Spyropoulos: Reforestation Should be Major Priority
September 24,2007, National Herald
NEW YORK – Theodore Spyropoulos of Chicago, the United States Regional Coordinator for the Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), told the National Herald that relief aid from the Greek American community for the devastating fires which struck Greece last month must be given from the entire community; that the individuals wishing to contribute must be made aware of the existing needs; and that Greek Americans can help with the reforestation of the burned areas in Greece.
Mr. Spyropoulos emphasized the need for SAE to remain informed about the contributions coming in from, and the fundraising efforts being undertaken by, individuals and organizations, and said that a meeting of prominent Greek Americans and other officials was scheduled to take place at the Greek Embassy in Washington, DC this week to coordinate fundraising efforts for Greece more effectively.
The Greek American community is deeply saddened over the tragic fires, Mr. Spyropoulos said, and is incensed over the environmental catastrophe which took place, with an unprecedented 618,000 acres of land destroyed. “This is by far the greatest environmental catastrophe ever to have hit Greece,” he added.
He also cited the Greek American community’s pain over the tragic deaths of their compatriots in the wildfires, in addition to the decimation of people’s property and livelihood.
Responding to questions about the actions SAE has taken up until now, and how it will continue its push for relief and reforestation aid, Mr. Spyropoulos said SAE USA began taking steps as early as July, when the first wildfires had began, and which also caused extensive damages to areas in Attica, like Mounts Parnitha, Ymmitos and Penteli. Afterwards, wildfires broke out in Pelion, where they destroyed a large area of land, and finally, the tragic forest fires in the Peloponnese and Evia at the end of August.
Mr. Spyropoulos noted that SAE USA issued its first statements earlier this summer, in an effort to mobilize the Greek American community and sensitize it to the environmental problem present from that time, as well as to the aid that was needed.
“We immediately informed the Greek American community, the Archdiocese and AHEPA, along with other organizations and societies through the federations and various local communities that we contacted,” he said. Last week, Mr. Spyropoulos said, SAE and the Hellenic American National Council set up a Pan-Greek American conference call which AHEPA also participated in, “so that the Greek American community could start coordinating its efforts to provide Greece with the aid it needs right now, through the help of its organizations. We are continuing to go from place to place and speak with the people, telling them how to gather the funds, what the needs are, etc.”
Last Tuesday night, Mr. Spyropoulos himself went to Detroit where an emergency general assembly of the Michigan-based American Hellenic Congress took place –convened by AHC President Dr. Demetri Pallas – attended by officials from several Hellenic organizations, for the purpose of discussing the efforts to mobilize the relief effort within the Greek American community.
“The entire Greek American community has been informed,” Mr. Spyropoulos noted. “What we want is for all its organizations to keep us informed about the various donations they send to Greece, so we can gather all the necessary information and the Greek American community can appear united regarding the aid we are sending to the homeland. We know that certain regions in Greece which were struck the hardest, like Eleia, Arcadia, Messinia and Evia are special cases, and certain people and organizations want to offer help to the residents of these areas separately. But I want to emphasize to all Greek Americans and the organizations that want to offer help to these areas, that they must first obtain information about specific needs that exist there. We are eager and glad to help them if they ask us, and to ensure that they are properly informed.”
When asked about the best possible way to raise funds for the relief effort, Mr. Spyropoulos said, “There could be a specific bank account set up by the Greek American community, which would be administered by a specific committee in which all the organizations could sit on. There must certainly be an analysis of the various needs in the fire-stricken area, and the Greek American community must definitely act and respond as a whole.” Mr. Spyropoulos also commended the Archdiocese and AHEPA for spearheading large fundraising drives.
“But there has to be a centralized coordinating body, which will be set not only to oversee present-day needs, but also for whatever other needs arise in the Greek American community or Greece,” Mr. Spyropoulos emphasized.
GREECE MUST REGAIN ITS NATURAL LUNGS
When asked if it would be better for the Greek American community to help by sending money or gathering supplies, Mr. Spyropoulos said, “We certainly can not send over food from here, but we can send medicine, clothing and other supplies like tents – if, of course, we are told by a responsible official that there is a need for these items. But the Greek American community’s priority should be to consider the way in which it can help the homeland regain its rich forests, which were devastated by the fires and will heavily impact the future. There is a vital need for reforestation in Greece. This is a project of enormous proportions which all Greek Americans can help with both financially and personally. We have to help so that our homeland can regain its natural lungs once again, which it depends upon so heavily.”
The European Union also has specific programs which provide immediate relief for similar disasters, he pointed out: “There are many Europeans who have volunteered to go down to Greece and work on the reforestation, but the Greek American community could help with the reforestation of burned areas.”
Mr. Spyropoulos stressed that the Greek American community could undertake the reforestation of Olympia, Pelion, Parnitha, Penteli and Ymmitos.
“And if we are told by a responsible official that there is a need to build a school or hospital in Eleia, for example, which suffered extensive damages, or someplace else, the Greek American community can also respond to this request,” he added.
SAE-USA helped organize the meeting at the Greek Embassy this past Wednesday, September 12, to help coordinate efforts among the community’s major organizations across the country, he pointed out.
“There is a need for a coordinating committee which will ensure a better and more effective mobilization of the Greek American community,” Mr. Spyropoulos said. “The community must appear united because, right now, in many instances, it gives the impression that it is shattered from an emotional standpoint.”
Mr. Spyropoulos also referred to the longstanding Plant Your Roots in Greece Foundation, which he established and heads, and which operates under the auspices of HANC and SAE.
“Its particular purpose is to perform reforestation in regions of Greece, and has already enjoyed considerable success up to now,” he said, completing 25 reforestations throughout Greece.
“Now, following the great damage from this year’s fires, this foundation has a major project ahead of it.” Mr. Spyropoulos said, adding that contact has already been made with other foundations dealing with environmental issues (e.g., the Leventis Foundation), which have environmental engineers and other specialists, and can offer specific proposals about reforestation needs in a particular area.
“We should not forget that there has been environmental devastation in Greece, and we need more than just a mere tree-planting campaign,” he said, clarifying that each foundations’ work will be done in conjunction with local authorities and the Greek Government to ensure the best possible results.
Aside from the reforestation fund, he said, SAE has also set up a separate relief fund to aid the fire-struck victims.
“I want to tell all Greek Americans that there is a great need to help the fire-stricken, who suffered enormous damages, losing their homes and property. We are asking them to inform us, however, so that we can tally up all the aid from the Greek American community,” Mr. Spyropoulos said. “For instance, if someone sends money to a fire-relief fund set up by the Greek Government, we will not necessarily know about it, but we would like to include that donation in the total figure which reflects the aid offered by the Greek American community.”