Greece on Fire: Basil Mossaides reaction

America’s reaction to the destruction of the summer fires in Greece is discussed in this week’s edition of Reportaz Apo Washington, a VOA/Greek television presentation for affiliate stations in Greece, Cyprus and communities of the Hellenic Diaspora. AHEPA Executive Director Basil Mossaides was among the community leaders who came to our studio to express concern for the people of Greece at this critical hour and to offer hope to those affected by the disaster. He spoke on behalf of AHEPA Supreme President Ike Gulas, who was on travel to chapters coordinating AHEPA’s response to the crisis. Several of his comments were included in this week’s edition of Reportaz Apo Washington. However, other important information offered by Mr. Mossaides was edited out in order for the program to meet airing time constraints. Following is the full text of the interview granted by the AHEPA Executive Director to VOA.

Transcript of Basil Mossaides interview:

Mr. Bistis: Mr. Mossaides, you are the Executive Director of AHEPA, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, the largest and oldest Greek heritage organization in the United States. Judging from the number of press releases issued in the last few days by AHEPA I would say that you are also one of the most active organizations in the drive to help Greece in its hour of need. Tell us briefly your most important initiatives in this regard.

Mr. Mossaides: First of all let me thank you very much and on behalf of our Supreme President, Mr. Ike Goulas, I want to thank you for all the hard work that you do promoting the voice of Hellenism all over the world, do what you do for us here and overseas. Having said that, AHEPA’s efforts since we’ve been active on this Greek fire issue have been the following:

Immediately upon receiving notification from the Greek government through their Ambassador, Alexandros Mallias, here in Washington DC, we scheduled a meeting at out headquarters’ office in downtown Washington. The Ambassador and one of his counsel aides came to the office, and we outlined the 3 steps that the AHEPA was willing to take immediately.

First, because the fires were burning out of control, at that point, we volunteered to mobilize our chapters to identify Greek-American, or Greek speaking volunteers to go over to Greece to help fight the fires. Initially the government agreed with what we were doing. Within 24 hour the fires became, in their view controllable, and we didn’t really need to send the firemen. Though we did keep a database of the individuals who volunteered and we are thankful for those people and those communalities for doing so and we have those people ready to go to help in anyway they can, not just fighting fires, hopefully to help replenish the land, clean up the damage that has been done.

Secondly, we immediately called our chapters, 435 of them in the States and asked to put together care packages that will be send directly to Greece, to the areas affected. As many of your viewers know we have 10 active AHEPA Chapters in Greece with over 150 members in Greece, AHEPANS. So we have people on the ground, in Greece, ready to help. We sent immediately from our hospital in Thessaloniki a team of doctors down to the Kalamata area to help in any first aid that was needed. And we have also made arrangements and have quire 10.000 heads of livestock that will be send to Kalamata, if they haven’t already been there.

The care packages that are being assembled are being sent to our headquarters in Washington and then they will be relayed to our chapters in Greece, which will directly give the materials to the individuals. Those care packages consist of necessities. I have in my office right now 4 pallets, 8.000 diapers that we are going to be sending, a thousand toothbrushes, hundreds of sleeping bags, pillows and blankets. So these materials are being assembled by the AHEPA.

The AHEPA traditionally has been very active when Greece has an issue or a problem of this magnitude to rally the forces in the US to support Greece, either financially or by service. We are a large community service organization. This is what we know. This is what we do. In WWII we raised 300 million dollars in war bonds, so that’s maybe a billion dollars today, raising liberty bond sales. So when push comes to shove the AHEPA knows what buttons to push.

Lastly, what we’ve done is to initiate a fund drive, collection of money to be donated through the chapters and the individuals. Currently in 4 days we raised 25.000 dollars on our Internet site, which is www.ahepa.org and people can electronically donate to the AHEPA Greek Fund Fire Relief. We have 1-dollar contributors as we have 1.500-dollar contributors. So the community is aware of it.

AHEPA also bridged outside the sphere of Greek-America on this issue. We contacted the Serbian- Americans, the Italian-Americans trough the Niyev Foundation, the B’nai Brith, for the Jewish American organizations, and other organizations like that. They represent what the AHEPA views as a bridge of our Greek-American community to the future. Because only with creating alliances and friendships with other organizations can we work together to bring about better days for the people in Greece. You see, 10 dollars are not going to solve this problem. A billion dollars are going to be needed to replenish the land with trees, with animals and home and we stand ready for the task.

Mr. Bistis: This is extremely impressive. I knew that you were doing a lot of things but I did not know the extent of the assistance you are providing to the people of Greece. The latest data we have from Greece indicates that the fires, in addition to the many deaths, have caused far more damage to property and the environment than it was earlier estimated. Is AHEPA ready to respond to these additional challenges in order to help Greece put this very tragic situation behind it once and for all?

Mr. Mossaides: Well, that’s the 100.000-dollar question that you have asked because not so much is AHEPA resilient enough to do the work but are Philhellenes across the globe willing to work together to assist Greece in rebuilding what they have lost? Now, traditionally every country that has hot air temperatures suffers from force fires. You see what is going on in the United States where we have wild fires all summer long. Sometimes those natural elements take care of themselves. Unfortunately a lot of the fires in Greece may not have been natural. They were strategically placed and so Nature is not really prepared to replenish itself today.

But through the hard work of AHEPA and other organizations working together I believe that a lot of funds will be raised to replenish the lands, whether it is planting trees or regenerating the area so that they can cultivate their crops and their farm lands. I think the first and most important step was taken when the AHEPA took the lead going and visiting the State Department, going to Capitol Hill and talking to the three Greek American Congressmen staffers and other Hellenic Caucus members office staffers to come up with a game plan. What is it that we can ask the government to do and I know that several of the Congressmen have written a letter to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department requesting additional assistance, we have reached out to Ambassador Negroponte, who is over at the State Department now as well, and through various channels assisted in securing the 1.2 million dollars in aid that was released last week and we are hoping, we are meeting with the State Department again tomorrow, to find alternate and additional revenues for the rebuilding of Greece.

As I have heard through the news, Greece was first to come to the aid of the Katrina victims and I believe that the United States once asked by the Greek government, because these things are far more diplomatic in the way they are executed rather than me just jumping in. There is a procedure that takes place. There is a formality that the governments must ask each other to assist. That was done last week and I think that it would be an enhancement of everything we can provide them. I am sure that the AHEPA will work to secure any surplus items that they may need. We will go there, we are going at the end of September, the Supreme President along with a selected leadership group to investigate, to commit to whatever it is that we are fundraising for and assist the Greek people in any way we can.

Mr. Bistis: Mr. Mossaides, thank you very much for the update and good luck to both you and AHEPA Supreme President Ike Gulas with your fundraising drive. I am confident that the people of Greece will appreciate your hard work.

Mr. Mossaides: Thank you very much George