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In the aftermath of the wildfires that struck Greece in August 2021, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation implemented an emergency grants programme aimed at contributing to the long-term upgrading of prevention and firefighting mechanisms for wildfires, enhancing national fire readiness, providing immediate relief to those affected, and restoring the fire-stricken areas. Through thorough investigation and prioritisation of existing needs, the Foundation decided to implement a comprehensive bundle of targeted interventions along three areas: Prevention/Repression, Restoration, and Relief for fire-stricken areas. In this light, within 2022, the Foundation put into action the following grants:
1. Donation to the Ministry for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, in partnership with the Hellenic Bank Association (HBA) by means of a lease of four Air-Tractor firefighting aircrafts, which enhanced the forest firefighting capacity and met the operational needs of the Hellenic Fire Service personnel during the 2022 fire season, allowing them to carry out their work in a safe and effective way. Furthermore, thanks to this grant, the Fire Service has been, for the first time, able to use wildfire retardant liquid in a special mixing facility at the Dekelia Air Base.
2. Donation to the Ministry for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection to cover the supply of personal protective equipment to 3,000 volunteer firefighters of the Hellenic Fire Service, in partnership with the Athina I. Martinou Foundation. The personal protective equipment, consisting of firefighting uniforms, firefighter helmets with torch and firefighter boots, and manufactured in accordance with special high-standard technical specifications, was delivered in view of the 2023 fire season; it is expected to contribute to the timely preparation of the volunteer firefighters, significantly upgrade their operational capacity and enhance their safety within the forest environment.
“The support given by the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation and the Athina I. Martinou Foundation is an act of recognition of the work of the Fire Service, and the donation of personal equipment for the protection of our volunteers greatly assists us in our work. Especially in recent years, volunteering has emerged as a key pillar in dealing with disasters. Ensuring a high degree of readiness for our volunteers strengthens the Fire Service, the main operational arm of Civil Protection in our country.”
Lieutenant General George Pournaras
Chief, Hellenic Fire Service
3. Donation for the implementation of the “Support Programme for Voluntary Forest Fire Protection Teams” an initiative by NPF Desmos, WWF Greece and HIGGS that aims at training, strengthening and supporting forest firefighter teams in the prevention and response to forest fires and the protection of the natural regeneration of forests. The Programme, which will run until 2024, is also supported by the Athina I. Martinou Foundation and the National Bank of Greece, and includes a series of training workshops aimed at providing volunteers with the required specialised knowledge, as well as an integrated plan to cover their needs in terms of equipment.
“This Programme has covered essential and long-standing shortcomings faced by our club and will result in a better and comprehensive contribution to our social work, as well as to the natural environment of our island that has been so severely affected by forest fires in the past.”
President, Volunteer Firefighters Club of Pythagorio Samos
“Our involvement in the Programme, the knowledge gained in the specialised workshops on how to prevent and respond to forest fires, as well as the forest firefighting equipment, enhance our effectiveness in the field and contribute to the safety of our members when operating in fire incidents as a ground unit.”
President, Club of Greek Commandos of Preveza
“This aid has already proved to be of great importance, both for us and the safety of our members, and in terms of our assistance to the Fire Service. This so, especially during periods when limited transport options make it difficult to receive help from elsewhere. This action offers not only practical support to volunteers but also vital support to border island residents.”
President, Association of Volunteer Firefighters of Agios Kirikos, Ikaria
4. Donation to support the integrated “Reconstruction Plan for Northern Evia”, which aims to reconstruct and build an environmentally and economically viable, better future for the municipalities of Istiaia-Aidipsos and Mantoudi-Limni-Agia Anna, which were severely affected by the prolonged wildfires. This tremendous environmental disaster negatively impacted the region’s identity as a residential network and a soft tourism destination integrated into a highly aesthetic natural landscape. It also dramatically limited the part of the local production system that depended on the forest (timber, resin, apiaries) or the adjacent crops and groves, which were destroyed in the fires. Crucial for the implementation of the Programme has been the preparation of 13 development plans, which were completed in December 2022 and brought light on all aspects of public and private life: Infrastructure, New Forest, Agri-Food Sector, Human Resources, Health and Welfare Networks, Urban Planning, Tourism and Marketing, Culture and Education. The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation funded the implementation of three distinct studies of horizontal intervention, concerning the “Digital Wave”, the “Green Zone”, and the “Innovation Space”. Further information is available on the Master Plan of the Programme, accessible here (in Greek).
