Monday, December 16, 2013

5 of December, The International Volunteer Day

By: Amaia

Last week, on the 5th of December, we celebrated the International Volunteer Day. The Youth Center of Kalamata organized an exhibition in collaboration with volunteers located in different parts of the world.

Volunteering is an activity that involves the conviction that small acts can generate change.  Volunteers believe that unity is strength. We believe that by sharing with others and committing to the community can set the foundations to make a difference in our surroundings. Like a ballet company or a philharmonic orchestra were the coordination of a team generates emotions and impacts in its audience.

As a volunteer you let yourself to be moved by what you believe to make it visible with your hands
Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.  ~Elizabeth Andrew

Every action in our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.  ~Edwin Hubbel Chapin

Monday, December 9, 2013


By: Danáe

 - 5 days with 38 volunteers, coming from 16 countries, working in 15 different non-profit organizations. Somewhere in between there was us, the 4 EVS volunteers who arrived to Kalamata in October and now got to go to the on-arrival seminar. The seminar took place in a hotel in Omonia, which first scared me a little bit, since I’ve heard the stories of the other volunteers who went there in September already. Surprisingly I didn’t see anything threatening just a lot of policeman, which also made sense, since we were living right next to a police station. The hotel was nice, especially since we had 5 days without cooking or cleaning ahead of us ;). At 6:30 pm the seminar started off with a short welcoming and we got to see the other volunteers, as well as our 4 trainers for the first time. We also played some games to get to know all the names, which was impossible in only one hour.  Everyone seemed very nice and you could feel everybody’s excitement for the upcoming days. After dinner we went out to Eksarxeia for one or two drinks.
The next day’s motto was “My EVS”. We all took a closer look at our own project in creating a poster about it. Later on everyone introduced the project to the other volunteers. It was very interesting to see and to hear what the other volunteers are doing and also nice to exchange our experiences concerning our projects. The second night we climbed up on a little hill close to the acropolis, where we had an amazing view not only at the lit up acropolis but also at huge Athens. Greece also won the important soccer game against Rumania that evening so there were fireworks, which made everything even more beautiful.
On Wednesday it was time to learn some Greek. Our challenge was to create a TV commercial for a gadget that would be useful for the everyday life of an EVS volunteer… in GREEK! We came up with the idea pretty fast but spent a loooong time to translate everything into Greek. My group for example invented the EVS volunteer GPS -“Συσκευη Ευρεση Εθελοντων”, an application for your mobile phone, which helps you to find other EVS volunteers in Greece. The same day we also found out about the origin and the background of the EVS program and we learned more about the rights and the responsibilities of an EVS volunteer. After dinner we had a little pyjama party at the hotel and after watching two movies most of us went straight to bed.
The next morning we got up with a lot of motivation, since we were going to explore Athens. We were divided into 5 groups with different themes (1. gastronomy and cuisine 2. crisis 3. tourism, sports and entertainment 4. social movements and NGOs 5. interpersonal relations) in order to learn more about city, culture, language and people. Every group had to do tasks around the city interacting also many times with people from the street. In the end of the day we presented the results of our rallies to the others. It was a very fun and interesting day but also stressful, since we only had a certain amount of time to finish everything. The evening most of us went out -even though it was raining cats and dogs- again to enjoy the colorful nightlife of Athens.

Soon it already was Friday and also the last day of the seminar. So for a last time we gathered together in the big seminar room to learn about the youth pass we will create ourselves in the end of the project to have a summary about our development and our achievements during the program. Afterwards we did an evaluation of the whole seminar. Everyone was very happy with the days we spend together in Athens and also a little bit sad that it was already over. During those days we made new friends and now know other volunteers all over Greece. The seminar did not only motivate us for our projects, inform us about important things connected with our EVS but also helped us to create a big network. So in the following months we hope to visit each other and see other nice places of Greece. Since most of us only left the hotel the next day after breakfast we had another night together and we planned our farewell party in a club in Kerameikos. Even two of our trainers joined us. The party was the perfect ending to 5 Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious days!

The Last Visit to the Wonderful world of smells

The Last Visit to the Wonderful world of smells

By: Amaia

In this time only a few of us were lucky to visit the factory and Athanasius and to know the history of the family business.
Pantelis Athanasiou , who many people in Kalamata still remember, began making cakes at home since 1938 . The
 beginnings were selling cakes in the streets of Kalamata, schools and in all the places where many people  goes to enjoy, such as football stadiums etc, and always using his bicycle from one place to another.
Later, his descendants using a small and family laboratory o bakery, continued the trade of selling cakes to small shops, getting to create their own chain of stores with time. 
They opened their first store in 1992 and today they have stores in different parts of the world, such as  USA (Boston), Panama... and always with a good business planning  to make sure, before opening a new shop, that the above could be maintained. So, they are very strict particularly with  the quality and with the Greek origin of the products, and all made with olive oil. They produce sweet and bitter flavours, and even some other products such as some delicious chocolates which we were lucky enough  to taste.

