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'I am repaying a moral debt to Greece'

Greek Australians set up charitable organisation in support of Greek hospitals

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The members of the board.

05 December 2016

When Greek Australian Konstantinos Barkoukis visited the Greek peninsula of Halkidiki last summer, he experienced firsthand what most people already know − a Greece in crisis. Unlike most, instead of pointing fingers and condemning behaviours, the Adelaide-born IT professional decided to delve into the issues of his homeland and actually do something about it. He set up the Australian Hellenic Medical Charity Incorporated, a charity whose aim is to raise funds in support of hospitals in Greece.

"Firstly, I believe it's a blessing from God to be a Hellene, therefore, it's our duty in the diaspora to assist our fellow Greeks who are suffering," says Barkoukis in an interview with Neos Kosmos.

According to Barkoukis' experience, due to the current financial crisis and influx of refugees, the General Hospital of Halkidiki (Polygyros) is experiencing difficulty in procuring the necessary medical equipment required to service patients' needs, and in some cases, save their lives. Money allocated to the hospital has been redirected to service the needs of refugees residing in camps in close vicinity and the medical staff are managing on bare necessities due to these resources and budgets being allocated elsewhere.

"When the doctors of the hospital pleaded with my family for help to purchase medical equipment, we made a promise to the Hellenic people that we would do everything we could in Australia to donate and raise funds to assist."

Due to the diligent nature of the medical staff, Greek hospitals receive positive reviews for customer service, however infrastructure and medical equipment is outdated and in short supply, thus increasing significantly the health risks to patients.

The General Hospital of Halkidiki services the northern Greek peninsula and surrounding areas, and it will be the first hospital that the AHMCI charity is assisting, but not the only one.

"The doctors gave us in-depth tours of the hospital in July 2016 and they were pleading with us for different medical equipment that is required, as the current machinery is antiquated and could be in a museum, as Dr Ioannis Kardakos and his fellow doctors put it before compiling a checklist of medical equipment for our charity to consider," Barkoukis says.

AHMCI's aim is to raise a minimum of $200,000 in the next 12 months which will go towards purchasing the necessary medical equipment which, in turn, will be sent to Greece to enhance the patients' chances of survival by improving the ability of rapid diagnosis and expediting the treatment of cancerous conditions.

Greek Australian chief of justice Chris Kourakis, together with Barkoukis' wife Despina Pastrikos, legal advisor Lucasz Wyszynski and businessmen George Apostolou and Sotiris Phillis also sit on the board of the association.

"My assistance with this charity is my way of repaying a moral debt to Greece that I have owed for a very long time," explains Polish-born lawyer Lucasz Wyszynski in an interview with Neos Kosmos.

"The predominate purpose behind our firm not charging for our legal services required by the AHMCI Association is because of the assistance that my parents and I received from the Hellenic Republic while I was very young."

In September 1986, Lucasz and his parents had to depart Poland under hostile circumstances because the Polish government was displeased with them due to their religious convictions and connotations attached to their family name.

"While fleeing Poland, my parents applied to Italy and the Hellenic Republic for temporary refuge; however, both stated that they were somewhat full. Nevertheless, the Hellenic Republic ignored their own policy-based quota and accepted my family regardless."

When the Wyszynski family arrived in Athens, they were granted US$100 a week by the Hellenic Republic in order to allow them to temporarily settle in the capital city and wait out the Polish government's hostility towards their immediate and extended family.

"We were also fortunate to have sympathetic Greek neighbours in Athens who would assist our family with 'care packages' throughout our nine-month stay in Greece, during which time my father was employed as an electrician in the local building industry," recalls Wyszynski, who these days specialises in Australian and European Union-based immigration law and international trade.

In March 1987, trusted close family and friends employed within the Polish government strongly suggested that the family should not return to Poland because the situation was not going to improve within the foreseeable future.

Instead of moving to New York or Toronto to join the rest of their family members, in June 1987 the Wyszynski family decided to move as far away from the Soviet-linked Polish regime and concluded that Adelaide would be the safest option for their children to grow up in, and to avoid experiencing the same stress and pain their parents had experienced when they had to leave behind their long-held family properties and assets and start again.

"When Konstantinos approached me to request for our firm to provide a significant discount for the work involved in setting up an incorporated association with deductible gift recipient status − and after explaining my 'long-held debt' to the Hellenic Republic to our board at the UAE head office, we decided to proceed with the heavily discounted fee for AHMCI documentation, in-between the other legal matters I was undertaking at the Dubai office.
"We hope to raise enough money to make this happen and ask from the community to support us. If we save one patient's life, it will be worth our while," concludes Barkoukis.

For more information regarding the organisation and donation options, visit www.chuffed.org/project/ahmci

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