His hand held high and waving an issue of “Schedia” (Life Raft) outside McDonald’s on Syntagma Square, 36-year-old Alexis, wearing a red vest with the magazine’s logo and ID tag, is selling Greece’s first street magazine.
With the first issue published on February 27, Schedia is the newest and 122nd member of the Glasgow-based International Network of Street Papers (www.street-papers.org), a family of publications distributed by people from vulnerable social groups in 40 countries around the world. The cost of each Schedia issue is 3 euros.
Alexis, a former salesman who’s been out of work – together with his brother – for the past two years and until recently survived on his mother’s paltry pension, found out about the new magazine online and immediately applied for a job.
“I cover my daily expenses. But most importantly, I now have hope,” he tells Kathimerini. “Of course, it takes a great deal of patience. Last Friday, in Monastiraki, I sold just one magazine in something like five hours. On another day, however, I sold 19. People are beginning to learn about it. The response has been very optimistic and many praise the initiative. Some will even buy two or three copies.”
Sonia is selling Schedia at the other end of Syntagma Square. An Italian, she speaks fluent Greece and has two daughters aged 16 and 24.
“The eldest is abroad; the youngest is here, at school. There is no help to be had anywhere,” Sonia says, explaining that she taught Italian for 15 years and worked at a company until she was fired three years ago. She has been unemployed since.
“I did whatever job I could find just so that we could survive. Feeling useless is the worst thing about it all,” she says.
Sonia is a big fan of Schedia. “It is optimistic and the tone is not whiney. If I weren’t selling it, I would be reading it anyway. I am proud of what I’m doing. You won’t get rich on the money, but it is enough to help you regain your dignity.”
At the Athens Concert Hall we find Matina, a 54-year-old woman who has no family and is jobless, homeless and unable to find any temporary work to keep her afloat. All she has now is her anger.
“I eat at the municipal food lines, bathe at [homeless shelter] Praxis and sleep at friends’ places,” she says. How did she end up selling Schedia?
“Walking past an electronics store I saw something on TV about the Austrian street paper and learned about the Greek publication from Praxis,” Matina explains. “It’s a great opportunity: a job where you don’t need a resume and don’t need to answer questions about your age. They just tell you to take the magazine and generate some buzz. I was so thirsty for work. I didn’t have a single euro in my pocket. When Schedia came along, I jumped on board and began my journey. I managed to buy a pair of jeans – 10 euros. I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to rent a little place to live.”
Schedia is published by Diogenis, a not-for-profit company that began its activities in 2006 with a campaign to raise money for Greece’s burgeoning homeless population by organizing soccer games with people who live on the streets.
“We got the bug for Schedia when we made our first contact with the International Network of Street Papers,” explains Christos Alefantis, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. “It was important for us to set up a decent journalistic magazine so that readers also gain something from buying it. It is all about solidarity in practical form, as the sellers are given a proper job.”
Diogenis did the rounds of organizations and groups that work with vulnerable social groups and now has a network of 80 salespeople, of different social and educational backgrounds, but with the fact that they are all living below the poverty line in common.
“We give them 10 magazine for free when they start and then they buy the magazines for 1.50 euros an issue and sell then at 3 euros,” explains Alefantis. “What we get from it is what I told one of the salespeople: We know exactly where the money is going.”