The Smile of the Child Needs Us.

In the fall of 2004, I spent the afternoon in one of the community houses of Hamogelo tou Paidou, or The Smile of the Child, a Greek non-profit that helps children when they are most in need. The founder of the organization knew the value of a child’s smile more than most of us ever could. Ten-year-old Andreas Yannopoulos, while suffering from terminal cancer, expressed with clarity his belief that all children, regardless of race or ethnicity, deserve to smile, and that if everybody came together, this could be accomplished.  Thus the organization was established in 1995 and began fulfilling Andreas’ vision.

After 16 years of growth and tens of thousands of children’s smiles, the organization is at risk of closing its doors in less than two months. The economic crisis is about to hit children who have already suffered abuse, neglect, abandonment, poverty, illness.

Six years ago, as the children played outside, the head of social services and the child and family counselor at the Kareas shelter discussed the organization’s latest activities in the free moments they had before they received a call to pick up a new child in need. I was with a member of the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services section, which maintains contact with several Greek organizations offering services that could assist American citizens in Greece. The Smile of the Child is an invaluable resource in helping American children in cases where their parent or guardian is hospitalized or unable to care for them while in Greece.

With over 4,000 volunteers and teams of professional educators, counselors, psychologists, social psychologists, social workers and administrators, The Smile of the Child impacts the lives of thousands of children and families every year, and is one of the most trusted and recognized civil society organizations in Greece.

Since 1997, Smile of the Child has established 11 shelters housing 275 abused or neglected children, from infants to young adults, sent through court order.  Its 24/7 national emergency hotline, 1056, received 270,000 calls for help in 2010, including reports of abused or abandoned children. It also runs 116000, the European Hotline for Missing Children, in Greece. The website www.lostchild.gr reports and tracks the cases of missing children in Greece. The group also activates Amber Alert Hellas at the request of the police, runs outreach programs for homeless children in Thessaloniki and Athens, and maintains a fleet of eight ambulances for infants and children and vehicles to reach and transport children in emergencies.

Please help a very important organization maintain its services.  If you are in Greece, you can make a donation via phone or SMS.  If you are outside of Greece, you can make a donation online or through a bank deposit. Instructions here.

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