 These last two years,  due to the economic situation that has been happening in most of Europe, they  found  great difficulties, but even so, they  still keep betting and risking to undertake new business outside of the country. Is a way of maintain a level of business, something like a business insurance just in case the economic situation goes worst in Greece. In that plan,  more than 100 employees are also included. Right now, they are producing 350 different products to be sold daily and, always fresh and with a very high quality. 
Finally, and after the visit to the factory , and fascinated by the wonderful world of smells that I could appreciate there, we had the great fortune to taste some of the delicious things they offered to us, having at the same time a  nice chat about the interesting story of the founder.
The next step for Athanasius, is to go for growth at the local level by opening a shop with coffee and delicious snacks, breakfast sandwiches etc, near the

Monday, December 2, 2013

Messinian Messages

 Messinian Messages

These last few weeks have been very interesting for us volunteers here at the youth centre. We were treated to surprise matchmaking visits to several local companies at their factories, located between 5 and 8 km outside of Kalamata. The purposes of our participation in this EU matchmaking program was to learn more about the function of the local economy here in Kalamata in the wake of the global economic crisis, to gain an insight into their operations, to introduce the companies and the participants to each other for potential future collaboration and to promote these companies in our home countries.
            So, day 1 and the first place on the list was a brick and roof-tile manufacturing company. We were greeted at the entrance by the friendly owner and he showed us around the understandably loud and warm factory of his family business. He explained to us the process of turning the raw mud into bricks and tiles. Basically the get the wet mud, shape it into bricks and, in a parallel production line into tiles, dry them, stack them together, fire them together in the furnace (the heat from here is also used in the drying stage), cool them, pack them and send them out. We all left with a better understanding of the entire process and some of us even brought home a brick for ourselves!
     The next place we visited directly after was a wine factory, BioVin, in operation since 2006. Here we were shown how they make wine. They source the grapes from local, organic farmers and extract the juice. After this, for red wine, they let the colour of the skins of the red grapes soak into the juice, for rose they do it for a much shorter time and for white not at all. Then they ferment it, filter it, bottle it and sell it. They also explained to us that the reason some red wines are more expensive, such as the reserve wines is that they have to factor in the rental and/or operational costs of the reserves themselves, the price of the aging barrels and the cost incurred from the losses of product due to the aging process itself, both due to the ‘Angel’s share’ and accidental loss.
     Last on the list of places to visit for this day was a company called Κουλιέρης Α.Ε. . This is a local logistics company serving supermarkets and hotels with Greek and international food and cosmetics products. They also have their own brand called ‘Navarino’ which produces orange juice, olive oil and frozen foods. They have been in operation since 1986 and have recently been awarded with a certificate naming them as one of the strongest companies in Greece. The owner showed us around his factory, explained to us what they do, gave us a presentation of the company and also fed us! A good thing too because it was nearing lunchtime and we were all really hungry!!

            So day 2 and we set off for two fig factories and an olive oil company. The first fig factory was called Goumas and here we were shown the process of how they produce figs. The bring in the raw, dried figs and they wash them in how water. Then they have to fumigate them for two days in phosphine to kill any bacteria and eggs that may be on them or in them (useful tip: whenever you eat figs, it is wise to pull it open by hand first and then eat it, as is customary in Greece), then they wash them again and pack them by hand. One of our volunteers even got the opportunity to do this themselves! These figs are exported all over the world, with little under 10% being sold in in Greece. In Canada and America they prefer big figs (insert appropriate cultural stereotype here…!) and in Europe they prefer small figs, according to market research. Before we left they treated us to a box of Kalamata figs each, nice ;) .
      The second fig factory was much the same in terms of processing and packaging, though it was a larger factory owned by a co-operative, but here we also gained some insight into how the crisis has affected the companies and the wages in Greece.
 The other factory we visited on day two was the olive oil producing company, Ενωση Μεσσήνιας. Here they test the oil they receive and package it. They produce olive oil and olives with a PDO certificate, which stands for Protected Designation of Origin. This is the same idea as in France with Champagne and also with Feta cheese.
The olive oil they produce is extra virgin. In the lab we were shown how they test this oil and what exactly makes it extra virgin. Their limits for extra virgin olive oil is 0.45g oleic acid per 100 grams of olive oil, which means the oil is not very acidic. Also here before we left they gave us a small bottle of olive oil and a jar of olives, both Kalamata PDO of course!

            So, day three and our last outing, and we were certainly the most excited about this one as were were to visit a distillery and a winery!

