Monthly Archives: March 2016

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Implementation of a food aid programme for socially vulnerable group

Even though there is enough food produced in the world to feed every man, woman and child, more than 800 million people go hungry on a daily basis. While the vast majority of these undernourished people live in developing nations, there is a great number of individuals in OECD countries who suffer from chronic hunger.

In Greece, the population of people facing food insecurity are the socially vulnerable – poor single or large families, the unemployed, and people with health problems and/or disabilities. In the Municipality of Penteli, the Civil Protection Volunteer Organisation has taken the responsibility of implementing a food aid programme by collaborating with the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation and the Food Bank-Foundation to Fight Hunger. Since 2012, the Volunteer Organisation has reached more than 400 families in its mission to help socially vulnerable groups residing in Penteli, Nea Penteli and Melissia.

For the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, collaborating with other organisations in social welfare programmes is part of its wider goal of effecting positive change in Greece. In 2005 John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation was established to continue the benevolent legacy of John S. Latsis, the late Greek businessman and philanthropist after whom the organisation is named. John S. Latsis family, comprising of Henrietta Latsis, Marianna and Margarita Latsis, and son Dr Spiro Latsis, make up the Supervisory Board that helps oversee the Foundation’s operations.

Since its establishment, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation has sought to remain in sync with Greek’s social needs. The Foundation provides grants that prioritise citizens in need, with vulnerable groups qualifying for this status.

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Understanding food insecurity

There are several definitions of the term food security, with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations describing it as a situation where people have access to nutritious and affordable food year-round to enjoy an active and healthy life. The reverse of food security – food insecurity – is a situation where individuals are unable to access adequate food as a result of many factors.

A number of reasons exist for food insecurity. Poverty is a major factor in that individuals lack the resources to purchase food. Poverty, when combined with other social and economic issues, is the driving force behind food insecurity. Other reasons for food insecurity include food distribution, environmental factors, and political-agricultural practices.

With an increasing global population, it is thought that food production might not meet the demand. Late 18th century writers warned that global population would exceed food growth capacity, but this theory has now been debunked. In several instances of famine in history, the famines were not a result of lack of food, but the lack of political will to step in and distribute food. The hunger crisis in Niger in 2005, for example, is a case where national media interest influenced the response to the hunger crisis. Promotion of political agendas is also another reason for food distribution issues, as evidenced by the US government’s decision to halt food shipment to North Korea in 2005 after a nuclear arms disagreement between the two nations.

Natural disasters cannot be discounted in the food insecurity discussion, as events like drought or flooding can affect the growth and supply of food. Climate change is believed to influence weather patterns, thus affecting food production, and other factors like soil pollution and desertification can affect food security.

The impact of food insecurity

At an individual level, lack of adequate food causes health issues in children and adults. The physical, emotional and physiological development of children is hampered when there isn’t enough healthy food. For adults, the emotional and physical distress brought by lack of food impairs the ability to work and provide for dependents and families. To a society, the food insecurity can bring conflict and political instability.

Helping fight food insecurity

Food aid programmes, implemented by the national government or by humanitarian groups and organisations, play a crucial role in reducing hunger. By stepping to provide food, these organisations save lives of people who would otherwise perish as a result of natural disaster or socioeconomic situation. And by making food aid initiatives a “going concern,” there is the potential to improve health and encourage communities to adopt better food security strategies that are essential to long-term development.

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Food aid and promotion of healthy nutrition programme at schools

Food security and nutrition intervention programmes that occur early in childhood stand a better chance of preventing the adverse effects of poor nutrition. Childhood and adolescence are critical periods in life as the physiological need for quality nutrition is higher compared to energy needs. A diet rich in high nutritional value is very important. Additionally, good eating habits and lifestyle changes adopted at this stage can persist throughout life.

Schools provide an important avenue for introducing healthy nutrition, as they provide an effective means of reaching a large group of the target population (children), families, school staff and the surrounding community. Many organisations believe that healthy nutrition should be highly prioritised on every school agenda because of the positive benefits it has on a child’s growth. With good nutrition, a child’s learning ability improves.

In Greece, efforts to address food insecurity and healthy nutrition has been handled by a number of non-profit organisations, including the Institute of Preventive Medicine, Environmental and Occupational Health, better known as Prolepsis. The organisation has been active in promoting public health and translating years of academic research into humanitarian projects. To achieve its goals, Prolepsis has partnered with other organisations to advance research and implement well-being programmes in various parts of the Greece.

