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CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 8/15/2015 |





SONGSOPTOK: Let us forget for a moment the UN definition of ‘humanitarianism’. What is your personal definition? In what context would you apply the word?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: "In this world, which is increasingly shrinking, each of us needs all the others. We must look for the human being no matter where he/she can be found. When Oedipus encountered the Sphinx on the road to Thebes and she raised her riddle to him, his response was: the human being. This simple notion destroyed the monster. We have many monsters to destroy. Let us ponder over the response of Oedipus "(my translation from greek abstract in the conclusion of C. Seferis’s speech in Stockholm on the day he received the Nobel Prize for Literature - all the talking you can read by clicking hereAnd here you can find details about Oedipus and the riddle of Sphinx to which I’m referring

SONGSOPTOK: What, according to you, are the specific types of events that call for humanitarian actions?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: Humanitarianism is a life attitude that considers the human being as the first value of life: "to shape people with strong and nice body, with clean thoughtful mind, with strong will and love and respect for their fellow human beings " (Al. Delmouzos) So any action which serves these purposes is a humanitarian action: from the actions to defend the education and health of each person to  the struggles against war, poverty, hunger, thirst, misery, sexism, racism, or in favor of the dream for world peace and respect for the cultural heritage of all peoples.

SONGSOPTOK:  Why, in your opinion, do countries and societies even need humanitarian actions, often initiated and coordinated by the so called first world economies?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: External development assistance, to reconstruct a country's infrastructure, institutions, and economy, is often a key part of the peace. This assistance ensures that the country can develop, instead of sliding back into conflicts. Funding for humanitarian aid and development assistance comes mostly from foreign governments. Approximately 50 percent of funding is channeled through U.N. agencies. Much of this is then allocated to partner agencies that implement the programs.

SONGSOPTOK: Can individuals play a significant role in initiating or participating in humanitarian actions? In what way?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: Each person by himself can be a small torch of humanitarianism. Many such torches cooperating in small groups and many such groups around the world will make the earth shine like a sun of agape, of love for the fellow men, of compassion, of true humanitarianism.

I will bring forth the Greek humanitarianism paradigm. The Greek spirit is by tradition humanitarian. The two factors which makes the difference in our national tradition is our Antiquity in which we are immersed and the Christian Greek Orthodox tradition.

The Ancient Greeks first, into the polytheistic world of the pre-Christian antiquity, with the impulsive reactive spasm of their unparalleled creativity, captured the essence of man, understood the greatness of human imagination and highlighted the importance of the human mind, noting the among time rumblings and the archetypal shakings of its reflection. The Greeks, among the ancient ethnic world, had as purpose of education the ennoblement and culture of man: «Ως χάριέν εστ’ άνθρωπος, όταν άνθρωπος η»(How nice  is man to be a human being, Menander)." Protagoras also said «Πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον άνθρωπος»  (criterion and measure of all the things is the human being).

The Greek Soul, inconceivable, unfading, indomitable, maintains Humanitarianism not only alive but free, not only free but also active and with a mysterious effect, extracts it from the places of the past and expels it to the times ahead.

The Greek Orthodox Christian ethics which I know and experience is also essentially a social Ethics, it is humanitarianism in its depth , agape for fellow humans. The fellow man takes forever value in the eyes of the faithful Christian Greek, almost identified with God, the highest good.

Agape, the fragrant flower of the soul, the outpouring of the inner beauty of man, weighs harmoniously in glorious array the monism and dualism, the "final hesychasm and the uninterrupted creativity", aligns directly in the peristyle of the high ideals the offering and the sacrifice, the action and the freedom, because, as Rabindranath Tagore said , "only what is done out of love is free”. Therefore, when someone works with love, he finds freedom in the action.

So it is necessary values of humanitarianism of Ancient Greek Philosophy to be transferred to the youth all over the world. But this transfer needs not to be done through a restricted teaching method. The infertility of the usual study of ancient texts hinders the development of the mind and tired teenage spirit. The bravery, honor and virtue are left in his thinking essentially as simple words and not as aims. Respect and hospitality are downloaded in his mind as episodes in the Odyssey which do not need analysis, since such questions are not cultivated in school.

Thus, it becomes evident the need to transform the educational practices of humanitarian education in the modern school. Cooperation is neither knowledge nor a single skill that must be developed. It is a way of life and as such should be taught experientially. Through group work, through joint events, creative walks and tours to attractions and natural beauty, the collaborativeness will be turned into cooperation. The consistency in the small community of the school will develop into a social cohesion. And all this without the teenager to lose neither his individual personality by being transformed in a human mass, neither to compete with classmates.

Let me emphasize that the educational process for future humanitarians does not need only cooperation. Dialogue is one instrument which will bring together the students. But we are talking about an open dialogue, a dialogue between the students without the mediation of the teacher.

The essence of the culture of humanitarian values is within the open questions for which the teacher does not know which exactly will be the answer, how they will evolve, but he knows that they will lead to doubt and judgment.

However, the substantial humanitarian education-without reducing the importance of science's or technological teaching subjects, but in harmonious relation and dialectic relationship with them- cannot remain anthropocentric. The anthropocentrism as perception is inhumane. It leads to disregard for nature, for the ecosystem and develops unilateral practices against nature.

Aristotle noted that "the nature of man has the desire to learn." So humanitarianism emphasizes precisely the value of free thought, of artistic creativity, encourages the bizarre and out of social stereotypes imagination of a researcher, supports the ingenuity without limitation, promotes the flight of poet's imagination. Humanitarianism is logical and nonsectarian. It supports freedom of research in all its forms and opposes all forms of censorship. It acknowledges the scientific method as the most reliable and efficient to acquire knowledge about the world without making any deduction in the value of art, music, literature and other ways of cultural expression in order to bring people to the recognition of all forms of truth, the different options on things.