     The first was the distillery where they make spirits of all shapes and sizes (literally!). The produce rum, vodka, whiskey, ouzo, tsipouro, rakomelo (tsipouro/wine with honey, usually served hot) and a whole cacophony of other spirits. We were shown around this factory, to the distillery and to the bottling part of the factory. After a brief Q and A section we were gifted with a small bottle of rakomelo for our enthusiasm!

   Last but by no means least we visited another winery, much bigger than the previous one called Οινομεσσηνιακή (or Inomessiniaki), a Messinian winery. Here again we were briefed on the details of the process of making wine, with the bottling phase of production in full operation. We were taken around outside the plant and shown, up close, various facets of the large scale production of wine. Afterwards we were taken inside and shown the bottling process as well as the cellar. We were then taken to the storage warehouse where there was already some wine aging there for a few years. After a few group photos next to a mountain of Messinian wine we received a most generous gift from our gracious yet insanely busy host: two cases of wine! After we exchanged our many sincere thank-you’s we set off for home with light in our hearts and wine in our arms!
            These trips were great fun and very informative. Even though all these places seem to be doing well, you can tell that the crisis has affected them, and this was a small shapshot of the larger situation in Greece, the peripheral countries in the EU and in companies across the globe.

     A lot of these companies have relatively few employees considering the size of the factories and/or have had to reduce them. They have also had to reduce production and pay more attention to seasonal work as well as reduced wages. One company told us that in the years following the crisis they have had to reduce the wages from €55 per 7 hour day to €40. Also, one company told us that before the crisis there was a 60-day grace period for payment of goods which doesn’t happen anymore, and of course this has an effect on business.  Competition is also an important factor in a contracting marketplace. If one country overproduced it can afford to offer contracts at a lower cost and price other countries out of the market easier, PDO or not. Because of this companies struggle to make themselves stand out from the crowd in a crowded market. Others have to enlarge their vision of their companies either by expanding their purpose and services or by expanding their market and changing their operations accordingly. Even though a place like Kalamata, famous for figs, olives, olive oil and wine, all with PDO status, it’s companies still feel the strain of the crisis. For some other of it’s companies that do not have such a marketable status for their products they feel it much more, and their lives are understandably more difficult.
     Innovation has to come from somewhere, and as with solidarity it tends to appear in sink or swim situations. These companies are all in contact with the locality and the people in the region, supporting each other either directly by trading goods and services or indirectly by word of mouth.

The crisis affects a lot of people on this planet (some would say 99%) and the practice of co-operation, determination, innovation and solidarity seem to be some of the best ways through it. This for me was the ultimate goal of these trips; to educate and to inform us and as many people as possible about their companies and the difficulties that the crisis presents. But it was also for them to reach out, through the medium of a small but international newsletter, like a message in a bottle.
By:    Fiachra Mac Íomhair

Fiachra Mac Íomhair

Fiachra , with light in his mind  and everything in his hands

A waitress impatient for orders. Haste and unrest among my Arabic friends who were also on their way to Rodonthos for the announced evening of live music. Noise, smoke and restlessness on a cloudless night . Definitely something unusual for this time of the year in the mid of November. But it would not rain on that day, for even the weather paid its respect .
Then more haste. My phone spits out a quite complicit message, and I hear another ringtone not far from me, that demands the attention of its owner. Speed ​​and more speed in the land famous for its " σιγα σιγα. " Anxiety and restlessness are something unusual here in this small town of Peloponnese. And then a man who, counter-balancing the look of his elegant acoustic guitar with his carefree casual style, appears and calms the air.
It was Fiachra Mac Íomhair. Time seemed to stop and suddenly there was no trace of the previous anxiety and hurry that we have all become accustomed to, even here in Greece. The seemingly impossible happened. Everything went quiet and still. Even the clock stopped ticking as the room full of expectation was awaiting to hear the slender Irishman sing. To hear sing the person who was born to do this and nothing else .
It was about eleven o'clock at night and everyone who was not there that night did not know what they were missing. While Fiachra began strumming the Fisherman's Blues by The Waterboys, I closed my eyes and let my body move to the harmonious rhythm of the song.

The song finished, and loud cheers of approval followed immediately along with the first round of ovations from the audience. Yet again, Fiachra has won us over. Many more songs followed as everything flowed slowly, slowly, between one tsípuro ( τσιπουρο ) and another. The poetic verses were caressing our souls.

Today , as I am writing this , I only have room in my heart to say thank you. Thanks for another brilliant night. ΕυχαριστούμεFiachra . The rest of my heart now belongs to your music, your style and some other girl that night was Rodanthos. Time will tell the rest .
                                                                                                                            By: Carmelo Marquéz