With the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Prolepsis designed the Food Aid and Promotion of Healthy Nutrition Programme (DIATROFI, which translates to “nutrition”) in 2012. The programme’s aim was two-fold: to provide children in identified schools with healthy, nutritious meals; and encourage both students and their families to adopt healthy eating habits.

Heading into 2015, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation decided to provide additional support for the DIATROFI programme. Since its establishment in 2005, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation has funded and managed programmes in a wide range of fields, including education, social welfare, health and science, in partnership with key players in these areas. Led by a supervisory board consisting of Latsis family members, of whom influential entrepreneur Spiro Latsis is a member, the Foundation has been instrumental in supporting programmes that have led to infrastructural and community development.

Thanks to the DIATROFI Program, more than 11 million meals have been served to over 75,000 students in 450 schools around Greece. The Programme has helped bring more awareness to the issue of healthy nutrition for students, and more donors have lined up to help. In late 2015, The Hellenic Initiative announced a grant of $66,000 to address food insecurity among students. The grant would go a long way in helping the efforts already made by Prolepsis.

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The need for intervention

A healthy diet implemented at an early age helps reduce the risk of nutrition-related health issues that may impact a child’s ability to learn. Some of these issues include obesity, lack of physical activity. Additionally, young people who learned healthy eating habits in childhood are more likely to keep these habits into adulthood and thus reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes and heart problems.

Poor nutrition and eating habits also contribute to bad oral health among children. An important dietary cause is a sugar, found in sweet snacks, soft drinks and pastries. As part of a healthy nutrition initiative, children are taught the importance of healthy snacks and avoiding excess sugar.

Obesity is considered a major health concern, especially in light of the prevalence of processed foods. Childhood obesity increases the chances of type II diabetes, certain cancers and heart diseases in adulthood. Apart from these diseases, the persistence of obesity into adulthood is a long-term consequence that cannot be ignored.

Lastly, lack of physical activity is a contributing factor to obesity among children and adolescents. At a young age, physical activity helps to determine weight. Too much sedentary behaviour is associated with obesity. On the other hand, inactive children that don’t get the necessary amount of nutrition from their food may lack the energy and nutrients required to live healthy lives.

Providing solutions

Even though the health problems identified above will not all be solved by healthy nutrition programmes, starting with schools provides a good opportunity for setting up prevention measures. As previously mentioned, schools can reach a large number of the target population, and, therefore, can be effective in enforcing healthy eating. Through schools, the DIATROFI programme can reach the wider community in establishing healthy attitudes. Students at the participating schools can learn how to implement healthy eating recommendations, and also learn how to handle, prepare and cook meals. For Prolepsis, having a consistent message on this issue enables better uptake.

The benefits that DIATROFI’s work have brought about can already be seen from data analysis performed by Prolepsis. Food insecurity percentage in the school year 2013-2014 dropped from 54% at the beginning of the year to 48%. Food insecurity combined with hunger reduced from 21% to 18%, and overall, an 11% decrease was noted in food insecurity rates. Additionally, students have increased their knowledge of healthy nutrition, and the ability for schools to cultivate positive health and environmental awareness has been given a boost.

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Equipment for NGO the Centre for Life

Since the early 1980s, more than 30 million people have died from AIDS, with more 70 million believed to be infected with the HIV virus. In establishing December 1 as World AIDS Day, the World Health Organisation aimed at raising awareness of the disease and encouraging communities to do more in supporting people living with HIV/AIDS. In Greece, a reduction in HIV infections in 2014 signals that awareness and support efforts are bearing fruit.

Among the organisations spearheading support initiatives, social services and legal and psychological support for people living with HIV/AIDS is Centre for Life. Established in 1991, Centre for Life is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that offers a wide range of services to cover the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS, their families and communities.

A valuable asset for the Life Centre (as it is commonly referred to) is having a network of trained and qualified volunteers. The Centre does not discriminate against gender, ethnicity, race or occupation, and has over the years gained significant experience in rolling out programmes that help people living with HIV/AIDS have normal lives.

To this end, the Centre operates a Drop-in centre that acts a meeting point for the provision of support and information on issues related to HIV/AIDS. Self-help groups and trained volunteers are available to provide the necessary services to ensure people living with HIV/AIDS can continue to live productive lives. Running this Drop-in centre requires equipment and support, which is where the Centre for Life regularly partners with other organisations in the provision of equipment.

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One such organisation that stepped in and funded the purchase of necessary equipment was the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation. Founded in 2005, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation has worked tirelessly to plan, manage and fund programmes in a wide range of sectors, including education, science, health, the environment, and social culture. The Foundation is run by a supervisory board, of which Dr Spiro Latsis, a Greek entrepreneur and son to the late John S. Latsis is a member.

