Everyday heroes tell their stories

It isn’t easy to talk to someone about being poor, which is seen these days as a disgrace, something to be ashamed of, despite the fact it has become so much more common. For that reason the people in the following interviews chose to remain anonymous. Eleni, 29: «I haven’t told my parents how little I earn from my job,» Eleni told Kathimerini. «I haven’t been to a concert for three years. The theater and music stores are out of the question for me and my friends, and even the cinema is possible only once every two months.» Can someone live such a deprived existence in Athens in 2007? Eleni came to Athens from Arta at the age of 20 because there were no jobs in her hometown. She graduated from a state-run liberal studies center and got a job with a firm that leases workers to call centers. «After seven years’ work I make 690 euros a month. Last year it was 620 euros. Expenses for rent, shared expenses for the apartment block, utility bills, mobile phone and a bus pass come to almost 520 euros. How far can the rest go?» Eleni almost never goes out. «Our entertainment is visiting friends at home.» She can’t see any hope in the future. Despina, 45: She expertly juggles loans from one credit card to another. She spends hours studying bank prospectuses in the hope of transferring the burden and has a diary with crucial payment dates marked in red. A dynamic woman, who climbed the business ladder, she threw herself into an advertising company she worked for. Then she decided to marry and have a child, which was not acceptable to the firm. «I consented to leave, because I had faith in my abilities and thought I would find work elsewhere.» Unfortunately it is hard to find work in the private sector when you are over 40. Not long afterward, she got divorced. «Bringing up a child on your own, and with a part-time job, is very difficult,» she said. Asked what she gets from the state, Despina laughed bitterly: «Absolutely nothing, I manage on my own. I try to see that my child doesn’t want for anything by cutting my own expenses back to nothing. A few years ago I thought poverty was so far away.» Giorgos, pensioner: He has a pension of 500 euros a month from state insurer IKA. He has his own house, has lost his wife Argyro, and just about makes ends meet. «What upsets me,» he said, «is that my son is unemployed [after the firm he worked for as a store-man moved away]. And my daughter-in-law works at a supermarket, earning just 750 euros, so I have to help them. But they don’t want to take money from me. What can I do? I buy what I can for my grandson, I cook at home and I give them food.»