Lost Spaces, Found Playgrounds

This weekend I went to see and participate in an art exhibit about lost spaces. We used words, images and art to illustrate spaces that we have lost – real or metaphorical – and placed the postcards with others in the exhibit. This was the Ripple Effect: Currents of Socially Engaged Art Exhibit and Postcard Workshop.

I made a postcard that my mind has wanted to create for quite some time, though I was not aware of this. I placed my card in the exhibit, but I did not describe my lost space in front of the group, for whatever reason, so I share it here.

Family History Postcard

The space lost, the space I cannot access, is my family history beyond the last three generations. My great-grandparents lived in the Black Sea region, and less than a century ago, Turkey and Greece exchanged populations (more accurately: mutually expelled their citizens), so records are difficult to access, or are no longer available. The search itself requires significant time and resources and a trip to the physical spaces. My card illustrates a space in memory that is lost: a metaphorical space that exists as a result of lost physical spaces.

There is a distinct feeling of an empty space when the knowledge of family history is not there. To understand the lost value of a family history (the stories of family members) that has always been unknown, look at the value of family that was known and lost. Several of the people that stood up to share their lost space described and illustrated physical spaces related to memories with family members that had passed away, but also the joy and inspiration that remained in their lives, from their perspective on life and living, to the career to which they dedicate their life.

Through my work, I focus on diaspora and immigrant or migrant communities, and the issues that impact the lives of these individuals, as well as all those they care about across our global networks of humans. I also identify myself as Greek-American, and am somewhat involved in the community. While I like to find activities around the city that let me learn and do new and different things, it was a satisfying challenge to have to illustrate a feeling that has been growing and linking my work and personal life.

The opportunity to play with pictures, words, scissors, and glue, and to explore how others use images and words to express memories, stories, places and feelings helped me be reflective and creative – and it was fun.

Participation in the workshop was organized by SPACIOUS, an organization and a movement organizing events for people to meet and connect through art, dance, play, recess and other activities that let us unleash our curiosity, creativity and wonder.

Apparently (and fortunately) there is a growing movement around the importance of playfulness in keeping ourselves healthy, creative and balanced. This must extend beyond the U.S., because the event made me think of new initiatives in Greece based on similar principles:

Startegy is a series of “play-driven workshops” to help people unleash ideas and facilitate entrepreneurial behavior, as they seek to start a new business or project.

Imagine the City thinks of the city as an extension of home. The initiative develops campaigns and projects to improve the aesthetic of the urban environment and attract citizens back into public spaces. The goal of their recent project, Syn-Oikia Pittaki, is to transform a dimly-lit street in the Athens neighborhood of Psyrri into an area bustling with people, local business activity and community events, as a way to begin revitalizing a neighborhood. The project’s first action was to illuminate the small pedestrian street with donated lighting fixtures. (More here.) The project will continue with additional events over the next year, in cooperation with the City of Athens.

The initiative’s inspiration comes from Plato:  “The city is the way it is, because its citizens are who they are”. What if citizens have more spaces to play?

Athens Plaython (play + marathon) is the first international street games festival in Athens hosting creative street games, design and technology workshops, and fun for all ages. The launch in 2011 hosted more than 1,000 people, and it won the second place award in the TEDxAthens Disruption in Learning challenge.

I am sure there are more. Please share them here, and go play!

 

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The Role of the Greek Diaspora

Today, Greek Reporter and Kathimerini reported that Bill Clinton will visit Greece this week to meet with Greek and Greek American leaders to discuss an initiative to help Greek charities and promote reform and investment.

The new Hellenic Initiative, backed by Greek diaspora business executives, lawyers, scientists and others, seeks to raise $100 million for these purposes.

I published this piece on Huffington Post in April. The original post is here. Some of the considerations I outline below will be important for this initiative to consider from its very early stages, so this post is still intensely relevant, and will be for a long time.

The Role of the Greek Diaspora: Save Greece or Help It Save Itself? (Or C: Do Nothing)

The frequency of often superficial or misleading international coverage of Greece’s economic crisis inspired recent commentaries about the role of the Greek diaspora (in this context, Greeks living abroad and people of Greek heritage). These commentaries asked, ‘Why won’t Greeks ask the diaspora for help?’ or ‘why won’t Greeks listen to diaspora Greeks?” or ‘Why aren’t Greek diaspora communities coming to the rescue?”