Humanitarianism expresses the freedom of research. Humanitarianism believes in a free mind that is able to look and judge events, situations, people and ideas. This is of course the form of democracy that works with humanistic principles which allows the citizen to raise issues, to discuss, to argue, to disagree with respect to the principles and values of the other one. It is undemocratic to deny anyone to question, to ask. True democracy does not set error labels on individuals just because someone disagrees.

The aim of general education of a society which shapes its youth to play the role of individuals initiating or participating in humanitarian actions is the all-round intellectual culture which signify the overall outlook, the critical thinking, the ability to analyze and generalize, the discernment but also the openness towards new ideas but most of all a culture based on the agape meaning the love and compassion for the fellow men.

SONGSOPTOK:  What should be the role of the world community, especially organizations like the UN, to encourage humanitarian actions in different countries, especially those suffering from internal war or external aggression? Do you think that their efforts are sufficient? If not, what else should be done to help the countries / societies / populations in need?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: The four main actors in humanitarian aid and development assistance are:

International Organizations (IOs) and Regional Organizations (ROs) (or Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)): The most important actor in the provision of humanitarian aid and development assistance is the United Nations (U.N.) and its various agencies, funded by member states. The World Bank and regional development banks also fund development projects.

Unilateral assistance: As well as multilateral assistance, many countries also direct aid unilaterally through their own foreign-aid and development agencies. In addition to a sense of moral obligation, aid can be part of foreign policy.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): NGOs increasingly play a key role in providing humanitarian aid and development assistance, both directly and as partners to U.N. agencies. They often have advantages over IOs or foreign governments. For example, they are less limited by political constraints and their diversity and independence allows them to work in very difficult places.
The Military: The military acts primarily to ensure a secure environment in which relief agencies can operate. In some circumstances, the military may also provide aid directly, usually when IOs and NGOs find themselves overstretched or unable to deal with security problems. The military can be used to manage and coordinate the overall humanitarian response and to deal with technically and physically demanding needs, such as restoring communications and supply routes. Coordination and effective leadership of the humanitarian relief effort is extremely important in order to minimize duplication and conflicting activities and to maximize the exchange and flow of intelligence in an extremely difficult and stressful working environment. Coordination is usually provided by the United Nations. There is also a development of the strategy , the mandate, the principles and the legislation of the process of humanitarian aid through the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), formerly known as the European Community Humanitarian Aid Office , which is the European Commission's department for overseas humanitarian aid and for civil protection. The European Commission has a mandate to save and preserve life in emergency and immediate post-emergency situations, whether these are natural or man-made. Following these principles, the Commission is committed to preparing every year a Strategy document in order to co-ordinate and to programme activities efficiently and in an appropriate manner adopting an impartial approach based on needs. In 2013, ECHO focused its humanitarian aid in nearly 90 countries. It identified the five largest humanitarian operations as the Sahel region of West Africa, including further response to the conflict in Mali (€82 million), Sudan and South Sudan (€80 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (€54 million), Pakistan (€42 million) and Somalia (€40 million). 40% of the European Commission humanitarian assistance went to Sub-Saharan Africa. The reserve budget was utilized in order to respond to major humanitarian crises in Syria, Mali, the Sahel, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, and the Philippines. ECHO also funds forgotten crises, such as in Bangladesh, Colombia, Yemen, Algeria, Pakistan, and Myanmar. European humanitarian aid is based on the principles of humanity and solidarity therefore its implementation depends on the application of international law, and in particular international humanitarian law, and on the fundamental principles of impartiality, non-discrimination and neutrality. ECHO’s humanitarian actions are based on compliance with international law and the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. Its implementation therefore depends on the application of international humanitarian law (IHL). Humanity means that human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, with particular attention to the most vulnerable; neutrality means that humanitarian aid must not favor any side in an armed conflict or other dispute; impartiality means that humanitarian aid must be provided solely on the basis of need, without discrimination; and independence means the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from political, economic, military or other objectives. Since 1 November 2014, humanitarian aid is managed by a dedicated Commissioner, Christos Stylianides. The European Commission set out an initiative to create more than 18,000 positions for EU citizens to volunteer worldwide in humanitarian situations between 2014-2020. The initiative trains volunteers together in a European training program before deployment with certified humanitarian organizations. Financial support, focusing on building up resilience and civil protection capacity, was agreed for five pilot projects involving approximately 150 volunteers in 2012.

