There’s more to Athens than meets the eye and Visit.org invites you on a journey with social enterprise Shedia, to meet the invisible population hidden behind the face of Greece’s capital.
It’s 2018, 10 years after the Global Financial Crisis that saw the start of Greece’s economic collapse.
This crisis, coupled with the world’s worst refugee crisis in history, has seen Greece take a hit both socially and economically to the detriment of its people.
In times like these nations need compassion, at the very least, and Shedia is one of those organisations.
Shedia is a social enterprise whose main aim is to highlight the most important homelessness and poverty-related issues, and provide support to the most vulnerable members of society.
In 2014 Shedia commenced the “Invisible People Walking Tours” as a form of income for their employees. Their aim was to educate others on the hardships faced by marginalised members of the community, many who are affected by homelessness, drug abuse and poverty.
Partnering with visit.org in 2016 Shedia’s tours are now available on the worlds largest platform for social impact experiences.
I had the privilege of joining one of their tours while visiting Athens. I was met by the org and our guide Michael, a stout, gentle man in his late 50’s who greeted us with a smile as we met him out the front of the premises in Athen’s Omonia district.
After a short introduction about Shedia, the name of the only Greek street magazine and member of the International Network of Street Papers that provides employment opportunity to at-risk members of the population, we commenced our tour.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of a street magazine, it is implemented in many places worldwide including Australia that houses a similar magazine titled The Big Issue. Employees buy the magazine at a discounted rate and then sell the magazine for a profit, as a means of income.
Later our tour guid Michael would explain to us how the magazine had saved his life, and provided him with the opportunity to earn an income - an opportunity that had sadly been ripped from underneath him by a series of unfortunate events.
Michael’s story was heartfelt. In the span of a few short years he transformed from a passionate man with big dreams to a man who had lost everything. Firstly losing his brother to a heart attack and then his parents shortly after, who were grief stricken with the loss of their son.
Michael had taken sole responsibility for the family business right around the time the financial crisis was at its peak. With wages down by 50% Michael’s life took another serious turn as he woke one morning to find his truck gone, stolen by thieves. This truck was imperative to keeping the business open but after the police came back with no findings he had no choice but to close up shop. With bills piling up and rent due Michael’s landlord eventually kicked him out. He packed his suitcase, left some items with a friend and hit to the streets, becoming homeless.
Michaels story is not uncommon. Greece now faces unemployment rates of 19.1%, with the unemployment rate of 15-24 year olds sitting at a concerning 39.1%.
Michael has been homeless for 6 years and has spent the past 5 working for Shedia. The magazine sells the copies to vendors like Michael for 2 Euro and vendors are able to sell it for for 4, making a small profit.
According to Shedia there are 45 vendors who have used the money earned from the sales of magazines to rent an apartment in the city.
It is organisations like Shedia, and other NGO’s and Social Services, that provide some solace for those experiencing hardship. Throughout the tour we visit a few of these locations as Michael explains how they help those in need.
“The most important vision of these tours is to make the invisible part of our city visible” He explains.
“A lot of Athenians have never even walked though these streets. My goal is to provide information about the services provided by the most important social structures in the city of Athens.”
I leave the tour with a mix of emotions. Happiness to see the pride Michael has in his city, and to witness how he shows up with a smile after having overcome such hardship in his life. Sadness to see the many who still live in shelters, waiting in line at the soup kitchen for what could be their only meal for the day. Humbleness to see the compassion of the NGOs that are here for others in times of need.
Overall I am grateful to see this side of Greece. As Michael mentioned, many people come to Greece, visit the islands and go home without any knowledge of the society that faces daily struggles. As a responsible traveller it’s important to spend your tourist dollars where it is needed most, and this is one of those experiences where you truly have a chance to give back.
For more information, or to book this tour online, visit https://visit.org/greece/shedia/athens-alternative-city-tour-meet-the-invisible-population