The Greek Civic Spirit: Beyond Disaster Relief

Vasiliki Spagakou

Vasiliki Spagakou

Marketing & Communications Associate

A lot of pressure weighs on the shoulders of young people today to find solutions to the societal and environmental challenges that have been building up for decades. As a young adult in 2021, I feel a heavy responsibility to contribute to such solutions by creating the infrastructure that protects our resources and secures a sustainable future for ours and generations to come.

Being a Greek who left the country from a young age in pursuit of educational opportunities and exposure, I feel the need to channel my positive experiences and all the knowledge I have gained, to create a better future for my country. To help build a Greece that doesn’t drive its young talent away for lack of brighter prospects. A Greece that guarantees its young citizens the opportunities they deserve. I started working with Ecogenia two years ago to help achieve exactly that. And since then, a lot has happened.

I had been supporting Ecogenia as a volunteer communications and marketing associate for 18 months when I came home to Greece this past summer to wildfires breaking all across the country. What I witnessed was not only the devastation caused by  this natural disaster and the livelihoods that were at stake, but the severe social mourning that we all felt for our neighbors, our friends, even strangers, and the hundreds of acres of land that went lost in the flames. As people started mobilizing across the country and help came pouring in from simple citizens, I was disheartened by the fact that it was all left to individual conviction and compassion.

I had no doubt that our Greek spirit would prevail and help us navigate through these difficult times, as after all, caring for one another is in our DNA. What shocked me was rather the lack of preparedness and infrastructure for this kind of disaster relief, even though wildfires have been a recurring issue for our country for as long as I can remember. Most of the relief efforts were run by citizens; doctors treating burns, volunteer firefighters running into the flames, pharmacists donating  supplies. Simple individuals taking matters into their own hands, self-organizing and setting out to fill systemic gaps that existed in national disaster preparedness. I believe that this is exactly what civic engagement is all about – being actively involved in addressing a collective challenge; for you, your community and your country.

What happened this summer is in a way a sobering reminder that contrary to popular belief, we care for one another immensely. When our forests and our homes are burning, we mobilize. Civic engagement in its essence means involving citizens in being a part of the solutions to the problems that arise, collectively. I believe it’s in our nature to do that, we just need to tap into our civic duty potential. To do so we need to have the right outlets, and nationwide awareness of how they function.

Through engaging citizens in building out the systems for disaster relief and disaster preparedness in a collaborative way, we can guarantee that next time our homes are burning we are ready to respond quickly and efficiently. Although so many citizens were mobilized and ready to help this summer, many of us didn’t know how to best plug in to response efforts because of the lack of this infrastructure.

The challenge will be to stay involved in finding solutions even after the 24 hour news cycle washes away the buzz of the story. The victims of these wildfires will unfortunately struggle with the consequences of this disaster for years, maybe even decades, to come. As active citizens, it is our duty to remember that behind the news stories, are our neighbors and our friends whose lives have been turned upside down. And for them we must never stop trying to become active citizens.