USA Today featured a great story with Emilia Kamvysi, the now-famous Greek grandmother from the tiny fishing village of Skala Sykamias on the island of Lesvos.
That piece was written by freelance journalist Nikolia Apostolou and profiled the octogenarian widow who is one of the nominees for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her work in helping refugees.
But deconstructed, the story reveals wisdom that is the very core of the cultural DNA that Greeks use to define and pride themselves.
“I wish that Greece wins this prize, not just me,” Kamvysi said, promising if she wins the cash prize that comes with the Nobel to give her share of the $1.2 million to the decaying Greek healthcare system— to help others in need.
“What am I going to do with it anyway?” she said, referring to the money.
She said she lives just fine on her $360 per month pension.
Kamvysi balked at the notion that she and the other grandmothers were special.
“There are many people that helped the refugees — the fishermen, the volunteers. It wasn’t just us,” she said.
Compassion and solidarity…
But the most prevalent emotion in Kamvysi was her grandmotherly compassion and solidarity with those suffering.
“Those poor babies, escaping war and drowning in the waters. It’s such a shame. We’re all crying in the village whenever there’s a shipwreck.”
In Kamvysi’s eyes, the refugees arriving are her own parents. They, like millions of other Greeks of Turkey, fled in 1922.
“My mom was born in Turkey,” Kamvysi said.
“She left persecuted and arrived here when she was only 17 years old. They came with hurt souls. It’s exactly how I see the refugees are today. When they arrived in Greece, the locals didn’t want them and saw them as foreigners.”
“Our mothers arrived on a fishing boat only with a trunk of clothes and a sewing machine,” said Maritsa Mavrapidou, Kamvysi’s cousin and one of the other grandmothers who became famous after helping Syrians arriving in their village.
“Our mothers arrived on a fishing boat only with a trunk of clothes and a sewing machine,” said Maritsa Mavrapidou, Kamvysi’s buoyant cousin, 85, who was also in the now-famous photo.
“I have 16 grandchildren. Our hearts break to see so many children on the refugee boats,” Mavrapidou said.
Read Nikolia Apostolou’s full story in USA Today here.