November 30 2011

"They are taking the very air that we breathe!"

30/11/2011- George Protopapas, director of SOS Children's Villages in Greece, on the financial crisis and the poverty in his country, about the massive tax increases and the impact on families and thus on the work of SOS Children's Villages in Greece.

Photo: SOS Archives
George Protopapas, director of SOS Children's Villages Greece - Photo: SOS Archives
The three SOS Children's Villages in Greece are facing some major problems. Increasingly, parents want to hand over their children to the SOS Children's Villages because they can no longer feed them. In the past twelve months, over 1,000 desperate inquiries have been submitted. The organisation has responded with an increased engagement through SOS family programmes, which support families in need. At the same time, the Greek government has sharply increased taxes, something that has also hit the aid organisations very strongly. An interview with George Protopapas, director of SOS Children's Villages in Greece.

Mr Protopapas, can you tell us something about the general situation in Greece? How are people coming to terms with the crisis?
These are hard times, and nobody knows exactly what's going to happen. It is quite depressing for all of us that it is currently so difficult to find the correct solutions for these political, economic, and social issues.

What is the situation of the SOS Children's Villages in Greece?
The SOS Children's Villages in Greece have been working with children in need since 1982. I have been working a good 25 years for SOS Children's Villages. Even when it was difficult for us at times, over all these years we never lost our enthusiasm or our hope. Unfortunately, now I must say that for the first time I think of tomorrow with great trepidation.

The government in Athens has sharply increased taxes in order to face up to the crisis. Does this also affect SOS Children's Villages?
According to the new tax legislation of April 2010, all private charitable institutions are now subject to taxes. Greece has now become the only country in the world to demand taxes from charitable organisations. In the future, we will pay one per cent tax on every donation and every inheritance that we receive. Besides that, land is also taxed. This includes also the land on which the SOS Children's Villages are standing. For 2011, we will have to pay approximately 165,000 euros in taxes. And this in the face of declining contributions, since people have less and less money in their pockets. You can imagine what this means for our income.

What problems does this entail for the work of SOS Children's Villages in Greece?
Our work is based solely on the support of our friends and donors. We have never received financial support from the state. Now the new legislation will even take away from our supporters the possibility of deducting their contributions. Together with the taxes that we now have to pay, it is as if they're taking away the very air that we breathe.

Photo: SOS Archives
SOS family from Vari - Photo: SOS Archives
At the current time, is there enough money to finance the SOS programmes? Have you already had to start cutting back on your activities?
Our means won't last more than another six months to continue our programmes as usual and to guarantee the well-being of the children. Naturally we are looking for new ways out. However, if the new taxes remain the way they are, it is possible that by the end of next year we will be forced to stop a number of our programmes.

How are the children in the SOS Children's Villages experiencing the crisis?
We are doing our utmost that as little as possible changes for them. So far we have succeeded. From that perspective, for the children everything essentially remains as it has been. However, the children realise that things are changing in the country and naturally they are worried.

Does SOS Children's Villages in Greece actually support poor families in taking care of their children?
In 2009 we began to support the first families in need. When the crisis got worse in 2010, the number of families helped by SOS Children's Villages climbed to 120. After the first eight months of this year, the number had reached 850 families. Now we are already supporting 1,230 families.

Do you think that this situation is getting any better under the new Prime Minister Lucas Papademos?
The change in the current situation is certainly positive, but for real improvement, a mere change in personnel is not enough. There will have to be a major change in policy.