SONGSOPTOK: What should ideally be the role of the governments in humanitarian actions – both in afflicted countries and in the other countries of the world? Are government activities sufficient in this context?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: States have four main roles and responsibilities regarding humanitarian aid:  (1) they are responsible for ‘calling’ a crisis and inviting international aid (2) they provide assistance and protection (3) they are responsible for monitoring and coordinating external assistance  (4) they set the regulatory and legal frameworks governing relief assistance.  These functions are critical to initiating and managing a relief response and will shape its effectiveness. The state’s primary responsibility in responding to disasters is clearly recognized both in law and in statements of principle. For example UN Resolution 46/182 states: “The sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must be fully respected in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.  In this context, humanitarian assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country and in principle on the basis of an appeal by the affected country. Each State has the responsibility first and foremost to take care of the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies occurring on its territory. Hence, the affected State has the primary role in the initiation, organization, coordination, and implementation of humanitarian assistance within its territory”.  The Sphere guidelines ‘acknowledge the primary role and responsibility of the state to provide assistance when people’s capacity to cope has been exceeded’. The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015 also notes that each state has primary responsibility for taking effective DRR measures and commits governments to ensuring, ‘that disaster risk reduction is a national and local priority’ (ISDR, 2005).  It is the responsibility of states to ensure the safety and security of their citizens (O’Callaghan and Pantualiano 2007). The protection of civilians, whether understood primarily in physical or legal terms, remains first and foremost the duty of governments, a reflection of their sovereign authority over, and responsibility for, all those living within their territory (Pantuliano and Callaghan 2006).  National governments also set the laws and regulations governing how aid agencies may operate within their territory. Wherever they work, NGOs are obliged to register with the government and are generally required to report on their activities (IFRC, 2007). Government regulations may facilitate or impede the international relief effort. Constraints may include delays in issuing visas or customs clearances and unclear or punitive tax regimes. Since 2001, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has been engaged in a largescale review of international response, laws, rules and principles in natural disasters (IDRL). The Federation has now produced guidelines for domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance (IFRC, 2007b; Hewitt, 2006; Picard, 2007; Costa, 2008). The Paris Declaration on the harmonization of international development assistance aims to ensure its effectiveness by placing responsibility for the delivery and management of aid both on donors and on aidreceiving governments. This approach is now being seen as applicable in emergency contexts (OECDDAC 2005 and 2008a).  Ownership – partner countries exercise effective leadership over their development strategies and coordinate development actions. Alignment – donors base their overall support on partner countries’ national development strategies, institutions and procedures. Donor governments have also committed themselves to OECD Principles of Good International Engagement in Fragile States, which include a ‘focus on state building as the central objective’.  Finally, the Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD) initiative ‘reaffirms the primary responsibility of states’. At the same time international humanitarian organizations and the governments which fund them are committed to the humanitarian principle of independence. How independence is defined varies and there is a surprising lack of guidance or even discussion about how to put it into practice. The GHD initiative gives by far the broadest definition, focusing as it does on autonomy from ‘political, economic, military or other objectives’ (GHD, 2003). Bouchet Saulnier (2007: 156) gives a similar definition: ‘Humanitarian action must be independent from any political, financial or military pressures. Its only limit, its only constraint and its only goal must be the defense of the human being’. There has not been much exploration of how a commitment to independence (or of how donors should respect the independence of aid recipients) can be reconciled with a commitment to respect the primary responsibility of the state. Discussing the notion of independence in relation to the Red Cross principles, Jean Pictet (1979) notes the fundamental tension between humanitarian autonomy and the fact that, in practice, aid agencies must work with and alongside national authorities. As Pictet puts it, the Red Cross asserts its political, religious and economic independence and must:  be sovereign in its decisions, acts and words: it must be free to show the way towards humanity and justice. It is not admissible for any power whatsoever to make it deviate from the line established for it by its ideals. This independence is also the guarantee of the neutrality of the Red Cross. At the same time, however, the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies work as ‘auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their Governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries … auxiliary status … constitutes one of the fundamental principles of the Red Cross’. By its very nature, Pictet says, the Red Cross – and other relief organizations –must cooperate with national authorities and obey the laws of the host country. In conflict contexts, where the state is unable or unwilling to meet the population’s basic needs, international humanitarian relief remains the aid instrument of last resort. In these contexts it may neither be possible nor desirable to work with the government, either because it does not control the areas where services are needed or because donors are unwilling to engage for political reasons. Whatever the case, there is still likely to be a need for longerterm approaches that seek to align with the national government, to the extent possible.  Despite the tensions between them, it is possible to respect both humanitarian and developmental principles. The commitment to neutrality and independence is compatible with the principle of encouraging and supporting governments to protect and assist the civilian population. Humanitarian agencies should pay greater attention to respecting state sovereignty and ownership over humanitarian as well as development strategies, and to view substitution for the state as more of a last resort. Equally, development agencies should be committed to the humanitarian principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality. There are many contexts where governments are either parties to a conflict, flouting humanitarian and human rights law, too corrupt or simply lack the capacity for international aid agencies to work more closely with them than they do already. In these contexts this line of argument maintains, international aid agencies should keep their engagement with government to a basic minimum and preserve operational independence; keeping governments informed about what they are doing and maintaining a low profile to avoid interference or getting thrown out of the country.  A problem with this viewpoint is that keeping governments at arm’s length is often unfeasible. To believe otherwise is politically naive and opens agencies to being manipulated by astute and controlling authorities. Aid agencies working in difficult environments need strong political antennae in order to work with the authorities, and be prepared to both formulate collective ‘red lines’ and to act on them if they are no longer able to function.

SONGSOPTOK In your opinion, do religious institutions play an important role in humanitarian actions? In your own experience, what kind of actions have you witnessed that have been pioneered by religious institutions?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: Religion plays a very crucial role in humanitarian intervention and its role has been increasing gradually since the last two decades. While working with the community, Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) should adhere to the core humanitarian principle like the Red Cross Code of Conduct, ‘Sphere and HAP standards and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It should be the guiding factor for all humanitarian interventions in the event of an emergency. FBOs should be secular in regime in the sense that it does not discriminate the community on the basis of their religion and beliefs but rather uses religion or faith as a tool to mobilize resources from like minded donors. Love and solidarity with our fellow man does not appear to be a simple obligation. This need led to the creation of "Mission" of the Archdiocese of Athens. The Mission was founded in 2010 by the Archdiocese of Athens in the form of non-profit organization with a national and international scope in the context of its activity in the humanitarian, developmental and educational space. Objective and constant pursuit is APOSTOLI (MISSION) become today the means, the tool, the humble people rate relief. This decision is not only the expression of anguish of the Greek Orthodox Church for whatever is happening and unfolding lately in our country, but also its contribution to the extent possible, to the collective effort made by many sides to halt the tide of crisis. But this without panic, with the experience of a teaching, that this place overcame many similar difficulties over the course of history. The Destination of the Greek Orthodox Church "which is also its long-standing destination" is "to be the world's source of high spiritual life, freedom and love for all human beings, brotherhood and peace, rejection of hatred, malice and injustice, helper of the ailing humanity in its troubled path. " The complex of works of "Apostoli" are: A. Standard Environmental Center in Parnitha mount. B. Reintegration Unit for drug addicts C. Care unit and treatment of autistic children. D. Care facility prostrate E. Elderly pensions. F. Doubling of food portions for homeless(currently exceeding 10,000 daily). Areas such as: cultural heritage, environmental protection, cooperation with foreign institutions, the strengthening of the Greek Orthodox Mission in Poor Countries are among the priorities of MISSION.   International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) supports one of the largest established networks to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid inside Syria where more than 12.2 million people are currently in need of assistance, 7.6 million of which are internally displaced. In addition to its work inside Syria, IOCC staff is working regionally to address the growing needs of more than 4 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Armenia, Greece, and Serbia, as well as people in need in those host countries. Responding to one of the worst humanitarian and refugee crises in history, IOCC is one of the few international nongovernmental organizations working on the ground across Syria to provide aid to people who have been displaced inside the country by the civil war. In providing this aid, IOCC works in close partnership with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. Since February 2012, IOCC has provided relief to more than 2.7 million people inside Syria affected by the crisis. Although all these I believe that exactly because of the basis of our religion and beliefs the Orthodox Church which is extremely wealthy financially and with no taxes on its incomes and possessions, should reinforce further its humanitarian work in Greece and outside Greece and become again a poor Church which gives all it has for the well-being of the fellow man as exactly Jesus Christ taught us.

