- Sport : Tradition meets modernism in German Wembley showdown
- Anti-money laundering : Troika distorted ‘dirty money’ findings
- our view : Our View: Anastasiades giving more ammunition to opponents of a...
- attempted murder : Woman stabbed in the back in Ledra Street shop
- Cyprus : Efforts to keep provident fund haircuts as low as possible
- bank of cyprus : Cyprus Today
- Barrosso : Barroso: all available resources mobilised to help Cyprus
- Cyprus : ‘Cyprus now on the energy map’
- Cyprus : DISY deputy tables simple health-care solution
- Ayios Dometios : Packs of stray dogs roaming Green Line
Providing warm days in an economic winter [WITH VIDEO]
It can be said that you never truly appreciate the importance of a charity until you’re on its receiving end. When it comes to the charity organisation, Alkionides, hundreds of families a month now know that to be true.
In recent months as the crisis has worsened, and unemployment soared, single-parent and large families in particular have turned to charities such as Alkionides to ask for help.
Since its founding in 1998, Alkionides - its name taken from Halcyon days, the warm sunny days given by the Greek gods to the kingfisher during January to lay its eggs - has helped hundreds of people every year with their electricity bills and food coupons. Since last year it has also donated clothes, shoes, furniture and heaters.
“The situation has deteriorated dramatically,” said Koula Demetriou, in charge of the Alkionides warehouse in Dali. “We used to help hundreds of people per year, and we are now helping hundreds per month.”
She said that all of the dozens of people who come in daily to ask for help were emotionally charged, particularly if it was their first time.
“It is a painful experience for them. They don’t know how to react, what to do, and they often cannot believe their lives have succumbed to this - to having to ask for help,” she said.
President of Alkionides Georgia Polyviou explained that there is however a common trend.
“People who were once well off and economically independent, who believed that they would always have a job as unemployment in Cyprus was at zero rate, have now suddenly been left unemployed, cannot pay their mortgages or their loans, and their expenses are running up. They sometimes don’t even have enough money to feed their children,” said Polyviou.
“Some families have lived on subsidies all their lives. Those can deal with this situation a bit better. But there are others, the ‘newly poor’ who feel extremely ashamed.”
Polyviou described how it had taken one woman, who had never had to ask for this type of help in her life, two weeks of picking up the phone and putting it back down again without dialing the number before she finally could bring herself to call.
The two charity officials have plenty of tragic tales to tell. In one case a woman came in on a cold afternoon with no coat on and all she wanted was to sit by the heater, waiting for her children to find some warm clothes to wear from among the donations. They didn’t even have a heater in their home.
Then there was the 18-year-old girl who had lost her brothers in a car accident, her parents are old and she is unemployed. She turned to Alkionides for help.
“There are hundreds of such cases,” said Demetriou. “Each case is unique and tragic, and we try to help as much as possible.”
The situation has deteriorated rapidly over the past year. The government, which Polyviou stressed “has never helped us”, now provides far less than it did to help the vulnerable. In a reform of the benefits system, welfare office benefits for single parents were slashed and as a result a single parent, who may have received €800 a month from the state, might now only get around €250. Unemployment, meanwhile, has now reached 14 per cent.
“The welfare office now cannot provide any assistance,” said Polyviou, “let alone the fact that applications take about a year to be examined, and they send the cases to us in the hope that we can do something to help.”
All cases assisted by the Alkionides are looked into both by the charity themselves, and by other social partners (priests, community officers etc.). Funds for Alkionides are raised from various charity and fundraising events, and from donations, either from companies or from individuals.
“We try to help as much and as many people as we can,” Polyviou explained. “But we too are having difficulty now as the money is running out. And when you hear people on the phone with an apparent distress in their voice telling you that they don’t even have €2 to go by, how can you turn down any help you can offer?”
“We get around 40 such calls a day,” Polyviou said, “with five to six applications a day for electricity bills that cannot be paid. Per month that accounts to about 120. The sums we pay vary per month. It can be from €20,000 to €60,000 for electricity, food coupons and medical expenses. The needs keep multiplying,” she said, adding that €60,000 was the amount the charity paid out in December and covered Christmas and New Year and was therefore an exception.
Polyviou added that apart from appeals for donations for food, clothes, furniture and gas/oil heaters, “we are now also trying to introduce a new institution of adopting families”. This means that a family that is better-off adopts a family in need and takes care of their expenses for a certain time period in order to help them get back on their feet.
“People have now realised that there is a real need in Cyprus,” Polyviou said. “And they are responding to it.”
The acts of kindness are shown in various ways. One young woman often comes into the warehouse dropping off supermarket bags full of supplies (food, baby wipes, detergents etc.) to be donated to the families in need. “There are a lot of people who come in and bring clothes and any other stuff that they can to donate,” said Demetriou.
The warehouse began operating in June 2012, initially as a storage for clothes for needy school children. But as people’s needs expanded so too did the donations and a large warehouse with a wide variety of goods is now operating.
Alkionides itself started out in 1998 as an attempt to raise money to send a young girl to England for an operation and the idea was born to offer aid to those in need. Since March 2010 the charity established a "nest" in London to provide free accommodation for disadvantaged patients and their families. The charity has no administration costs and is based solely on the work of volunteers. All help is received from the people and given back to the people.
If there has been any criticism directed towards the charity it is that its focus is just on Cypriots in need, even though many non-Cypriots are suffering just as much and in some cases more. According to the two women, this is not strictly true.
“The people we help are mostly Cypriots, although we would not turn down anyone in need,” said Demetriou. “It is just that now Cypriots are in serious need and those who come and leave stuff for them what to ensure that their fellow citizens are the ones who receive it.”
Want to help too? Contact Koula Demetriou 99668872 or Georgia Polyviou 99 611863. The warehouse operates Monday 09:30-14:00; Wednesday 15:30-18:00; Thursday 09:30-14:00; and Friday 16:30-18:00. www.alkionides.org