Small islands can have a large diaspora. So is the case of Kastellorizo, where ESIN held its Annual General Meeting in September 2015 and learned about the great number of islanders living abroad: in the 1920s, 3,000 people lived on the island while about 8,000 lived abroad mainly in Australia, USA, Egypt and Greece.
Today, the municipality counts 492 inhabitants.
Four years ago, the Hellenic Initiative was founded by members of the global Greek and philhellene communities who were compelled to respond to the worsening economic crisis of Greece. This intitative:
– is committed to Greece, faults and all, dedicating its time, resources and networks to secure a different future.
– is about investment, not handouts, focused on impact and outcomes, whether it’s a grant to a nonprofit organization, mentorship for an emerging entrepreneur, or investment in a small business. What matters is impact, not effort.
– does not have all the answers but acts anyway.
Ten days ago, the Hellenic Intiative funded a visit to Kastellorizo of a team from Doctors of the World to provide specialised medical services to the local population. This is a letter from Michael Printzos, Hellenic Initiative Program Director, following that visit:
I am writing this report from the comfort of my desk overwhelmed with feelings of mixed emotions after my recent visit to Kastellorizo. Following Alexandra’s lead I contacted one of the local doctors (Giannis) trying to map down the island’s needs. I arrived last Friday 18 March together with a team from “Doctors of the World” comprised of 2 dentists, 1 paediatrician, 1 cardiologist, 1 orthopaedic surgeon, 1 neurologist, 1 gynaecologist, 1 nurse, 1 project manager and 1 driver.
We also brought a mobile unit full of medical supplies that the local doctor had asked for (including body bags which unfortunately we were called to use later that weekend). At this point, I would like to say that Kastellorizo is currently served by two doctors on a permanent basis. The first one is Giannis a great guy about my age, eager to serve the local community the best way possible, but the bad news is that Giannis will leave the island in a couple of months.
During the first day, we had some people visiting us as we were slowly starting to build the necessary trust so that others could follow. The queues became much larger the second day when a greater number of locals, as well as some military servicemen, together with their families asked for our specialised services. We even visited a few patients at their homes as in the case of the neurologist who examined some older patients suffering from stroke and multiple sclerosis. By the end of the second day everything seemed peaceful and we didn’t have a sign of what we were about to encounter the next morning.
On Sunday when I arrived at the medical unit, I realised that there was some sort of action taking place outside the norms of the previous days. Apparently during the night a total of 83 people arrived to Kastellorizo (from the nearby Greek island of Ro) with 2 kids, around 2 years old, pronounced dead. The kids drowned when their pregnant mothers tried to carry them on their hands. I happened to be in front when they put their dead bodies in the bags and this is an image that I will never forget. All of our doctors have been running up and down the place trying to help the ones in need. One moment you see the dead bodies and the next, only a few metres away, the smiles from the children who made it and were examined by our paediatrician. Life and death seemed very close together.
The local population was a little bit numb to the news. The whole island seemed a little bit weird to me. It was like God set the most beautiful stage to share the most horrible news. Under the sun, with all its colours, Kastellorizo looked so beautiful while at the same time refugees weakened by their battle with the sea were examined by doctors and questioned by police.
It is the very first time that I report back without any numbers. I decided this time not to write this email as The Hellenic Initiative’s Program Director, but as Michael, a silent observer of a huge humanitarian catastrophe that takes place -every single day – in our islands. What was reported in today’s news as 2 kids dead, for me it was 2 sweet little angels inside a body bag.
As I was leaving this place I made a promise to be in touch with the local doctor (Giannis) and hopefully one day soon to come back. After all the island’s history is full of stories of people trying to reach it or trying to leave it in their own dramatic way. The room that I stayed was next to St George tou Pigadiou church. There is this memorial dedicated to the ship wreck of the Empire Patrol with 33 Kastellorizians drowned as they were approaching their homeland in 1945. The Sunday news and the image of the 2 dead kids somehow proved to me that history repeats itself as a tragedy first.
One way or the other there is something special about this place. Something that you feel only when you visit. I am proud that we organised this mission at a time that it was deeply needed.