Heroic Greek Girl

Heroic Greek Girl

While recently in Athens, Greece, I attended an exhibit of photographs documenting the arrival of Syrian refugees, on display at the Benaki Museum Annex. Different photographers provided images for the exhibit, and at the same time, assisted the refugees. Their images provide an opportunity for many people from all over the world, visiting Athens and this museum, to gain insight into the refugee experience. As good art should do, these images give voice to those who have had their voice taken away.

The images showed both extreme kindness and heart-breaking pain. A number of people going through the exhibit needed to leave the gallery on occasion in order to collect themselves, dry their tears and repress the anger welling up in them, that in this world, desperate families still need to leave the homes where their families have lived for centuries, because they are no longer safe in their own countries.

Many of the images showed the kindness of the Greek people as they ran into the Aegean Sea, grabbing infants and toddlers from the arms of exhausted parents, helping them to the safety of the shore. There were images of futile attempts to resuscitate small children who had drowned.  There were images of police comforting the refugees as they processed them into the country and directed them towards shelter and food.

A Greek scholar, born in Canada, raised in South Carolina, who moved to Greece to return to her roots, told me that Greek people know what it is to be refugees and that is why they are so open to helping any way they can, even in the face of Greece’s economic difficulties.

At the end of the exhibit, there was a photo of a young Greek girl, 8 years old, standing on a plaza in front of her home with the sea behind her. She stands strong with both sneakered feet planted firmly on the ground, looking directly at you. These are the words she gave the photographer, her story:

“I volunteer because I cannot see people being wet while I am just comfortably sitting. Our house is on the sea and refugees arrive every day. Recently, a boat arrived with 45 people and many babies. I got into the sea, grabbed babies and put them in our home. We turned the radiator on and we gave them milk. I put socks on them and gave them diapers.

The other day I took sea urchin spines off the foot of an adult, they had arrived with their boat behind our house on the rocks and as they were about to arrive at the coast, he stepped on a sea urchin. These people are not familiar with the sea. My teacher gives me thumbs up for helping but tells me that I also need to pay attention to my classes. The other kids at school make fun of me. They tell me I will get sick. What makes me angry is that several adults come by just to steal the engines of the boats and leave the people helpless.

It is just five of us who help here. At school we have history and religion classes and we are told to love and help our neighbor. But here no one comes to help.” (Hermione Koyimani, 8 years old).

If any one asked me who deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, I would give it to Hermione in a heartbeat. When I hear proposals to ban all Muslims, including the tens of thousands of refugees  seeking a safe place, I am deeply ashamed and offended. There is nothing American or great about such heartlessness. Indeed, it is a level of immorality I had hoped never to see in the United States. My America does better by those who are in need. We forget that many of us are here because at one time, we were in need. America has always been there for those seeking sanctuary. Around the world, Americans are respected because when things get tough, Americans show up to help. I am sick to death of attempts to malign and destroy what is the essence of being American. We are in danger of losing our moral compass and God forbid we let ourselves be lead down the road of ignorance and intolerance. We have a sea urchin spine that we need to pull out of our own foot.


Posted on 24 Jun 2016, 13:00 - Category: World Issues

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