5. Donation to support the organisation of the 1st Interdisciplinary School for Environmental Crisis (ISEC), which took place in December 2022, organised by the ARISTEiA Institute in collaboration with the “DIAZOMA” Association and the Northern Evia Reconstruction Committee. The main goal of ISEC is to educate the new generation of scientists to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the environmental crisis, through the integration of sciences that encompass a wide range of disciplines, such as Biology, Environmental Sciences, Medicine, Law, Economics, and Social Sciences. The Programme was offered to participants free of tuition and comprised scientific lectures, skills development workshops, career counseling, as well as presentations of research projects aimed at designing solutions for complex problems related to the impact of the climate crisis on the environment and the local economy. Northern Evia was chosen to host ISEC due to its unique environmental, economic, and social footprint resulting from the ecological disaster caused by the 2021 wildfires in the region.
“Ι am extremely grateful for having been selected to participate in the 1st ISEC in Northern Evia. I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with fellow students and engaging with the academic staff in the beautiful location of Aidipsos. Such interdisciplinary dialogue is an opportunity for knowledge exchange and contemplation. It is a life experience that I was fortunate to share with peers who have now become friends. Such opportunities are rare, as well as the chance to meet distinguished academics and researchers from around the world.”
Student, KU Leuven, Belgium
“ISEC is organised in Evia with the aim to draw the attention of Greek student participants to the interdisciplinary dialogue that has been going on for several years abroad, but also of foreigners to the beauty of Greece, which, however, finds itself in the eye of the environmental crisis storm. During these 6 days in Evia, we expanded our scientific horizons, witnessed the beauty of the part of the landscape not destroyed by the devastating fire, analysed the causes that led to this complex disaster, and experienced the anxiety of the people for their land – a land that was already in decline in terms of population and economy before the major catastrophe hit. ISEC is one of the few, if not the only interdisciplinary programme on environmental issues held in Greece. It offers to its Greek participating students both educational and scientific benefits. Additionally, ISEC creates added tourist value in the region of Northern Evia, which has been environmentally and economically affected by the major wildfire in the summer of 2021.”
Dr Konstantinos Drosatos
Professor of Medicine, University of Cincinnati
Organising Coordinator, Interdisciplinary School for Environmental Crisis (ISEC)
Vice President, “ARISTEiA” Institute
6. Donation for the procurement and reforestation of olive trees in the area of Ancient Olympia, as part of the international initiative of the Arete Fund non-profit organisation. The goal of the “Replanting the Olive Groves of Ancient Olympia” initiative was to remedy the multifaceted damage suffered by both the natural resources of the region and the local community.
7. Donation to the Region of Central Greece (Designated Account of the Regional Development Fund) to cover the necessary cost of accommodating 839 wildfire affected citizens from Northern Evia, who were forced to evacuate their homes and temporarily stayed in 31 hotels in the broader area.
8. Founding donation for the establishment and operation of the Salvia Burn Association NPO, the only organisation for burns and burn victims in Greece. The organisation was created on the initiative of two volunteer residents from Mati, in response to their actions to support burn victims of the July 2018 wildfire. The organisation carries out activities in four areas: support for burn victims, burn prevention, advocacy, and support for Health Units to improve their care and rehabilitation services for burn victims in Greece. During its first year of operation, the organisation advocated for and achieved the establishment of the National Burns Registry for burn victims from all causes, thus securing that pharmaceutical needs of such victims are covered, while, with the support of the Hellenic Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery (HESPRAS), it established 16 December as the National Burns Prevention Day, an initiative that was adopted and recognised at national level. Furthermore, the organisation developed two educational programmes approved by the Ministry of Education to raise awareness and provide information to elementary school students, while it continued to support and empower burn victims of all ages (especially children and people from vulnerable social groups) throughout the challenging journey of treatment, recovery and rehabilitation, offering a comprehensive programme of psychological, legal and socio-economic support, as well as a safe framework for mutual support and networking with other burn victims.