Before beginning this discussion, it is worth considering a significant lesson from the field of international development, which is, essentially, to first do no harm. To turn good intentions into effective, sustainable programs with positive impact and minimal unintended consequences, external actors must support local institutions and empower local leaders or activists who understand the local context. This lesson was discussed throughout the first annual Global Diaspora Forum, hosted last May by the U.S. Department of State and other partners to highlight how diaspora communities act as a bridge between the U.S. and their countries of origin.

Greek diaspora groups can play a role in helping Greeks address their political, economic and social crisis, but only if they do so with those in Greece that are building the foundations of a more prosperous, equitable and healthy future. Dedicated, intelligent and experienced professionals and activists are working to create positive change in Greece. We do them a disservice to speak as though the diaspora will be the saviors of the country.

We cannot assume we know the answers. We must ask Greeks about their understanding of the country’s problems, their recommendations and what they need to strengthen their impact. Then we can enter a dialogue on how to work together.

I was in Greece for over two months last summer, asking questions and listening. My experience highlighted two key areas on which the Greek diaspora should focus: 1) support the efforts and sustainability of non-government, nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and citizen associations that respond to the needs of vulnerable groups, and 2) raise awareness on independent, non-government organizations that monitor and report on corruption, transparency and accountability issues and judicial reform.

In July, as the director of the Reinventing Greece Media Project, I led a team of young Greek-Americans as they met and interviewed officials, entrepreneurs, investors, media professionals, human rights activists and others in Athens about their ideas and solutions to address Greece’s challenges. We met individuals that see the potential of Greece’s people to innovate and build upon a long history of knowledge, culture and discovery. The team posted interviews and stories on a website, to help transition the public dialogue from a focus on problems to a focus on solutions.

I then spent a month in the northern prefecture Kozani. I saw empty storefronts and people struggling to make ends meet for their children, elderly parents, or even other relatives, and witnessed the difficulty in finding hospitals with supplies or open emergency rooms. None of this is unique to this prefecture. Most of these problems have festered for a long time in Greece, and are not due to the crisis, though they probably have been heightened to an alarming level by it.

A common theme that emerged during my experience: Across sectors, people in Greece feel there is a lack of cooperation and trust — trust between government and the people and trust among people. Independent oversight organizations and judicial reform will be crucial for both social justice and economic growth.

NGOs and citizen associations are increasingly filling in where the government cannot provide basic services to vulnerable groups like the hungry, the sick or the homeless. Organizations like The Smile of the Child, that helps children and families, or the European Network of Women, that supports victims of domestic violence and trafficking, have spent years building networks, understanding the communities they seek to benefit, and gaining people’s trust (which is not easy in Greece, where civil society is still in its early stages). The economic crisis and the policies of European partners and the troika are threatening to shut down the services or entire operations of some of these organizations. When such groups close down, is it difficult to rebuild them, and a great deal of institutional knowledge is lost.

These groups need funding to respond to people’s urgent needs, but also partners that can leverage resources to support their institutional capacity. Greeks from abroad could launch efforts to send expert volunteer consultants, or tap into their networks to help Greek organizations connect with experienced organizations in our home countries.

In addition to civil society organizations, Greece needs more institutions that operate between the people and government, like the Greek ombudsman authority, to build trust back into society.

Consider the issue of tax evasion, which is frequently (over)referenced in the media and by diaspora Greeks. Article after article in Greek and international media quotes Greeks asking why they should pay taxes when the wealthy and the politicians in the country are corrupt and not held accountable. This widespread sentiment should not be dismissed: It is a sign of ineffective institutions. The Greek government recently published the names of companies and individuals with the highest tax debts and set up a hotline for people to report bribes or tax evasion. These are tactics that create another arena where people can target each other based on hidden interests, without guaranteeing any long-term reform.

Diaspora groups should learn about independent organizations in Greece that monitor and report on government policy, regulation and implementation, help raise awareness on their work and recommendations (or the need for more of these organizations), and express concern when their independence is infringed upon.