SONGSOPTOK:  Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) are often in the forefront of humanitarian actions and yet there have been widespread criticism about the efficacy and utility of NGOs in different countries, especially in Asia & Africa. What is your own experience? Should NGOs be given more power and independence where humanitarian actions are concerned?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: There is little accountability in the humanitarian and development industry. There are no barriers to becoming an NGO and no comprehensive or enforceable performance standards for NGOs. Codes of conduct have been developed, such as the Red Cross Code of Conduct (1994), but compliance is voluntary. Because of the high staff turnover in humanitarian organizations and the different nature of conflicts in different countries, it is hard to build institutional memory to improve the efficiency of aid operations and to implement lessons learned. The need to maintain a high profile in order to secure funding can influence NGOs' decision making, they cannot afford not to be seen at a disaster. This situation is aggravated by the impact of uneven media coverage of disasters. The 1994 Code of Conduct of the International Federation of the Red Cross explicitly states that NGOs' work must be neutral. However, it is rare for the effects of aid to be neutral even if the provision of it is neutral. Furthermore, it is frustrating to give humanitarian aid to people without being able to protect their human rights. In working with the military, humanitarian agencies, especially NGOs, risk losing the neutrality that gives them their advantage. In addition, being associated with one side can endanger the work and the staff of NGOs. Development assistance may interfere with local capacities to deal with problems. This can make recipient countries dependent on aid, and encourage development techniques that are unsustainable when foreign aid dries up. In addition, the most educated and capable members of the local population are often employed by foreign agencies, where they are paid high salaries to work as drivers, translators, or administrative staff. As well as wasting valuable human capital and expertise, hiring these skilled people for relatively low-level jobs detracts from local initiatives to govern and develop. If local NGOs are encouraged to undertake development programs, they are often provided with monetary grants, encouraging more costly initiatives than are unsustainable in the long run. Often, NGOs will focus their resources on winning such grants, rather than helping the local communities. In addition, instead of working together to increase their effectiveness, they will be locked in competition against one another. What civil society initiatives really need is less expensive, long-term commitment.  "One of the most controversial examples of a humanitarian aid operation was in the case of Hutu refugee camps in Goma, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) following the Rwandan genocide. Fearful of retaliation by the Tutsis, two million Hutus fled to neighboring countries for protection. In the Goma camps, Hutu militia members responsible for the genocide against the Tutsis continued to wield considerable power, terrorizing refugees, forbidding them to leave the camps, distributing anti-Tutsi propaganda, and recruiting and training troops from among them. Because of their position of authority, many aid agencies used the Hutu leadership to distribute food. This reinforced their power and enabled them to buy weapons, which they used for attacks on Rwanda. In early 1995 two major NGOs, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and International Rescue Committee (IRC), withdrew. MSF reported that, 'The continued diversion of humanitarian aid by the same leaders who orchestrated the genocide, the lack of effective international action regarding impunity, and the fact that the refugee population was being held hostage, presented a situation contradictory with the principles of humanitarian assistance.' The president of IRC said, '[T]he whole aid community has been overtaken by a new reality. Humanitarianism has become a resource and people are manipulating it as never before. Sometimes we just shouldn't show up for a disaster.'" -- William Shawcross, p. 142-143. The success of humanitarian aid operations ultimately depends on the ability of organizations to work together. Whether ‘working together’ means information sharing or joint operations and projects, inter-organizational coordination is not simply the product of two organizations choosing to share resources, personnel or projects. It  is also a product of the inter-organizational structure in which those organizations exist. How does the humanitarian aid network situate certain organizations to be in better or worse positions to work with other organizations? How does an organization’s position affect various relief and recovery outcomes? Which types of organizations occupy or play key ‘broker’ or mediating roles during humanitarian aid operations? By first identifying how the network structure affects inter-organizational coordination and humanitarian aid outcomes, practitioners and emergency managers will be better able to identify key organizations for specific types of relief or recovery activities. Before policies that influence the aid network can be made, policymakers, emergency managers and public health practitioners need to know more about the humanitarian aid structure and its effects on aid operations.

SONGSOPTOK:  What should be the aim of humanitarian actions in afflicted countries – short term relief or long term actions that would help societies build up their own strengths and resources? Please share your knowledge or experience about long term actions undertaken anywhere in the world.
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: Short term relief actions are preventing human casualties and ensuring access to the basics for survival: water, sanitation, food, shelter, and health care. Additionally, in the case of conflicts, away from the main fighting, the priority is to assist people who have been displaced, prevent the spread of conflict, support relief work, and prepare for rehabilitation. The key requirements of long term actions include: (1) Reconstruction of property and infrastructure: to facilitate return of the displaced security, governance, transport of food and supplies, and rebuilding of the economy. (2) Transition to normal security conditions: demilitarization, demobilization, reintegration of ex-combatants and an adequate police force. (3) A functioning judiciary to enforce the rule of law. (4) Governance and government services. (5) Democratization: representative government to moderate conflict. (6)Economic development and a stable macroeconomic environment to promote political stability and facilitate a solid financial base for government. (7)Local capacity building: once the donors leave, the country needs to function independently of aid. Development assistance must attempt to reduce inequalities between groups, and reduce economic incentives to fight, by controlling illicit trade, for example in arms, drugs, and diamonds. Perhaps the most important principle of development assistance is the use of aid conditionality to promote economic and political practices that strengthen peace building. Donor assistance is often conditional on acceptance of a peace settlement by all sides, and continued commitment to implementing and consolidating peace.