Living healthier lives

With the proper care and support, people with HIV/AIDS can live longer and happier lives. Medical advancement has brought about medication that strengthens the immune system. Eating right, being active and resting when needed also ensure that patients cope much better with the disease. Very importantly, receiving the right emotional and psychological support also helps with the mental health of a patient.

It’s no secret that the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS makes it quite difficult for patients and their families to cope with the disease. Since the turn of the 21st century much has been done to reduce the stigma and misconceptions surrounding the disease, thus making it easier for people to find help and raise awareness. Often, the drive to eradicate the stigma has been taken up by non-governmental organisations focused on ensuring patients find the support mechanisms that help build them.

At the Centre for Life, informal support groups are established to help people share their problems and discuss ways of dealing with them. The Centre provides the professionals and information required for more informed discussions and conducts lectures in partnership with educational institutions and workplaces in spreading the message.

In many regions of the world, programmes and policies which have been designed and guided by people living with HIV/AIDS work more effectively to encourage more people to get tested and, by reducing the stigma, provide many benefits to communities. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) agrees that such an approach is beneficial and in combination with strong legislation, enabled HIV-positive individuals to protect and empower their partners and families.

Supporting and appealing to HIV-positive individuals to prevent transmission is important, but so is recognising that for some people, the disclosure of a HIV-positive status might lead to rejection, discrimination, loss of privacy, and even violence. Support groups and organisations seeking to make a positive difference have to consider the significance of these issues, otherwise, they risk coming up with oversimplified interventions that don’t fully capture the concerns of HIV-positive people.

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NGO ARSIS – Shelter for Unaccompanied Minors

Every year, millions of children around the world experience homelessness without a guardian or parent. These children leave their homes for a number of reasons, including parental neglect or abuse, conflict, substance abuse, trafficking and social circumstances. Once away from their homes, unaccompanied minors face numerous challenges that make it difficult to enjoy the basic necessities of life on their own.

Greece has seen an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing its borders in recent years. Irregular entry into the country has come from Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan and Syria, where civil war has made these countries unsafe for many of their citizens. To ensure that unaccompanied minors have access to basic services, several non-governmental organisations in the country have teamed up to establish shelters.

ARSIS, a social non-governmental organisation that has operated since 1992, and the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, partnered to provide a guesthouse that would provide short-term accommodation for minors and adolescents fleeing from their homes. The aim of the partnership is to provide food, shelter, education and recreation services while exploring permanent solutions.

ARSIS or the Association for the Social Support of Youth is an NGO that specialises in providing social support to young people who face various social dangers and also act as advocates for their rights. The organisation’s main aim is to prevent youth marginalisation, expound on policies that give youth a voice, and be active in supporting disadvantaged young people.

The John. S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, of which Greek businessman Spiro Latsis is a board member, is a non-profit organisation established in 2005 with an aim to managing and funding programmes in a diverse range of fields, including social welfare, environment, education and science. The Foundation builds upon the generosity of John S. Latsis, an entrepreneur whose public benefits initiatives helped many communities across Greece. Upon his passing away in 2003, the family took it upon themselves to honour his legacy by establishing the Foundation.

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Unaccompanied minors

Primary data provided on unaccompanied minors in Greece is provided by the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection, which keeps records of unaccompanied minors arrested at the country’s borders or have applied for asylum in the country. According to data from the ministry, more than 3,000 unaccompanied minors were arrested by police in 2013, the year ARSIS and the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation began working together through a youth support shelter in Oreokastro, Thessaloniki.

The existing structure for protecting minors in Greece, in terms of legislative framework and practical use, does not fully address the needs of unaccompanied minors who make their way into the country. With the aim of providing comfortable – and temporary – shelter for unaccompanied minors or in situations of homelessness as a result of parents/guardians being unable to take care of these children, ARSIS works to find suitable and permanent solutions.

Greek legislation provides for the selection of public prosecutors who serve as temporary guardians for unaccompanied minors. Because public prosecutors have overwhelming workloads and the number of minors is ever-increasing, it’s difficult for minors to be appointed a guardian. In practice, public prosecutors delegate the care and protection of minors and youths to reception centres. These facilities are not always adequately staffed, so a minor may have to wait long before a decision on their future is made. Given the choice to wait at a reception centre or forge their own path, many unaccompanied minors disappear from these centres within the first 24 hours. Once they leave, these children try to make the long and dangerous journey to other European countries.