Finally, the most crucial element of establishing long-term relationships between diaspora communities and Greek society is engaging young people now. They can help design and implement solutions to problems common to all our societies, and we should all make a concerted effort to support them. They have energy, skills, eagerness to learn and grow, and let’s be honest: They have the most to lose if we do not work together to make change happen.

Destination Greece: Sun, Studies and Service

As summer approaches, some us are fortunate enough to look forward to a visit to Greece. There are several study abroad or learning opportunities for students that would like to learn about and experience Greece – both classical and modern Greece. Programs are increasingly incorporating elements of local volunteering and community service to help their students establish deeper connections with the local communities that welcome them for the summer. I highlighted some of the stories of young visiting volunteers and interviewed a couple Greek organizations that offer volunteering opportunities for Reinventing Greece.

Journey to Greece students prepare for their volunteer service with the 2010 Special Olympics.

Here is part of that story and the link to the full feature (which is the best part!).

Young people are volunteering while visiting or studying in Greece.

The next generation in the U.S. – young adults from adolescents to about 30 years of age, often referred to as the millenials – want to change the world. Young Americans of Hellenic descent are among them. There are young people from this country volunteering while visiting or studying in Greece. In the process, they are gaining new understandings of Greek society, establishing relationships with people in local communities, deepening their ties to their heritage, and learning important lessons about teamwork, community, leadership and citizen diplomacy.

U.S. millenials volunteer more than any previous generation, according to USA Today, and corporations have found that one of the best ways to attract this next generation as employees is to offer paid time-off to volunteer.

National leaders are recognizing that this desire to have an impact and change the world for the better extends beyond borders. In May 2011, The Next Generation Initiative participated in the Global Diaspora Forum, hosted by the State Department and other partners. We saw national leaders and donors of international programs recognizing and discussing the value of diaspora organizations in strengthening U.S. relations and partnerships with other countries in many fields. One areas of discussion was youth volunteering. Young people are seeking opportunities to go back to their countries of heritage, or other countries, to volunteer.

This trend is evident among Hellenic American youth. In a national student research study conducted by the Initiative in 2010, young Greek and Cypriot Americans overwhelmingly expressed an interest in traveling to Greece for volunteer, internship, study and work opportunities. Students and young professionals report that it is challenging to find information, in English, on community organizations and businesses that offer volunteer or partnership opportunities for diaspora youth.

To address this interest, The Next Generation Initiative would like to help its next Reinventing Greece student and young professional team find opportunities to join their peers in Greece and give back to local Greek communities.

Welcome to phase one in this effort: ask questions and learn.

We asked local non-government organizations (NGOs), community action groups, educational institutions and others about their volunteer programs and community service experiences to learn about opportunities for diaspora Greeks or friends of Greece to give back while they are visiting or studying in Greece. We found that study and travel abroad programs are increasingly incorporating service work in their programs. We are sharing some of their stories here.

As we search for opportunities for our team, we invite you to read about the initiatives we are discovering, and reach out to them to join their efforts if you will be visiting Greece this year. We also invite you to share more of your experiences with us and our readers in the comment section below.

See the stories of young volunteers and read interviews with Greek organizations that offer volunteering opportunities on Reinventing Greece:

https://www.hellenext.org/reinventing-greece/2012/05/destination-greece-sun-studies-and-service/

Thank you!

Hi readers,

After nearly two years, I am finally writing a post to introduce myself and send out a thank you. When I started this blog, I wanted the focus to be on the stories I wanted to highlight – stories of how people in Greece were trying to improve their communities in different ways – not on me or my background.

I started this blog May 2010, in the midst of the “Greek crisis” (quotes because it is actually a European economic crisis), but it was not a response to all the crisis coverage. This blog is something I thought about for quite some time before I finally launched it. As a student and a young professional in the field of international affairs and development, I was interested in what young adults like me were doing in Greece. I wanted to know what programs and initiatives existed in Greece that would draw the interest of young adults looking to create global connections and better societies, and I wanted information in English that I could share with friends, colleagues and associates.

So I launched the blog simply as a young professional. In my original About Me, I described myself as “an early-career Greek-American who wants to connect my interests in my day job to my love of Greece. I work in an international non-profit organization based in Washington, DC and am interested in how women, youth, non-government organizations, businesses and other actors are finding innovative ways to make their communities better.”