SONGSOPTOK: It is often seen that the strongest help and support comes from within the communities affected by conflicts or natural disasters. How, in your opinion, can communities be empowered to successfully face such situations? What, in this context, could be the role of formal or informal grassroots organizations?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: The informal organization is the interlocking social structure that governs how people work together in practice. It is the aggregate of, norms, personal and professional connections through which work gets done and relationships are built among people who share a common organizational affiliation or cluster of affiliations. It consists of a dynamic set of personal relationships, social networks, communities of common interest, and emotional sources of motivation. The informal organization evolves, and the complex social dynamics of its members also. Tended effectively, the informal organization complements the more explicit structures, plans, and processes of the formal organization: it can accelerate and enhance responses to unanticipated events, foster innovation, enable people to solve problems that require collaboration across boundaries, and create footpaths showing where the formal organization (NGO’s) may someday need to pave a way. Informal organizations also possess the following potential disadvantages and problems that require astute and careful management attention. (1) Resistance to change (2) Role conflict. The quest for informal group satisfaction may lead members away from formal organizational objectives. Role conflict can be reduced by carefully attempting to integrate interests, goals, methods, and evaluation systems of both the informal and formal organizations, resulting in greater productivity and satisfaction on everyone's behalf. (3) Rumor. This can undermine morale, establish bad attitudes, and often result in deviant or, even violent behavior. (4) Conformity. Social control promotes and encourages conformity among informal group members, thereby making them reluctant to act too aggressively or perform at too high a level. This can harm the formal organization by stifling initiative, creativity, and diversity of performance. Although informal organizations create unique challenges and potential problems for management, they also provide a number of benefits for the formal organization. (1) Blend with formal system. Formal plans. policies, procedures, and standards cannot solve every problem in a dynamic organization; therefore, informal systems must blend with formal ones to get work done. (2) Lighten management workload (3) Fill gaps in management abilities (4) Act as a safety valve.  The informal group provides a means for relieving the emotional and psychological pressures by allowing a person to discuss them among friends openly and candidly. (5) Perhaps a subtle benefit of informal groups is that they encourage managers to prepare, plan, organize, and control in a more professional fashion. Managers who comprehend the power of the informal organization recognize that it is a "check and balance" on their use of authority. Changes and projects are introduced with more careful thought and consideration, knowing that the informal organization can easily kill a poorly planned project. (6) Understanding and dealing with the environmental crisis. Grassroots organizations are indispensable to local development because of the role they have played for years in channeling demands and mobilizing collective work. A grassroots organization brings together community representatives or more specialized groups such as producers, women, sports and religious associations, and groups working with NGOs, that are connected to these grassroots organizations. The above groups and others of that kind can assist in establishing support policies for local development since they facilitate interaction with civil society. At the same time, they can be an obstacle if members of these organizations at the local level do not accept some new guidelines. Given the institutional weaknesses of municipalities and the need to strengthen community grassroots leaderships, a specific kind of social intervention by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has proven to be especially effective and helpful in reinforcing both grassroots leadership and municipal government. This social intervention is distinguished by the institutional stability of the NGO in question and by a comprehensive and local vision of development. Some NGOs experience and accumulation of social — not state — capital constitute a comparative advantage, even against the experience of local administration by the state. Before the state take up the need for local development, some NGOs are already involved in this task and are carrying out analyses and multisectoral plans with provincial and/or microregional scope. The institutional capital accumulated by various NGOs represents a resource that cannot be ignored in local development processes. Especially when it is considered that several municipalities do not have even the minimum institutional experience required to undertake development. Furthermore, NGOs whose social intervention is ongoing, localized, and multisectoral within the framework of a consistent strategy of local development, promote the consolidation of regional grassroots leadership capable of channeling demands. They also help municipal government train human resources, formulate institutional procedures, and incidentally, to obtain external resources. It must be emphasized that not every NGO can be an adequate channel; only those that have institutional stability, experience working in the municipality, and a vision of and commitment to local development in multisectoral terms.

There is great debate over the best theoretical and practical framework for aid to help poor countries develop. Some economists argue that aid is only effective in a good macroeconomic policy environment: foreign aid must complement, not substitute, domestic measures to improve the economy. Others argue that, as long as agriculture and industry in developed countries are still heavily protected through subsidies and trade barriers, less-developed countries will never be able to fully participate in the world economy and achieve economic development. The debate over how to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian aid and development assistance and minimize their potentially negative consequences is ongoing and intense. Initiatives such as Mary B. Anderson's Collaborative for Development Action attempt to promote discourse on this subject, and to question the role that humanitarian agencies play in conflicts. As humanitarian aid and development assistance work becomes more professional and more academic institutions offer these topics as fields of study, now is an important time to develop these subjects further. Humanitarian aid and development assistance are not straightforward, and they mask many political failures. Ultimately, however, they play a crucial role in saving lives, and a role that can be continually improved as lessons are learned and applied. It is extremely important for field teams to have appropriate and clearly defined intervention strategies, good knowledge of the field context and training on how to identify and reduce the risks of corruption, particularly operational risk factors associated with the procurement, transport, storage and distribution of relief goods. As a complex global phenomenon with significant local consequences, corruption is a critical aspect of humanitarian thinking and action. Good governance and transparency are at the heart of NGO legitimacy. NGOs must work with Transparency International, the OECD and other institutional partners and private donors in order to fight corruption effectively. Strengthening community involvement in the implementation and evaluation of humanitarian (and development) programs improves the ‘acceptance’ of NGOs by the beneficiary population and helps to mitigate against corruption and promote better local governance. We need an open debate on the risks of corruption and how to address them, without undermining donor funding to and beneficiary confidence in NGOs. As well as strictly operational considerations, corruption constitutes an important ethical and political challenge for humanitarian NGOs.

