By Theodore Arapis
Not all walls divide. Consider what's happening in response to the Greek financial crisis.
Since the advent of the crisis, poverty and inequality have spread like a viral infection. According to Eurostat, a provider of statistical information to the European Union, one out of three Greeks risks living in poverty. This statistic is higher than in most EU countries, with the exception of Bulgaria and Romania, where the risk of falling under the poverty line reaches 40 percent.
For a number of Greeks, finding employment that generates income capable of supporting one's basic needs has become a great challenge. As of November, the most recent available data from the Economist, Greece retains the highest unemployment rate (24.6 percent) among countries in the EU and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Worse, about 75 percent of the unemployed remain jobless for more than a year, according to Eurostat.
Escaping poverty has even become a challenge for the employed. High rates of part-time employment and vast decreases in the minimum wage have pushed many households to the edge. Escaping poverty requires an unrealistically high number of working hours, especially for single parents, the OECD concluded in its 2015 Employment Outlook.
Paradoxically, Greeks are becoming poorer while their government appears to provide high welfare support to low-income individuals. In fact, a recent study about government support for the underprivileged from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality placed Greece fourth among 13 industrialized countries. However, Greece also had the highest rate of relief falloff in this study. Simply put, benefits of government welfare spending evaporate faster in Greece and fail to produce major improvements in income earnings among its recipients.
While the Greek government is failing its people, a social movement has appeared with the sole purpose of helping those in need. For the last few months, Greeks, in an action of solidarity, have been helping one another fulfill the most basic human need: hunger.
The idea is simple. Citizens place racks of hooks along frequently traveled routes and those with the ability to give leave bags of bread, vegetables, and fruits, boxes of spaghetti and canned milk, and other food items. In many cases, freshly cooked meals prepared from restaurants, bakeries, or home kitchens are also left on the racks. Anyone who is hungry is free to take what he or she needs.
This movement is known as the "Wall of Kindness." It migrated to Greece from Iran. The movement is rumored to have been inspired by one man's goodwill in Mashhad, a northwestern city of Iran. He hung clothes for the homeless on a side-street wall. Since then, Iranians have been placing racks on side-street walls of major cities to help the homeless prepare for the cold winter. Next to the racks the following instructions are painted:
If you don't need it, leave it.
If you need it, take it.
The "Wall of Kindness" in Greece was first observed in Larissa, a large agricultural city south of Mount Olympus, right around Christmas. As in Iran, the movement spread rapidly around the country with the help of social media in other cities. Within a couple of months, groups have formed in about 50 cities, from megalopolises like Athens and Thessaloniki, to smaller cities like my hometown of Kalamata. Each group has its own Facebook page on which its members post the location of the walls where racks have been installed and food can be found.
While the Greek government continues to expend its energy and focus on negotiations with its creditors, extraordinary Greek civilians have taken matters into their own hands to create a grassroots social-welfare system.
Greeks have ceased to ask what the government can do for them. Instead they are asking - and doing - what they can do for their country.