Two and a half years ago, Doli Sotiropolu, 36, lost her job in a foreign diagnostics company. Doli lives in Athens and is the mother of an eight year old daughter named Nikoleta. Overnight, the young family's life got turned upside down.
The loss of her job came as a severe shock. Doli, after all, had been working at the company for the past eighteen years. Yet after the initial panic – compounded by the fear that her husband, who worked as a technician with a medical-analysis firm, might lose his job as well – she slowly regained her composure. She devoted the sum of her energies to taking care of Nikoleta and finding another job. In the next two years, precisely one job opportunity presented itself to her - a badly paid secretarial post a two-hours' commute from Athens. The pay and the workload at that particular post were so horrendous it wasn't really much of a choice.
So she is still looking.
Every week, her situation grows a little worse. Doli claims she has never been one to complain: "I simply adapted and learned to cope, always working on lowering my expectations." The Sotiropolu family – very fortunate in that it doesn't have any outstanding debts – slowly accustomed itself to a life of extreme frugality. Again, its three members weren't exactly presented with a choice. Doli is well aware of the fact that many of her neighbours and friends are doing far worse. All the time, she keeps telling herself she needs to stay strong and focused, but the fear and the general uncertainty are still often overwhelming.
"The worst time was when my daughter said to me: "Mom, you're fired!" We were playing a game, and she wasn't doing very well at it, and all of a sudden her voice got so rough and commanding... I was absolutely speechless. I didn't know how to react. It was only then that I truly realised my position and what was happening to our country. The crisis has been the hardest on our children. And not only because of the increasing cuts to the family budget. The children are also traumatised on a much deeper psychological level. I believe they are sort of downloading the traumas from their parents. To get some sense of this, you only need to watch them at play," Doli explained. She also described how she keeps trying to tell her daughter (who keeps venting her anger on her mother) that the parents who lost their jobs are worth no less than those who still have them, at least for now.
In spite of Greece's staggering unemployment statistics, losing one's job is still often a cause for severe stigmatisation. "When I started taking Nikoleta to her school and to the playground, I soon figured out what was going on. In almost any game or sport, the loser gets yelled at: "You're fired!" This is now the ultimate insult, which has become an important part of our children's slang. In a sense, the children now never stop playing bosses and underlings, those who have the power to fire and those who get fired. It's just one of the little clues that tell us how deeply this crisis has cut into their very being," this unemployed mother went on. But she, for one, was not content to just sit and moan about it. With a number of like-minded people, she formed a help group for those parents who are doing even worse. There is certainly no shortage of those around. Many children now come to school hungry or severely ill; many families have had their electricity, water and/or heating turned off.
Here in Greece, destitution is still on the march. According to an official statistic, a third of the entire population is living on its edges, but unfortunately, we are talking about some very blurred edges. In modern Greece, few things are as relative as poverty.
"It is worst in those families where both parents have lost their jobs. I know of seven such cases. We do what we can to help - especially to help the children. Each month, we collect food, clothes and even a little money. This is the only way for the community to survive. But I repeat: my greatest fear is the damage all this has already caused our children," Doli Sotiropolu sighed in summation.