stay, things did happen politically and economically, but not for the good. The EU and IMF crushed the Greek spirit. It was exciting, but then it was not.

Before I left for Greece, I asked our Automatic Earth readers if they would like to add something to the -financial- help I wanted to bring with me; at that time it was already clear that austerity was hitting the Greeks very hard (it’s gotten much worse since). I thought I’d get perhaps a few hundred dollars for the ‘AE for Athens’ fund. As of today, the counter stands at almost $12,000, a humbling number. Now it has become a responsibility.

Because I want to be careful with other people’s money, I’ve donated ‘only’ €5000 so far. And that includes a recent -second- trip I just got back from on Sunday (and no, I don’t pay for the trips from the money donated for Athens). €2000 of this money, I donated to a man I was fortunate to meet and become friends with, Kostas, full name Konstantinos Polychronopoulos. I first wrote about him here: The Man Who Cooks In The Street.

Kostas started -literally- cooking in the street some 4 years ago, something that soon became Social Kitchen ‘O Allos Anthropos’ (the other person, human, human being, the fellow man). As he describes quite eloquently in this little video, Kostas has very lucid ideas about what he aims for. He wants to not just give food to the hungry and homeless of Greece, whose numbers have started to swell rapidly since his effort took off, but also sympathy, and dignity, and simply conversation. ‘We eat together’ is not an empty slogan.

Because of his ideas of how he wants things to be, Kostas refuses to be beholden to governments, NGOs or corporations. Kostas insists he wants his project to be by people, for people, coming from one human being’s empathy for the other. Food for the soul is essential too.

We had an meeting on Saturday night with a group of people he’s gathered around him (there are dozens of volunteers by now, many -formerly- homeless). I donated another €1000 from our fund, but I was primarily interested in how he had been doing since we last met in July. Turns out, ‘The Other Human’ has grown at least 5-fold.


Kostas Tzioumakas Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

Because of media attention (I was not the only one who contacted him), Kostas gained some fame this year. And ‘offers’. The European Union awarded him a prize, which he -naturally- refused to accept. Coca Cola offered him a six-figure number to put their advertizing all over his operation, but that for him is his soul vs the devil. He also doesn’t want to become an NGO and spend half his time doing paperwork. It must be about people.

Existing NGOs are a story all by themselves in the Greek situation. I have no personal experience with what they do in the country, but I keep on hearing bad stories. Kostas’ people showed me a photo of bowls of food that they say refugees refuse to eat (and dogs too…), but that NGOs want to force on refugees because they get €7 per bowl handed out, from whoever it is that pays them. To compare: Kostas and his crew feed people for €1, max.

A good example of how the ‘locals’ look at the UNHCR, the Red Cross and other NGOs is this video by a native Brit who lives on Lesbos, Eric Kempson: Major Aid Agencies Are Deceiving The General Public on Refugees. Warning: there’s a few select F-words sprinkled in. Eric does angry well.

I was saying before how ‘The Other Human’ had grown at least 5-fold. That is a bit of an understatement. There are 5 now different ‘kitchen teams’ running (vs 1-2 before), and they hand out over 3000 meals a day today instead of the 300 earlier in the year. There simply is that much need. The Greeks themselves are getting poorer, fast, and refugees have become a major ‘target’ group as well.

Kostas began running operations on Lesbos over the summer, and has a team in place there now as well as on Salimani island and 3 different locations in the Athens area. And there’s no doubt he would like to do more.

Before, costs would be covered by food donations and sympathizers giving €5 or €10 a month from what little they have. Between pensions cuts, pay cuts and capital controls, the number of Greeks who have next to nothing rises fast. It’s no exception for former supporters to now come to rely on Kostas for their own food.

Nor is it exceptional for grandmothers to still insist on giving $5 from the €400 that’s all that’s left of their pension. Greeks do solidarity well.

But the numbers are getting out of hand, so many people need help, and it promises to get much worse in 2016, looking at the new austerity measures the troika is forcing upon the country, and the expected numbers of refugees arriving. The donations that used to run ‘The Other Human’ are simply not enough to cover operations any longer, let alone expand them where most needed.


And while the €1000 I donated earlier this year went a -relatively- long way, the second €1000, though at least as much appreciated, won’t go nearly as far. When I was told ‘The Other Human’ have been forced to cancel some cooking events now -for the cold and hungry homeless, for crying out loud, who are increasingly people that used to have jobs and homes and all until recently-, simply because they can’t afford to feed the poor, that actually hurt, and stung. That felt personal.

What we have here is a man who’s devoted his entire life to helping other people, no holds barred. And he’s by no means alone in that. The ‘social kitchens’ run 7 days a week. And if there’s anything I can do to make it possible for Kostas, and his crews, to keep on doing this, the way he sees fit, and they do, I will. I may fail, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

There is the food that needs to be provided, there are transport costs, they need to pay the rent for the building where donated food and blankets etc. come in, and that doubles as a school for homeless kids, as well as a laundry and shower facility for the -longtime and newly- homeless (the troika just forced through a new provision to make it easier for banks to throw people out of their homes in 2016).

Since this has grown beyond the scope of the Automatic Earth alone, I want to appeal to all of you, my friends and ‘competitors’ in the -finance and broader- blogosphere, for your help in what I think is about the worthiest cause there is. People are dying out there, and hurting, not just the babies that drown before they reach Greek shores, but also the ones that make it.

Medical care is crucial, so is schooling, and of course food, and shelter. With Kostas and his large team of volunteers, we have the people in place to provide all of this. What’s missing is the money. Not for them, they ask for nothing for themselves, but for the people they try to help.

There are hundreds of thousands of you who read the Automatic Earth, and our friends at Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, Aaron Krowne, Steve Keen, John Rubino, Mish, Jim Kunstler, Max Keiser, BI, Wolf Richter, Jesse’s Café, Davis Stockman, Bruno at Stealthflation, the Transition people, my dear friend Dave Holmgren, and those are just the ones that come to mind in the first few seconds, and that I’ve had personal contact with, and even then I’m still forgetting many (sorry!).

Between us, we should be able to help Kostas do what he thinks must be done. If only simply by drawing our readers’ and friends’ and families’ attention to this. If everyone donates just $5, we can feed and clothe all kids and their moms and donate some humanity for Christmas to those who need it badly. And perhaps for next Christmas too. It’s about the power of numbers, which y’all know about.

What Kostas and I discussed on Saturday is to run this -if there are any donations to begin with, that is- through the Automatic Earth for now, so he doesn’t get bothered up the wazoo by his government. We may have to change that at some point, but we’ll tackle that one when we get there. For now, this is about saving people’s lives and dignity, today.

The Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

To tell donations for Kostas apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37 (don’t ask), will go to ‘The Other Human’. And no, I don’t cheat either on my friends or the poor -nor anyone else-, you’re going to have to trust me on that one.

If someone would like to start a crowdfunding campaign for the cause, please contact me at: contact •at• TheAutomaticEarth •dot• com.

Jesus was a refugee. Who got help. Tiny Tim got it too. I think I’ll rest my case.


Elena Angelopoulos Refugee mother feeds her child at ‘The Other Human’ on Lesbos 2015