Now I am introducing myself a bit more on my About page. Since the launch of the blog, my day job has changed. I wanted to use my experience to introduce new programs and new ways of interacting to the Greek-American community. I joined the team of The Next Generation Initiative (Hellenext) because I appreciated their approach for building a solid foundation for a dialogue with young adults: to begin by asking and understanding. Hellenext conducted a national online survey to give students a voice on how they connect to their heritage and what are their interests and needs. I joined their team to develop programs based on the results of the survey and other feedback from students and recent graduates – programs to help put young adults in the center of community engagement, within a network of leadership and mentorship connections.

So that is me.

Now I want to send a big THANK YOU to all the amazing people in Greece that began discussions with me because of this blog. You took the time to correspond with me via email or social media introductions, to share your experiences, describe your initiatives and discuss common interests.

These exchanges were an inspiration that helped me shape one of the programs I direct with Hellenext: the Reinventing Greece Media Project, a three-week fellowship in Greece, based on youth-led, solution-oriented journalism. This project was founded on a similar principle with the motivation behind this blog:

“This project was founded first and foremost on an effort to ask, listen and understand. Whatever we build together moving forward can only be built on this foundation of understanding and communication.”

The full message is here.

Traveling between cities to meet people. View from a bus.

 

I look forward to building stronger relationships with all the people in Greece that I have met through this blog, my role with the Reinventing Greece project, and other work, community and networking activities. I will continue my efforts to create more opportunities for all of us to deepen these connections, and keep expanding the network.

To everyone reading this blog, and everyone collaborating with others to have a positive impact on their community and beyond: thank you. Let’s keep connecting!

Aphrodite

 

Note: The views expressed on this blog are my own.

Time to play: Which is Real, Which is Parody!

The rules are easy, just guess which Item (1 or 2) is real and which is parody. Careful though, the game itself may not be as easy as you think!

Item 1:
«Solidarity Fund of Greece», A bank account for donations to the Greek government, to pay off the country’s debt

Excerpt: “a call to all Greeks worldwide to support the campaign for the “*Solidarity Account for Greece*” which was established for the repayment the nation’s public debt.

…we are calling Hellenes worldwide to take action.

We consider that it is our duty, that each and every one of us and all together as one, support and contribute actively to the Solidarity Fund Campaign, which is led by the President of the Hellenic Republic…”
Item 2:
The Official Kickstarter Page for Greece! A crowdfunding page to pay off the country’s debt.

Excerpt: “our creditors are demanding €14.5 billion ($18.6 billion) by March 20. We do not have this money, nor do we think we can raise it in time… And so we come to you, our friends, for help.

A donation of any amount is appreciated, and gifts are available for those who give at premium levels. We promise these funds will be used only to pay down debt, and any funds received above the requested amount will be rolled over to our next, inevitable Kickstarter campaign.”

Image by New Diaspora. New Dialogue. illustration contributor.

 

Did you make your selection? Have you given up?

Here is the answer:

Option 1: Real!

The excerpt is from a message from an organization focusing on strengthening ties between Greek diaspora communities, in 2010. 

Option 2: Parody! (For now.)

This was published recently in McSweeney’s, a San Francisco-based publisher that publishes – among other things – the literature and humor site McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Did you get it right? Did you get it wrong? Its ok, no one wins. We all sit down for a good laugh and a cry!

I’m not sure if the author of Welcome to the Official Kickstarter Page for Greece! was aware of the 2010 Solidarity Fund account. The parody Kickstarter page is humorous either way, but the comparison highlights the question of whether leaders in Greece and the diaspora communities fully acknowledge the causes and the deep impact of the political crisis that is intertwined with the country’s economic crisis.

The political crisis is that Greek society does not trust its political leaders and people have difficulty trusting each other after decades of ineffective or completely lacking transparency and accountability institutions. For years, Greece has lacked strong government or independent institutions with an ability to combat corruption and ensure that laws were implemented or reformed as necessary.

So why would people contribute to a fund that goes to the government – whether for the repayment of the debt or any other reason?

Here is what is most interesting to me: I have not yet seen any comments regarding the McSweeney’s post from the Greek diaspora community organizations or individuals that commented on the November 2011 Saturday Night Live skit portraying the gods of Olympus attempting (unsuccessfully) to address the economic crisis. Maybe they just don’t know about McSweeney’s.