Reasons for fleeing

For many unaccompanied minors, violence is a big factor that forces them to leave their homes. Whether the violence is a result of parental abuse or conflict in their home regions, these children feel unsafe and flee to find better places to live. Even worse, human traffickers and smugglers take advantage of such situations by luring minors looking to escape by providing transport to “safe havens.” In some cases, these traffickers work in concert with perpetrators of violence (in the case of conflict-stricken regions).

Making an impact

The “House of ARSIS” shelter, attends to the immediate need of providing shelter to minors that are in danger. In doing so, the shelter provides the authorities ample time to find permanent care solutions for the children. Additionally, the shelter also provides education and healthcare services to the minors. The shelter has qualified medical professionals that attend to the children, and tutors ensure the children receive educational services to develop their social skills and empower the children.

Because the target goal for the shelter is to ensure the unaccompanied minors find permanent homes, there is continuous support and preparation of the child for the social/family setting. This is always done in the best interest of each child with the support of volunteers, the legal community, and other public benefits organisations.

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The Greek Theatre of the Deaf Excites Audiences with Newest Performance

The John S. Latsis Foundation’s Inclusion and Accessibility area seeks to promote a heightened awareness of disabilities throughout Greece, with an aim at improving social service provisions for those living with these conditions. The foundation also strives to initiate positive change in the areas of inclusion, research and development of services. Henrietta Latsis, Spiro Latsis, Marianna Latsis and Margarita Latsis, members of the foundation’s Supervisory Board, continue to support various organisations committed to furthering this important social cause.

The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation supports the Theatre of the Deaf of Greece by offering partial expenses for its operations. Since its establishment in 1983, the Theatre of the Deaf of Greece has served as a source of encouragement for the deaf culture and sign language. Consisting of both deaf and hearing actors, the Theatre has performed in Greece and abroad, placing an emphasis on social and political issues affecting the country. Utilising art as a tool for communication, the Theatre also organizes workshops where both deaf and hearing actors teach a variety of techniques to younger students.

The Theatre of the Deaf of Greece’s newest play, “Homeless Street”, is based on the short story entitled “Life in Tomb”, written by Yannis Zevgolis. Performed in both sign and spoken language, the play explores the balance between deaf and hearing people’s sense of humour.

Aside from promoting culture and an appreciation for theatre, the goal of the collaboration between the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation and the Theatre of the Deaf of Greece is to promote the use of sign language as a means of communication. Greek sign language obtained legal recognition in 2000. Since its founding, more than 500 deaf and 100 hearing people have participated in the theatre.

Founded during 1983, the Greek Theatre of the Deaf is comprised of a number of deaf and hearing actors working in unison. Established by Stratis and Nelli Karra, the group spent the first decade of its operation performing in various theatres across Athens. Today, the Greek Theatre for the Deaf is housed in Koumoundourou Square, its permanent home since 1994.

The Greek Theatre of the Deaf has collaborated with the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus and the National Theatre, travelling to festivals in America, Spain, Sweden, France and Demark. In 2010, they collaborated with Rimini Protokoll, a German group, on the show “Prometheus in Athens”. The following year, the group worked alongside Vassilis Alexakis for the presentation “The first word”.

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Last year, the Greek Theatre of the Deaf portrayed a romantic story taking place during the years of a civil war. Based on a variety of extracts from literary works, songs of the era and real testimonies, the play marked the first time both deaf and hearing actors performed together on stage.

The group’s 2013 performance centred on a group of immigrants from Albania making their way to Greece’s border illegally during the early ‘90s. Based on excerpts from Gazmend Kapllani’s book, “Little Border Calendar”, the play is performed in sign language and in spoken word from hearing actors.

Some of the group’s performers have decades of experience in acting. Nelly Karra, an actor, choreographer and director, began her career in America, then later settled in Greece during 1976. Having taught at the National Theatre and a number of drama schools in Athens, she went on to establish her own company during 1982. The following year, she founded the Theatre of the Deaf, which she directed until 2007.

Greece’s theatre culture is deep-rooted. Home to the most well-known and highly regarded of the classical playwrights such as Aristophanes, Aeschylus, and Euripides, Ancient Greek drama became a thriving theatrical culture in around 700 BC, one which paved the way for a rich history of dramatic performances globally.

The earliest recorded theory about Greek theatre’s origins came from Aristotle’s Poetics, in which he states that tragedy evolved from dithyrambs, which were songs sung to praise Dionysus. A festival called Dionysia took place in the city-state of Athens, then a major point of political power. It was here that tragedy, comedy and satyr all emerged, which became pinnacles of theatre throughout the centuries.