“I am a burn victim from the fire in Sidirounta, Chios, in August 2016. I underwent 10 major and numerous minor surgeries, and I am still fighting for my recovery to this day. Leaving the hospital, I felt like a shipwreck survivor swimming in the ocean without a life jacket. Without guidance, support, and assistance from the government. At Salvia, I felt like I found a family.”
“I became involved in burn and burn victim support as a volunteer after the fire in Mati. I witnessed many challenging cases and realised how isolated burn victims feel with their injuries, as well as how much below the standards of other countries and international standards our hospitals fall. With my partner, Alexis Andronopoulos, we envisioned to making burns ‘visible’ to the State, ‘invisible’ in the statistics through prevention, via information and awareness programmes, and empowered burn victims becoming guides and role models for new burn victims. The Foundation was there for us and burn victims from our early steps as volunteers back then, believed in our vision, encouraged us and supported us in its implementation. Behind every smile of a burn victim, behind every personal ‘victory’, lies the support of the people of the Foundation, and personally, I will always be grateful to them for the opportunity they gave us.”
Co-Founder, Salvia Burn Association NPO
9. Donation in support of the research and educational programme “Blood Donation 365”, implemented by the Medical School of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Blood Donation Unit of the “Aretaieio” University Hospital. Recognising that the Health Sector is a crucial link in the management of any emergency situation, the Foundation supported this Programme, which aims to develop an integrated strategic communication plan for the attraction, retention and awareness of volunteer blood donors in Greece through innovative practices. As part of the initiative, a comprehensive awareness campaign was created, providing all the necessary information to eliminate fear regarding volunteer blood donation, with the goal of creating a new generation of conscious blood donors who embrace the generosity mindset and regular donation. The programme also included training for recruiters to effectively approach and motivate potential volunteer blood donors. At the same time, volunteer blood donation events were organised in cooperation with the Blood Donation Services of university hospitals and municipalities in Attica, an educational conference was held for health visitors and volunteer blood donor recruiters, and educational activities were implemented in secondary education schools.
“I am a relative of a person who needs regular blood transfusions on a monthly basis. There have been several occasions where I had to donate blood myself, as well as ask friends and acquaintances to donate. I learned about ‘Blood Donation 365’ at the Blood Donation Centre in Syros after a visit as a donor. Many of my questions were answered, and I was able to inform friends and acquaintances who believed that they couldn’t donate blood for various reasons, that they actually can donate even if they take medication for blood pressure or thyroid conditions.”
Syros General Hospital “Vardakio and Proio”
“After the placement of the ‘Blood Donation 365’ posters, both the medical and paramedical community showed particular interest, especially in the ‘Did you know that blood expires?’ poster. It became apparent that many doctors, as well as citizens and even blood donors, were not aware of the shelf life of blood units. The Programme helped us attract more blood donors to our Blood Donation Centre – donors who have shown interest after reading the leaflets and also the continuous posts on social media.”
Blood Donation Department Staff Member
Syros General Hospital “Vardakio and Proio”
“The healthcare system of every country relies on blood transfusions, and patients in need expect that there be sufficient and safe blood available to meet their needs. However, this is not always the case. Understanding what motivates and discourages potential blood donors is vital for the successful recruitment and retention of volunteer blood donors. This goal, which is closely linked to the education of volunteer blood donors, was the impetus behind the ‘Blood Donation 365’ initiative, which consists the first scientific approach to analysing the motivation and education of volunteer blood donors. Public education about blood donation, addressing any fears or questions of donors, and developing the skills of recruiters have the potential to motivate donors and eliminate barriers to voluntary blood donation.”
Isidora D. Mytilineou
Social Researcher, “Blood Donation 365” Programme