In case you forgot about that SNL skit, here’s a little reminder:

‘Zeus’: “Wait, there is a Greek god of finance, right, there has to be…”

There isn’t. ‘Zeus’ calls on each of the gods/goddesses, none are responsible for finance. Later in the dialogue:

‘Hermes’: “It’s the party god’s fault, he’s been overseeing all the Greek banks.”

The skit shows that the ancient stories of Greek culture are still fun and pretty well-known in mainstream American culture. The ancient Greek gods and myths continue to be interesting and relevant today because they represented a spot-on understanding of human nature. There was also humor, satire and irony throughout the ancient myths, probably based on an understanding that sometimes humor – bright or dark – is the most effective way to get your point across.

When the laughter or giggles die down after reading a parody Kickstarter page, two thoughts will likely remain:

1)     It is absurd for anyone to imagine that people would trust the government or its international lenders enough at this point to donate money, when there has been little progress in making the political and economic systems in Greece or Europe more fair.

2)     How many Kickstarter pages would the EU actually need…?

All politics and parody aside, there are some interesting, creative projects on Kickstarter, even in Greece or relating to Hellenic culture, so check out the real page: http://www.kickstarter.com

Greek Health Ministry announces to public: “Do not get sick around holidays, it is not convenient for us.”

If you are thinking, that headline cannot be true, you are correct. It is a parody. It is based on encounters with the Greek health care system this summer, which were almost exactly the same as encounters with the Greek health care system fifteen years ago. Some of the inadequacies or failures of this system are so absurd that parody becomes inevitable.

I normally highlight positive examples on this site, but I want to write about the health care system in Greece, and right now, I do not have many positive health care initiatives to highlight, so even bringing up the discussion is something that is a positive step. If you have examples of a program, a technology, a hospital that is helping deliver accessible, effective healthcare to people in Greece, please share them here.

A report published this month in the British medical journal The Lancet set off a small flurry of articles in international media on the looming health crisis in Greece  This, however, is a discussion that should have been a priority long go, both within Greece and among Greek diaspora, who travel to Greece and are continually called upon by the Greek government to help promote tourism to Greece.

Funding for national health programs is being drastically cut just as the number of people coming to public hospitals rose 30 percent since the start of the crisis, according to the Health Ministry. At a December 5 news conference, the president of the Athens-Piraeus Doctors’ Union (EINAP) warned that the health care system risks collapse due to a lack of resources and rapidly increasing out-of-pocket costs for patients.

Image by New Diaspora. New Dialogue. illustration contributor.

 

Non-profits witness the growing crisis among Greeks dropped by government services

One small positive action I can point to at this time comes from outside the state system.  Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is conducting an assessment of the situation in Athens, though this only highlights the fact that an assessment of the situation across the country is desperately needed.

Non-profit organizations in Greece are increasingly called upon to fill in where the government cannot provide basic services, and the most troubling news on the state of health care in Greece comes from this sector.

MSF Greece and Medecins du Monde have been serving migrants and refugees, who are excluded from national healthcare, but recently began receiving increasing numbers Greek patients.  MSF set up clinics to serve migrants and refugees in Greece’s overflowing detention centers as early as 1995. Now, Greeks without insurance – pensioners, unemployed or homeless people, HIV and tuberculosis (TB) patients, and even some middle-class shopkeepers – are visiting MSF clinics, according to MSF Greece director, Apostolos Veizis.

“We are seeing the budgets of some health service areas such as social support and the treatment of certain diseases being hit by cuts of up to 80 percent,” he continues.

Medecins du Monde saw an increase in the number of Greek patients since 2010:

Of the 30,000 patients the group has attended to in the last year, some 35 percent are Greek citizens, up from 10 percent in 2010. Some nine percent of this figure are children. Source.

Despite all the romanticized headlines of people ‘turning back to the land in response to the economic crisis’ in Greece, the head of Medecins du Monde, Nikitis Kanakis, reports to the EU Observer that the group is beginning to see signs of mild malnutrition in some Greek patients, spurring the group to launch a campaign for food donations.