Whilst many other playwrights existed during this particular era of Greek history, only the work of a small number of playwrights survived. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, along with some works by Aristotle, together comprise the basis of Greek theatre.

Established in 2005, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation continues to promote Greece’s thriving cultural scene. This collaboration with the Greek Theatre of the Deaf is just one in a series of projects aimed at encouraging a deeper appreciation of the art Greece has to offer.

John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation Funds Bone Marrow Transplant Unit Expansion

Established in 2002, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation has maintained its mission to provide financial and social support for a variety of charitable causes throughout Greece. Focusing on the areas of education, science and culture, the foundation, run by Henrietta Latsis, Spiro Latsis, Marianna Latsis and Margarita Latsis, remains committed to promoting public health, social inclusion and an emphasis on research in hopes of improving treatment for a variety of diseases and conditions affecting the people of Greece.

The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation has recently funded efforts to upgrade the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit of the General University Hospital of Patras, ensuring sterile conditions and an emphasis on comfort for patients. A variety of upgrades were implemented, resulting in double the previous capacity. Previously, the Unit was able to perform 18 Allogeneic and 12 Autologous transplants each year, though that number has risen to 45 and 20 respectively, due largely in part to the newest renovations. Covering an area of 265m², the Unit is now more equipped than ever to carry out these life-saving operations (1). Accommodating patients across the country, the Unit is one of three of its kind for adults. Transplants are made possible by volunteer bone marrow donors with the World Donors Reserve.

Bone marrow transplants are sometimes necessary for the treatment of certain types of cancers and other diseases related to bone marrow. During a transplant, stem cells are extracted from the healthy bone marrow or a donor or patient, filtered and then given back to the patient in the hopes of eliminating unhealthy cells and transfusing healthy cells. This treatment has proven effective in many cases of leukaemia, lymphoma, aplastic anaemia, immune deficiency disorders and other conditions.

There are three different types of bone marrow transplants: Autologous, Allogeneic and Umbilical. During an Autologous transplant, also known as a rescue transplant, a patient’s stem cells are taken before they receive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Once these are performed, the stem cells are transferred back into the patient.

During an Allogeneic bone marrow transplant, a patient receives stem cells from a donor, whilst an Umbilical cord blood transplant involves removing stem cells from a new-born infant’s umbilical cord shortly after birth and storing them until a transplant is needed.

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Bone marrow transplants are typically performed by inserting a catheter into a vein in a patient’s chest, through which they receive drugs and other materials. Blood samples may also be taken through the catheter. Once a patient has been admitted to a bone marrow transplant unit, the preparations may begin, which include chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate unhealthy bone marrow. In a process similar to that of a blood transfusion, the patient will undergo the stem cell transplant, delivered by a central venous catheter, which delivers stem cells directly to the patient’s bloodstream. Often, a donor’s bone marrow and stem cells are extracted via a minor surgery where bone marrow is taken from the hip bones.

A patient must undergo an array of physical examinations to determine if they are healthy enough to proceed with the procedure, which can take a toll on the body. Factors like age, disease and the disease’s stage are all taken into account when determining eligibility.

The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation’s support of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit is part of a greater mission to improve conditions throughout Greek’s healthcare system. The foundation has long dedicated funds to improving public health, whether by contributing to research combatting disease or raising awareness about social issues including championing for those with disabilities and promoting a greater understanding of the issues faced by those living with these conditions.

During his lifetime John S. Latsis made a personal commitment to providing aid to others during times of emergency, including during a series of earthquakes that struck Kalamata during 1986. Organisations such as the Hellenic Police, the Hellenic Fire Brigade and the Seamen’s Pension Fund all received large-scale donations during this time.

Throughout the years, John S. Latsis was recognized for his charitable efforts by the Academy of Athens and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Since his passing, many other contributions have been made in his name, including the completion of the Latsio Burn Centre, which was integrated into the Thriasio General Hospital of Eleusis. The foundation’s Supervisory Board currently consists of members of the Latsis family, including Henrietta Latsis, Dr. Spiro Latsis, Marianna Latsis and Margarita Latsis. Together they are responsible for the everyday operations of the foundation, allocating funds and ensuring successful partnerships with charitable organisations throughout Greece. The Neraida Floating Museum, a diversified branch of the foundation, offers visitors free access, highlights Greece’s maritime and entrepreneurial history of Greece and seeks to educate youth about the maritime profession.

Whilst the foundation continues to offer assistance to a wide range of causes, its Supervisory Board prioritises emergency relief, infrastructural improvements, academics, research output and community development. These efforts continue to forge an immeasurable impact upon the people of Greece today.