NGSOPTOK: Women and children are most vulnerable in situations of conflicts or disasters. What, according to you, are the specific actions that need to be taken to ensure the safety and security of women and children?
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: After the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, the Barroso Commission accepted the prize money on behalf of the EU and allocated it to a new initiative called Children of Peace. Approximately €2 million was set aside for the Children of Peace projects in 2013. It was increased to €4 million in 2014. This shows already the importance of the protection of children through humanitarian actions. Children rights demand children protection since they cannot protect themselves. Almost half of the world’s forcibly displaced people are children and many spend their entire childhood far from home. Whether they are refugees, internally displaced, asylum-seekers or stateless, children are at a greater risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or forced military recruitment. They may also have witnessed or experienced violent acts and/or been separated from their families. However, children are highly resilient and find ways to cope and draw strength from their families and communities. By learning, playing and having space to explore their talents and skills, children can be active members of the community. The UN refugee agency UNHCR promotes the participation of children in the design and delivery of protection and assistance measures, works to protect children of concern in partnership with children themselves, their communities, national authorities and relevant local and international groups, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and non-governmental organizations, promotes non-discriminatory access for all children of concern to national child protection systems and is committed, in the spirit of partnership, to strengthening these systems where gaps exist. This includes, for example, conducting best interest assessments for vulnerable children, ensuring that unaccompanied or separated children have access to family tracing and reunification services, and engaging children through activities and education that build their skills and capacities. Every country has one or more national organizations for the protection of children. Their protection is every country’s duty. To this theme I just quote THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD as UNICEF has stated it and about the Protection rights of any child: “keeping safe from harm Article 4 (Protection of rights): Governments have a responsibility to take all available measures to make sure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. When countries ratify the Convention, they agree to review their laws relating to children. This involves assessing their social services, legal, health and educational systems, as well as levels of funding for these services. Governments are then obliged to take all necessary steps to ensure that the minimum standards set by the Convention in these areas are being met. They must help families protect children’s rights and create an environment where they can grow and reach their potential. In some instances, this may involve changing existing laws or creating new ones. Such legislative changes are not imposed, but come about through the same process by which any law is created or reformed within a country. Article 41 of the Convention points out the when a country already has higher legal standards than those seen in the Convention, the higher standards always prevail. (See Optional Protocol pages.) Article 11 (Kidnapping): Governments should take steps to stop children being taken out of their own country illegally. This article is particularly concerned with parental abductions. The Convention’s Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography has a provision that concerns abduction for financial gain. Article 19 (Protection from all forms of violence): Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. Governments should ensure that children are properly cared for and protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by their parents, or anyone else who looks after them. In terms of discipline, the Convention does not specify what forms of punishment parents should use. However any form of discipline involving violence is unacceptable. There are ways to discipline children that are effective in helping children learn about family and social expectations for their behavior – ones that are non-violent, are appropriate to the child's level of development and take the best interests of the child into consideration. In most countries, laws already define what sorts of punishments are considered excessive or abusive. It is up to each government to review these laws in light of the Convention. Article 20 (Children deprived of family environment): Children who cannot be looked after by their own family have a right to special care and must be looked after properly, by people who respect their ethnic group, religion, culture and language. Article 21 (Adoption): Children have the right to care and protection if they are adopted or in foster care. The first concern must be what is best for them. The same rules should apply whether they are adopted in the country where they were born, or if they are taken to live in another country. Article 22 (Refugee children): Children have the right to special protection and help if they are refugees (if they have been forced to leave their home and live in another country), as well as all the rights in this Convention. Article 32 (Child labour): The government should protect children from work that is dangerous or might harm their health or their education. While the Convention protects children from harmful and exploitative work, there is nothing in it that prohibits parents from expecting their children to help out at home in ways that are safe and appropriate to their age. If children help out in a family farm or business, the tasks they do be safe and suited to their level of development and comply with national labor laws. Children's work should not jeopardize any of their other rights, including the right to education, or the right to relaxation and play. Article 33 (Drug abuse): Governments should use all means possible to protect children from the use of harmful drugs and from being used in the drug trade. Article 34 (Sexual exploitation): Governments should protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. This provision in the Convention is augmented by the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. (See Optional Protocol pages.) Article 35 (Abduction, sale and trafficking): The government should take all measures possible to make sure that children are not abducted, sold or trafficked. This provision in the Convention is augmented by the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. (See Optional Protocol pages.) Article 36 (Other forms of exploitation): Children should be protected from any activity that takes advantage of them or could harm their welfare and development. Article 37 (Detention and punishment): No one is allowed to punish children in a cruel or harmful way. Children who break the law should not be treated cruelly. They should not be put in prison with adults, should be able to keep in contact with their families, and should not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release. Article 38 (War and armed conflicts): Governments must do everything they can to protect and care for children affected by war. Children under 15 should not be forced or recruited to take part in a war or join the armed forces. The Convention’s Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict further develops this right, raising the age for direct participation in armed conflict to 18 and establishing a ban on compulsory recruitment for children under 18. Article 39 (Rehabilitation of child victims): Children who have been neglected, abused or exploited should receive special help to physically and psychologically recover and reintegrate into society. Particular attention should be paid to restoring the health, self-respect and dignity of the child. Article 40 (Juvenile justice): Children who are accused of breaking the law have the right to legal help and fair treatment in a justice system that respects their rights. Governments are required to set a minimum age below which children cannot be held criminally responsible and to provide minimum guarantees for the fairness and quick resolution of judicial or alternative proceedings. Article 41 (Respect for superior national standards): If the laws of a country provide better protection of children’s rights than the articles in this Convention, those laws should apply. “ From birth to death, in times of peace and war, women face discrimination and violence from the state, local society and family. The women constitute a particularly vulnerable social group, which according to place of residence, age, religion, manners and customs of its people, has to face numerous social problems against it. Despite the hard struggles that have taken place with a view to equality between the sexes and the alleged achievement  of this objective, the fact is that millions of women suffer daily from prejudices and stereotypes and become victims of violence and uncontrolled behavior of men who act as a pundit. The girl infanticide deprives countless women of life itself. Every year, millions of women are raped by their husbands or their partner, from family members, from friends and strangers, by employers and colleagues, by police and soldiers. Women, children and men suffer from domestic violence, but the vast majority of victims are women and