Volunteering for tomorrow: Gerasimos Kouvaras at TEDxAthens

Volunteering for tomorrow: Gerasimos Kouvaras at TEDxAthens



Translator: MARIANGELA LESTOU
Reviewer: Chryssa Takahashi "When you want something, all the universe
conspires in helping you to achieve it." Personally, I'd like to say that
this phrase bothers me a lot. Very, very much. For two main reasons.
(Laughter) First, I don't believe in conspiracy theories
at all, and secondly because essentially… it's like telling me: "Lie on your couch
and the universe will arrange everything." It is, in my view, the biggest
anti-motive for volunteerism. Because volunteerism means
"I want" but I also "I do". So, if you really want something, it's better
to put your efforts to achieve what you want. This, in red letters, I'd say
is probably the first mantra… from three basic, in my view, mantras
that are typical of the person I call… "volunteer for tomorrow." This volunteer's "want" is a world
that is better, more sustainable, more fair. His "do" can mean getting out of
my comfort zone, out of my safety zone and taking risks. He is the volunteer-activist. I will tell you a personal experience,
which I have never shared publicly. I will go back to my student years,
around the late '80s, when I was studying at the Veterinary School
of the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. And I had to go, twice a week,
to the city's slaughterhouses for a course on "Food Health." There were many things there
that could make you feel uncomfortable, I will not mention them. But I will tell you what made me
feel very uncomfortable. It was watching on a daily basis the brutal
abuse of animals destined for slaughter. And the fact that everyone
was totally apathetic about it. It was as if it was absolutely natural,
and nobody cared about it. The fact that I wanted to do something
about it was in my mind all the time. And one day I decided that
I would look further into it. I will study the EU legislation
for the operation of slaughterhouses. There was no Internet,
Google etc. back then… so research was not as easy
as you can imagine today. However, I found something
that was very important. That apart from brutal,
this handling was also illegal. I contacted an animal welfare company based
in London that was also involved with Greece. And to make a long story short, I found myself
travelling around Greece, at the slaughterhouses… taking photos, conducting interviews… writing a very thorough report on the
illegal operation of the slaughterhouses. Of course, it wasn't allowed to go into the
slaughterhouses and take photos like that. So I used my student status, I would have a miserable
and very bored look… "You know, I have a paper
for this professor." I also had three-four inconsequential
questions, I posed them, they would answer. I say "Can I take a couple of photos,
because they will not believe me and maybe they will have me do
the paper again. To prove I was here." So when they opened the door,
it was crazy. In the end, my name was nowhere
to be seen, it never came out. But an article of mine with photos was
published in a international magazine, and Greece was under a lot of pressure,
some slaughterhouses shut down later, some conditions improved,
maybe for that reason as well. In that activist debut of mine, as you
understand, I went out of my comfort zone. And I took a risk. First of all, never to
graduate, if they ever found out who I was. And I am sure that some professors in particular
would never give me a passing grade. Or even get beaten up
by some of the slaughterers, who I was taking pictures hitting animals with
steel rods, on their way to being slaughtered. Sometimes, I think, that at that time,
with no Internet, no social media, things were much simpler. Easier, probably, more specific. You would either do nothing or
you would definitely do something. This in-between situation didn't exist. Not to be misunderstood, I consider the
Internet and the social media an excellent tool for networking, for mobilization, for open
communication, for all that it has offered. But there is a little catch, which I would
like to underline. What is this catch? To sit behind my laptop, joining various
causes that I consider to be quite important, liking some requests/quotes
or use some myself, and post whatever I think constitutes
my ideological and socio-political profile, and enjoy couch activism. Because if I remain on click-tivism,
I will have done nothing from what a "volunteer for tomorrow" does, which is activism. Let's go and see the second mantra. "Give a man a fish
and you will feed him once. Teach him to fish and
you will feed him for a lifetime." Let me cut in here, that any quote
in general that we don't know its source we say it's Chinese and we're in. So, do you know that
one hundred kids will have died all over the world from hunger
by the time I finish this talk? Do you also know that most of the times
they will not have died because their mother and their father doesn't know how to fish or grow corps, but because someone deprives them
of the right to do so. What millions of people
around the world need right now is not someone to give them food, is not
someone to teach them how to produce food. It's someone to stand next to them
to claim their right to do so and to change the rules of the game. But how is this game played?
What are the rules of today's game? I will tell you Mathilde's story. A small producer-farmer
from Mozambique. Until recently she lived off farming her field. Twelve family members —
children and grandchildren. Today, she is in danger of starving to death,
just like her whole family, just because some multinational firm grabbed
her land to cultivate sugar cane for biodiesel. Mathilde is one of thousands of women
experiencing this situation. What could we do, what could
the volunteer for tomorrow do, for this Mathilde
and the thousand other Mathildes? Make the volunteer an advocate. He will reclaim
with her the right to get her land back, to cultivate it, and to reclaim it so that
the multinational corporations cannot get their teeth on the land
that was in people's hands. Right now, in the developing world,
an area, areas five times as big as Greece are in this situation. The third mantra.
"Thing globally, act locally." In my opinion, it is very outdated
and very worn. Because, what is locally?
Is it me? Is it my family? Is it my neighborhood?
Is it my town? Is it my country? And when we know very well that the
reasons of local problems are not just local, why should their solutions go through
strict local actions? A volunteer for tomorrow
thinks and acts globally. Just because for him local
equals the whole world. Regardless of where he lives, whose municipality
he's a citizen of, which country he's a national of, what the volunteer for tomorrow defines
for himself is a global citizenship. The one of a citizen of the world. If we think about Mathilde's example, how restrictive would our action be
if it was strictly local? The symptom that we are dealing with is local,
or better said, individual, the hunger. But what is the cause? The cause is international.
It's the policy of the European Union, that encourages and allows multinational
firms to grab poor people's land. So if Mathilde's volunteer-advocate
was restricted to a strictly local action, Mathilde, and the other Mathildes wouldn't
be able to get out of this vicious circle of poverty and injustice. I consider that the crisis in Greece
is a huge opportunity. And I don't have to add anything
to this wonderful video and this great work that Human Grid shared with us earlier. But I want to point out
a danger that lurks out there. And it is the undermining
of our global citizenship. Not from initiatives like Human Grid but from other initiatives, some other
underminers that find the opportunity, in the symptom that is called crisis,
to create a new syndrome as an answer even more pathogenic, which is a syndrome
of introversion, nationalism and xenophobia. I believe that if this racist quote
"whoever is not Greek is a barbarian" dominates the way that we will look at solidarity towards our fellow man
and volunteering, I am afraid that we will
go back many years. The answer to all that
is in this photograph. It is taken in Kenya, in Langovaya. An anhydrous region where
forty HIV-positive people live. Those people were completely
pushed aside some time ago with no access to anything.
They lived in absolute poverty. But thanks to the support of Action Aid and
forty Greek volunteers that traveled there, got out of their comfort and safety zones,
and reclaimed with those people the access to be able to have
the opportunity to cultivate the land, to have access to medicine and
above all to have their voices heard, their lives have now changed. This community is called
"Kulohiro" in the native language. And in their native language,
"Kulohiro" means hope. For me, these forty HIV-positive people and these forty wonderful people
that I've met through Action Aid make me very proud that I am working for this
organization, but also for having met them. And for me they are my own "Kulohiro".
Thank you. (Applause)

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