Health reform

In early September, doctors responded to the Health Ministry’s proposed reforms with a 48 hour strike, with the head of the Panhellenic Physicians Association warning that more militant action was to come. The reforms would include recruitment of more nurses, no new hiring of doctors, and permitting private doctors to work in state hospitals once a week (which is odd, given that this already takes place). The management of emergency departments is also set to change under the new legislation, which was scheduled to be ready after October 15.

Let’s check in on how the democratic dialogue process is playing out in this reform process:

Replying to the minister’s claim that doctors refused dialogue, the head of the national medical association said that the government had at no time sent any outline of its plans for the National Organisation for the Provision of Healthcare Services (EOPYY), adding that doctors had participated in dialogue for months but were never given specific details of the government’s intentions. Source.

In a press conference on October 11, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos highlighted how many spending cuts have been made.  I’m pretty sure the public already sees and feels that there is less spending. Mr. Loverdos does not discuss what health care is actually being provided with the little spending that apparently remains, if that even remains for much longer.

The health minister underlined that more spending cuts are possible and used as an example cosmetic plastic surgery operations made in public hospitals that cost 2,000 euros with the surgeons using the hospital facilities and supplies. “Such illegal behaviors continue,” he said, adding that public health inspectors are investigating similar cases and that he has personally notified the first-instance court head public prosecutor Eleni Raikou.

This is the example you would like to highlight, Minister Loverdos? Why not highlight these spending cuts, reported in the EU Observer:

The government is slashing the number of hospitals from 133 down to 83, cutting the number of clinical units from 2000 down to 1700, limiting to 30,000 the number of functional beds – or 80 percent of estimated needs. Source.

Or highlight that funding to the Hellenic Red Cross was cut.

Perhaps these were superfluous; perhaps the health care sector was bloated, like the rest of the public sector?  Perhaps not: based on the report published in The Lancet, people were less likely to visit a doctor in 2009 than in 2007 due to long wait times and long travel distances.  The study suggests that much of this is the result of significant budget cuts to health care. In addition, suicides and HIV infection rates rose, and appear to be results of increasing financial hardships and intravenous drug use.

The situation is also hitting mental healthcare facilities hard. In August, the Finance Ministry cut funding for state mental healthcare facilities by 45 percent. This comes at a time when suicides are on the rise, and many appear linked to financial difficulties.

..recent data published in July found that the number of suicides in Greece had increased by 40 percent between 2007 and 2009, while the report cited by Stylianidis also suggested that 12 percent of people facing financial difficulties or ruin had expressed a “death wish.” Source.

In August, the Guardian described the Greek health care system as “on the brink of catastrophe,” though sadly, these issues, and even this brink of catastrophe, are nothing new. Drug companies have halted shipments to some state hospitals due to government debt that goes back to 2007.  As early as 2001, the Greek state was spending the lowest percentage of all the then-15 EU member states on healthcare costs, leaving Greek citizens to pay the most out-of-pocket share in the EU.

This large out-of-pocket expense is for state hospitals.  My experience visiting friends and family in one state hospital in northern Greece was that the hospital had no toilet paper in the patient bathrooms 15 years ago and again this year, had no screens on windows in some rooms to keep mosquitoes away from sick or healing patients, and had nurses smoking inside the hospital or conversing and laughing loudly at reception desks in cancer wards. I visited a friend in a military hospital a few years ago, and a man who appeared to be a migrant street vendor walked into the room asking for one euro from patients that wanted a remote for the television. He indeed had possession of the television remotes, so he was not a first time visitor to patient rooms. I wondered what collection methods he used when time was up on the one-euro rental.

Patient tip: Bring your own entertainment, or sew a pocket into your backless paper hospital gown to hold spare change for the TV remotes.

Over a decade ago and again this year I saw basic, basic aspects of health, sanitation and respect for patients and families go unaddressed in state hospitals.  (Read just how far this can go in a Greek hospital these days in this recent post by blogger KeepTalkingGreece.)

Patient tip:  Bring your own toilet paper.