girls. In armed conflicts, violence against women is often used as a weapon of war in order to humiliate the women themselves or the community to which they belong. Violence against women is not confined to any particular political or economic system, but is prevalent in every society in the world. Not knowing dividing lines in terms of wealth, race and culture. The power structures within society which perpetuate violence against women are deep-rooted and intransigent. Violence, as experience or as a threat, prevents women from around the world to exercise and fully enjoy their rights. The root cause of violence against women lies in discrimination which deny women equality with men in all areas of life. Violence is rooted in discrimination and simultaneously serves to reinforce discrimination. Violence against women is neither 'normal' nor 'inevitable'. It is an expression of specific historically and culturally defined, values and standards. Social and political institutions foster women's subservience and violence against women. Poverty and marginalization fuel violence against women and also result from it. Worldwide, women have higher poverty rates than men, poverty is more intense than that of men, and the numbers of poor women are increasing. While the negative effects of globalization leaving more and more women trapped on the margins of society, is extremely difficult for these women to escape abuse situations and to achieve protection and redress. Illiteracy and poverty severely limit the potential of women to organize to fight for change in the situation. Young women are often subject to sexual assault not only because they are women but because they are young and vulnerable. In some societies, girls are subjected to forced sex because of the error that sexual contact with a virgin will cure a man of HIV / AIDS. But age does not offer any protection. While some societies respect the wisdom of older women and offer them higher social status and greater autonomy, others abuse those who are fragile and alone, particularly widows. Control of women's sexuality is a powerful means by which men exercise their dominance over women. Women who do not conform to established standards of femininity often face severe punishments.  The violence during armed conflict is destroying the lives of men and women, but systematic rape, as seen in many recent conflicts, is primarily directed against girls and women. The rapes, mutilations and murders of women and girls are common practices of warfare and committed both by government forces and armed groups. The forms of violence that are closely related to sex is also endemic in militarized societies or struck by war. In societies that are strongly influenced by the "culture of weapons", the ownership and use of weapons magnify existing gender inequalities, strengthening the dominant position of men and maintaining the subordination of women. Violent disputes in the home often become more deadly for women and girls when men have guns. Two-thirds of illiterate people worldwide (876 million) are women, number which according to UNICEF will not change significantly over the next 20 years. Millions of women, adults and non-victims of sexual abuse one or more times in their life. Nevertheless complaints are minimal, and in some countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia the heinous practice of genital applicable organs of girls (female circumcision). Today in these countries more than 114 million women have undergone this ordeal. In India, Pakistan, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, women who are pregnant female fetuses forced abortion, and if they manage to give birth, often take them and kill them. More features the statistics in many African countries are the following: CHAD: Only 15% of births take place under the supervision of a doctor or midwife, while 49% of girls aged 15-19 are married, most involuntarily. ETHIOPIA: Only 8% of women give birth in the presence of a doctor or midwife, 49% of girls 15-19 are married. MALI: Doctor or midwife is present only in 24% of births. 91% of women are uneducated, while 50% of girls are married before adulthood. Apply clitoridectomy. NIGERIA: Only 15% of births are presence of a doctor or midwife, and is married girls aged 15-19, 62%. 97% of the female population is illiterate. Hundreds of Nigerian victims of trafficking and selling in Europe. Apply clitoridectomy. UGANDA: 50% of women aged 15-19 are married, while 67% of women are uneducated. 38% of births are supervised by a doctor or midwife. Apply clitoridectomy. BANGLADESH: Only 14% of births done by a doctor or midwife. 50% of the female population among girls are married. In this country, and the percentage of women who are forced into prostitution is too big. Many of them have not come of age. Imperatives to prevent the phenomenon of violence against women in various continents: 1) Humanitarian emphasis on education and vocational education of every girl in the world 2) Information and awareness of citizens in matters of gender-based violence (domestic violence, rape, prostitution, sexual harassment, illegal trafficking in women for exploitation / trafficking), and to prevent such phenomena. 3) Informative campaign-campaign at national level to the current institutional framework related to violence against women and to highlight the role taken by the GSGE - as the competent governmental mechanism - for support and assistance to battered women. 4) Utilization of different communication tools and events (conferences, leaflets, brochures, etc.), as well as sponsorship and communication media. 5) Production and dissemination of printed, electronic and audiovisual material (advertisements in newspapers and magazines, posters, brochures, stickers, calendars, broadcast commercials, television campaign, videos, photos, announcements, press releases, etc.). Certain categories of material will be produced in ordinary immigrant languages. 6) Advanced campaign to young women in order to prevent and empower them to confront the first expressions of male violence (psychological, etc.). 7) Thematic conference Organizing and sensitization workshops at regional level. The education is a basic human right, vital to the development and well-being of individuals and societies as a whole and the greatest humanitarian tool. The UNICEF advocates quality basic education to all children - boys and girls with emphasis on gender equality and eliminating disparities of all kinds. UNICEF is working with a number of local, national and international partners for the realization of its objectives, concerning the right to education and gender equality. Primary information for Education: (1) The number of children not attending primary school although they have the same age, estimated to have declined from 115 million in 2002 to 101 million in 2007. Of these, 53 million are girls. (2) Worldwide, approximately 80% of school age children attend school. In less developed countries, this figure reaches 66%. (3) Attending of school in Primary Education reaches about 61% in West and Central Africa, 81% in South Asia and 83% in the Middle East and North Africa. (4) The largest population of children not attending school (2007 figures), located in sub-Saharan Africa, where around 45.5 million children did not enroll in primary Education. Followed by South Asia (35 million), the Middle East and North Africa (6.7 million), the countries of East Asia and the Pacific (4.7 million) and the region of Latin America and the Caribbean (4.2 million). (5) Worldwide, only 49% of similar-aged children enrolled in secondary education. The rest or even go to a class of primary school or have dropped out. (6) The gap between the sexes as regards attending school in Primary Education, has almost been eradicated in areas such as those of East Asia (total enrollment in primary education as a whole is 98% for boys and 97% for girls, while the overall school attendance rate is 88% for boys and 88% for girls ), in the region of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States total enrollment in primary education is 92% for boys and 90% for girls, with an overall school attendance rate of 94% for boys and 92% for girls. In Eastern and Southern Africa there are more girls than boys attending primary classes with total enrollments in Primary Education to reach 83% for boys and 82% for girls, overall school attendance rate of 69% for boys and 70% for girls. The education of girls is the key to ensure that the next generation will receive training. About 75% of children outside primary education in developing countries have mothers who did not go to school. To achieve universal primary education by 2015, enrollment rates need to increase worldwide by 1.3% per year for the next ten years. Some countries must perform most impressive advances. For example, Benin should improve these rates by 2.88% each year, Eritrea by more than 4%, Nepal at 2.25% and Afghanistan 3.9% per year. If most countries in the Middle East and North Africa, East Asia & Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean continue with the increasing enrollment rates in school , they will be in the Millennium Development Goals of 2015. Countries that have abolished school fees  saw tremendous increase in enrollment rates in school: Kenya 2003 registrations increased from 5.9 million to 7.2 million within a few weeks. Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi had similar success. There are 781 million illiterate adults worldwide, 64% of them are women. As we can see the improvement of the situation in Africa on the issue of women's rights in any field, whether it is called social or political, or educational, or even religious is for the 21st century absolutely nothing!

