By Bejay Browne
Solidarity charity in Paphos is helping to feed hundreds of needy families and individuals in Paphos but was forced to close their doors for the first time this week as they ran out of food.
Many families are reliant on the charity to eat. A number of them decided to speak out and share their stories of hardship.
Joanna and Valentinos Demitriou from Paphos are in their early twenties and have a three-year-old son. Joanna worked as a secretary after leaving college and husband Valentinos, a professional footballer, played for a local Paphos team.
Things started to go wrong for the young couple when Joanna lost her job and had a problematic pregnancy. After his birth, their son was dangerously ill and numerous hospital visits in Paphos, Limassol and Nicosia followed.
“It was a very difficult time for us and the baby had to undergo surgery in Israel to correct problems with his breathing,” said Joanna.
“Because my husband had so much time off, his team said they no longer wanted him. When the baby was six months old, I didn’t even have powdered milk to give him, it was terrible.”
Instead, the young mother was boiling rice and putting it in a food processor to feed him.
She says her family is unable to assist, as her mother is seriously ill at home and her father, who works in a hotel for the summer season, is not being paid regularly.
“He is desperate for us and feels so bad that he can’t help. He is my father and he cries about this, ‘what can I do,’ he says. But he is 60 years old. How can it be like this in Cyprus? “
She says she is actively looking for work and will do anything.
“I was offered a job which was a 10 hour day for 600 euros a month. This is awful, I have a child to look after and that isn’t even the minimum wage. My husband has tried all of the hotels, swimming pools and sports centres, but there is nothing. People are employing foreign workers and paying them very little.”
George Gerolemou, 49, from Paphos lost his job as a driver for a charity transporting patients for treatment at a clinic. After employing him for 13 years, the charity could no longer afford his services. He stopped work in August 2011.
George received a lump sum payment from his provident fund which went towards paying off his large mortgage. He has had nothing since. He still owes the bank money.
His wife is out of work and he has four children and one grandchild all living at home. The youngest is 16 years old. Only one of them has a job.
For the past year and a half he has been coming to Solidarity for help and getting handouts of food and other necessities.
George said: “I was very depressed and couldn’t cope with the fact that I couldn’t look after my family. I didn’t feel very manly, I felt useless.”
He arrived at Solidarity desperate and in tears, after hearing about the charity from a friend. He now receives regular food parcels and other items from the charity. In return, he uses his truck to help the charity transport food, furniture, clothes and other items. The charity pays for the upkeep and running of his vehicle.
He says now that he has a job to do, all be it as a volunteer, he feels he has a purpose again.
“I feel more of a valuable human and much better about myself,” he said.
Stavroula Stavrinou, 58, first came to Pavlina Patsalou who runs Solidarity for help to feed her family two years ago. She was one of the first the charity helped.
Stavroula has six children, most without jobs and the youngest is a teenager still living at home. Her Cypriot husband is a taxi driver. He has his own car – but no steady job.
“My husband’s work has suffered hugely since the introduction of the bus routes. The number of people using taxis has really dropped off. We have never had any help from the government and last year we had to move to a cheaper flat. We don’t own any land or property and we rent our home.”
Stavroula says that she worked for many years as a waitress until 2005, when she had to stop due to health reasons. She is now unable to find a job.
“They tell me I’m too old and they don’t want me. Welfare refused to help us because my husband owns his own taxi and there is no help whatsoever from the government.”
The family’s water has been cut off three times recently and Solidarity has paid for their electricity to be reconnected.
“My husband earns anything from 500 euros to 800 a month and it costs a lot to run his car- but what can we do. He is 58 years old – he couldn’t get another job now. He’s always been a taxi driver. He is working longer hours to try and earn more money, but there aren’t the customers.”
Another Paphos resident who is dependent on the food handed out by the Solidarity charity is 35-year-old Marios Savva, from Moutallos. He lost his job as a truck driver in 2010 and is desperate for work.
“There is no work. I will do anything – if someone would offer me a job I would be so grateful.”
Marios’ wife is no longer able to work as she has to take care of the couple’s five-year-old daughter who is autistic.
“She needs a lot of care and attention. There are no specialist schools for my daughter here in Paphos and the regular schools won’t take her.”
As well as feeding his family, Marios says Solidarity has also paid their electricity bills in the past.
“I come here most days for some items. If there was no Solidarity, my family would have no food,” he said.
Pavlina Patsalou of Solidarity – a registered charity – is appealing to the public in all areas of Cyprus to come together to help feed these and other starving families in Paphos.
“In the absence of any help from the government, it is on our shoulders. Many people are desperate now. They have no food or milk for their babies, and no food for themselves. If something isn’t done, I can’t bear to think what will happen,” said Patsalou in tears.
Pavlina Patsalou 99220152