What does the EU say about this?  From the 2001 Kathimerini article cited above:

On Wednesday, the European Commission adopted the proposal tabled by Diamantopoulou and proposed that EU governments institute an annual exchange of data and policies from member countries, in an effort to upgrade healthcare services for the elderly. Furthermore, the European Commission proposed three common objectives for member states: The achievement of universal access to healthcare and care for senior citizens; the highest possible quality care; and the financial viability of healthcare systems in the long run. These proposed common objectives are the result of an analysis by the Commission which found that national healthcare systems, while very different in design, delivery and funding, are confronted with similar core challenges both today and in the future.

Contrast the tone and underlying foundation of those European Commission proposals with statements from Commission officials this year in response to drug companies halting shipments of cancer drugs to hospitals in Greece due to hospital debts:

“It’s a commercial decision from a company,” [European] commission health spokesman Frederic Vincent told reporters in Brussels. “We would have to see if the countries make any specific request if this problem is conferred to Spain, Italy, Portugal,” he added, noting that the EU has little-to-no powers over national healthcare plans. Source.

2001 principles: knowledge exchange and common challenges.

2011 principles: no EU power over national healthcare.

My experience.

In case you have not been privileged with hearing about or experiencing any personal encounters with the disappointing condition of the healthcare system in Greece, particularly outside the largest cities, I’ll share mine:

My niece raised a fever on the Friday evening before the big August 15 holiday, after the antibiotics prescribed by a doctor in a nearby clinic did not help her. A doctor from our village stopped by on her time off to see her, and said it was a virus, so she never needed the antibiotics – not too surprising, as it turns out this clinic is known for inattentive diagnoses. She recommended taking the girl to a hospital for some extra tests, to rule out meningitis, based on her symptoms.

This is where it became complicated. The two nearest hospitals (one in a small city 15 minutes away, and the other in a small city 30 minutes away) rotated pediatrician duty.  A pediatrician was on duty 15 days in one hospital, and 15 days in the other.   So we had to find a ride, and late on Friday night drive over half an hour to find a hospital with a pediatrician that could run the tests to rule out meningitis.

You can live in a city of approximately 100,000 people, the capital of a prefecture, and you will only find a pediatrician at a hospital for your child 50% of the time.

Don’t get sick on a holiday.

We cannot complain however.  In late August, a man from our village suffered an aneurism and had to be taken to the third nearest hospital to find an open emergency unit.  Sadly, he did not recover.  Maybe the outcome would have been the same even if the emergency unit in the nearest hospital, 15 minutes away, was staffed and functioning. We cannot know.

Back to School Special: Take a Bus to Your Future

I thought I was long beyond the days of that late August/early September Back to School feeling.  Yet here it is.  It is September. I am back in the U.S., back to Washington, DC, after nearly three months in Greece. People that were on vacation in DC in August are back to their offices and their emails. People that were on vacation in Greece in August are back to their offices and their emails.

Acting on the old Back to School feeling was simple enough: buy crayons (or, I suppose, laptop), set alarm much earlier, get re-acquainted with desk.  The subject matter, teachers and classmates would change, and sometimes the technology, but the routine, while different from the summer routine, would be quite similar to the previous year.

This new feeling is more difficult to act upon. There is no real transition:  my work is the same, and I never really stopped for summer; I just worked from Greece.  Now that I am back, however, people are asking about my experience in Greece, and I still have some assessing to do to truly answer their questions, and the questions I still have.

I already started this process in August, while still in Greece. In a way, I had no choice – I spent a lot of time on buses this summer. Greek KTEL buses with no wi-fi. This included at least three seven-hour bus rides, among several others. At first I dreaded it, wondering what I would do to pass the time besides eating potato chips, but I found myself looking forward to the refuge of being disconnected and finally having time to think. I took care of simple, daily tasks: short-term to-do list, shopping list, drafting emails in a Word document to send later. I read a book for a while. This did not take up seven hours, so eventually I ended up reflecting more deeply on what I was seeing, hearing, experiencing and perceiving in Greece this summer. Then I reviewed my short-term and long-term personal and professional goals.

Now I am recommending the experience. I recommend going beyond the usual logistical preparations to return to a pre-summer routine. What better time than September to really examine what you’ve experienced, where you are going, where you want to go, and how you want to change your world?  Disconnect for a good seven hours.  Put yourself on a bus if it’s the only way you will stay put for that long (it’s the only way I can stay put). Reflect.

And buy some crayons.