salvation army greeceCrisis and Dignity

The taxi arrived at around 12 noon. He paid 15 Euros for a ride from Pireaus port to Athens centre. He was with his wife and two children – a girl around 10 and a boy around 8 years old. He was a middle aged man, it seemed that he had had a good life – not too much and not too little, the middle way like most of the Greeks who live in the area of Athens were he arrived.

He came to our car because he saw people gathering around.  I think he was shocked because they were looking for more milk. His expression changed when he realised it was a similar situation to that which he had just left on the island. It was the moment he realised that the journey is longer than he expected. For me, looking from the outside I realised that in this journey the struggle is not necessary for survival but for maintaining dignity.

His daughter asked him for the toilet. He turned to us to direct him but I did not know what to say. There is a small alley nearby that was used as a toilet during the last few weeks. Men, women, children – young and old. It is the alley where you walk down and lose your dignity and they were not ready for that – actually no one is and no one should be. These are situations where loss of dignity coincides with loss of humanity.

The other option was to tell her to go to a local coffee shop. Here with almost 500 people in the main square the local coffee shop had become a public toilet.  The owner was willing to go ahead and allow it but the health authorities gave him a significant fine because he had no licence to allow so many people to use his facilities.

Some NGOs suggested putting toilet facilities but the local people came out in protest. “You are not going to turn our square into a refugee camp” they said, and perhaps they are right.

This is the first time I realised how easy it is to lose your dignity but also to maintain the sense pride in doing the right thing.


Polis Pantelidis
The Salvation Army in Greece
Italy and Greece Command