SONGSOPTOK: How do you, as an individual, practice humanitarianism? Is it an important part of your value system & mental make-up? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us.
CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: Well my greater humanitarian action is my poetry. As a Greek I am instinctively humanitarian, my people’s tradition is so. Our culture teaches us since we are born to help one another and to practice hospitality and agape as our greater duty. We are so few. We could not survive if we were indifferent the one to the other. Till recently the word homeless had no meaning in the society of Greece. But after the financial crisis in which we succumb for the past seven years - unfairly , I suppose, because of politicians corruption  inside Greece and in EU and of course because of  banks profiteering – many people in Greece face the specter of poverty, so we must act humanitarianly even for people in our neighborhood or our family, many of whom now live unemployed, without income or pension, sick and without a care in big cities even hungry and homeless. I contributed in many anthologies around the world promoting humanism with my poems, more than twenty of them. I want to mention my contribution in the wonderful international anthologies of Brian Wrixon from Canada, the activist works in the anthologies of Mutiu Olawuyi from Nigeria for the 11th September NY attack,  against violence and especially violence against women, in two books about the work of the Great Nelson Mandela, in many other books and magazines about Peace which I even stopped counting. I have even been the editor for Europe in a wonderful anthology which was featured by World Poetry Canada and International with chief editor the great poet Madan Gandhi and Mutiu Olawuyi last year. I am also very activated in the war against cancer . I write many poems about, most of them are in international and Greek anthologies. Two of my digital art works with poems against Cancer on them took part in a big exposition named SKIN at the City Hall of ParisVIII in November 2013 for the research on the treatment of patients of Breast Cancer. I contributed also in many anthologies and events inside and outside Greece against Poverty, War , Racism, Trafficking of human beings. I even organized a big poetic event for the Poetathon about Peace of World Poetry Canada and International in November 2013 running three teleconferences on Internet where almost 40 Greek and International poets recited and commented poems about Peace live. For this event World poetry Canada and International honored me with their medal and called me Peace Ambassador of World Poetry to Greece 2014-2016. In September 2014 I realized, with my friend poetess Chrissa Mastorodimou a great event in the municipal cultural Center of Larissa, my town, with the funding of local touristic enterprises and under the aegis of the Mayoralty of Education and Sport of the municipality of Larissa, a great musical and poetic event for Peace and the Respect for the cultures of all Peoples for the international humanitarian organization 100 THOUSAND POETS FOR CHANGE, which event was broadcasted to their platform in America live. This year I will run two more Google on air events with poetry, music and videos for peace and under the aegis of World Poetry Canada and International Peaceathon and the 100TPC too. And so on … I will present you now some of my humanitarian poems and first of all one which was inspired by your question.

THE LAST QUESTION

I have to write something very hurriedly
I chew it over for days
They asked me to answer to
some questions
about love, kindness, humanism ...
I answered countless pages
How and what and laws and wishes
and organizations and organizing
and a few and a lot
and our glorious Greek ancestors ...
"Tell us what exactly your actions of aid are
for your fellow humans in need?"
The last question
I am in front of it for a week at least
Everything I ever did seems to me
so minimal or even inflated
to mention it ...


CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  Professor of Physics, specialized in Space Physics, candidate Doctor in Education.  Prized by the Ministry of Education in Greece. Elected in the Municipality of  her hometown. Published in Greek and English in over 20 Anthologies, internet magazines and two personal books. Activist for Peace. World Poetry Canada and International Ambassador to Greece 2014-2016 for Peace. 100TPC events organizer. More than 3000 poems on her blogs. She also writes in French and German. 


***Readers are hereby requested to please visit our ‘LAST PAGE” section to read the rest of the poems! Thank You.***
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