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  • Evangelos Tsirmpas

Solidarity comes through the stomach! Social kitchen "The Other Human" in Lesvos

Solidarity kitchens are embodiments of self-organized empathy to the weakest parts of the society. As we analyzed in our previous article, we are not talking about a form of philanthropy or charity; those structures do not accept the reality of our class society, where 62 people own the same as half the world, as normal. They are not trying to make the capitalistic dystopia become more humane, they are struggling for an anthropocentric utopia instead.

Unknown seven-year-old boy "Number 40" in Lesvos cemetery for refugees.

During the last months you must have seen countless shocking photos and videos from the Greek island of Lesvos. The island of Sappho became world widely famous as the arrival place for thousands of refugees, who try to escape from death and find a better future in Europe. The local authorities have created a new cemetery for the refugees who died while trying to reach Europe through Turkey and Greece (805 in 2015 and already 218 in January 2016). The tiny island of 85.000 inhabitants received more than 500.000 refugees during the last year and the response to the unprecedented humanitarian crisis was one: Solidarity.

Solidarity organizations with volunteers from Greece and all around the world pop up like mushrooms in the island. One of them is the solidarity kitchen "The Other Human", preparing meals for thousands of refugees all around the island of Lesvos. We spoke with Dimitris Telionatis, who is a solidarious inhabitant of Lesvos and an active member of the social kitchen since September 2015, in order to get an insight of the situation and their priceless work. We warmly thank him for the unique words and pictures he shared with us.

Solidarity, love and smiles for all

Evangelos Tsirmpas: How was the idea of the social kitchen "The Other Human" created and how many people are working for its implementation today?

Dimitris Telionatis: Constantine Polychronopoulos came up with the idea of the social kitchen "The Other Human" in 2011, when the crisis had already made its appearance in our country and the homeless and deprived people began to multiply, especially in the urban centers. Constantine was fired from his job and one day he saw two young boys fighting over who would take some rotten fruits that were thrown at a public local market. In the next day he prepared some toasts and started offering them to the people. The day after, he cooked a pot full of food at his house and distributed it again. After that, he started cooking with ingredients that he asked and received from public local markets. Today, there are social kitchens "The Other Human" in Salamina, Haidari, Lesvos, Piraeus, Aegaleo, and will be soon in Thessaloniki, Ilion and elsewhere. In Athens weekly cookings take place in Monastiraki, Kapnikarea, Alexandras Avenue, Thission and where else it's necessary.

Constantine, who came up with the idea of the social kitchen "The Other Human", and Dimitris distributing meals to the refugees

The social kitchen "The Other Human" is not an NGO, so there are no registered members. According to the needs, we have people who show solidarity insofar as they are able. Ôhey belong to all social classes, there are no specific definitions. A large number of people responds to each of our calls, people who may be different every time. We have the participation of schools, collectivities, but mainly individuals who are motivated by feelings of solidarity for their fellow human beings.

The sun of solidarity is shining brightly on the island of Lesvos

E.T.: Talk to us about the experiences that you had during the last months on the island of Lesvos, with the daily arrivals of refugees.

D.T.: I started working at the catering company in the camp of Moria at the beginning of September 2015. There I witnessed the living conditions of the refugees. When I went to Constantine's cooking for the first time, as a simple observer, I witnessed a different approach from those people and I decided that the next time I would go and participate in the cooking procedure. Since then and until today I actively participate in the kitchen "The Other Human". I have gained incredible experiences, endless strong, humane pictures and emotions. Endless pain but also hope and smiles on the faces of children, gratitude in their eyes. I remember one day that the first pot of food was empty and we were serving the second one. When we returned to wash the empty pot, we saw refugees that were left without food scratching its bottom... Another day, when the boats were on strike, a huge number of refugees was gathered and we were cooking for twelve hours in a raw. We distributed 2500 portions of food and yet we didn't manage to feed everyone. The strongest moments we have are related to children. One day we gave them chalks and they painted the road creating something incredibly beautiful. What I will probably never forget are the words of a Syrian refugee, who asked for a second portion with restraint. I told him he could take one, as long as there will be enough food for everyone. When he got the second portion he approached us and said: "I will be praying for you all night long".

The pot of solidarity, full of love and food for everyone

E.T.: What was the reaction of the local society, as well as of the local and European authorities?

D.T.: During the first period, the local society went through a big shock. Fear, concern, panic. There was an effort to promote racist and nationalist ideas, but it probably worked the other way. Very soon those efforts were isolated and a wave of love, solidarity and humanity was spread all over the island. The drama of these people cannot leave anyone untouched. Of course we are worried about the development of this global problem that has really become "ours" and the problem is that there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

The local authorities were totally unprepared to deal with this level of migration flows and that's totally normal. The problem is EU's attitude, the hypocrisy and the lack of will for a real solution. You cannot blame Greece for not taking good care of the refugees and at the same time shut down the borders. This is high diplomacy and we, as simple people, cannot know the games of the international scene nor do something about it.

Hope stays alive, as long as children keep on smiling

E.T.: How do you describe your project? How do you define solidarity, within what social and political framework do you spot your action and what are its extensions?

D.T.: Our efforts are focused on supporting those who are in need. It's about People offering something to People. We are aiming to awaken consciousnesses, to promote human touch and participation in offering without expecting for any exchange. Our action is not part of any political or social correlation, has no identification or other extensions.

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