Aside from greater access to DNA testing, social media has proven to be invaluable in connected displaced individuals like Ioannis Kalos with their families.
This month marks three years since he started Greek Orphans Seeking Answers (GOSA), a group on Facebook to connect with others like himself who have been orphaned in Greece.
At that stage he had yet to connect with his ancestors, with little to no knowledge about Ancestry DNA testing.
It didn’t take long for his member list to start growing, with just over 100 members currently from around the world, including Australia.
As Ioannis himself has gained more knowledge over the years, the group has continued to establish itself as a rich resource of information for those looking for their own answers, and unsure of where to start.
“Unfortunately in Greece there is no one address or one email that you can write to, to find our families. It depends upon what orphanage or home that you were in. So for myself it was a long process, but now I’ve collated addresses and emails depending on whether you were from the Mitera Home in Athens, which was for unwed mothers, or whether you were from Patras Orphanage, or a Thessalonikian Orphanage, from St Stylianos Orphanage or from the other various homes,” he says.
READ IOANNIS’ STORY: Baby without a name grows into a man on a quest to find family
Thanks to a law passed in Greece in 1996, by writing to the home or orphanage one came from, adult adoptees are entitled to access their birth records, or at the very least their orphanage records.
Having this information has proven invaluable for many, given that once adoptees start looking for answers, they are often pressed for time. Ioannis says that in his experience many are waiting until their adopted parents pass on to seek out answers, out of fear of hurting their feelings. While others only find out they are adopted in mid life.
“One of my members said to me that he didn’t know he was adopted up until he was 50 years old; he found out through one of his sisters who emailed him rather than telling him face-to-face,” he says.
“There’s also a girl I know, she’s actually born in the late 1980’s, and she lives in Melbourne. She was handed over from one parent to another parent, and she was sold for money. Unbelievable stories that I hear; oh my God, it’s tragic.”
This empathy that Ioannis expresses is evidence that the group goes beyond practical means, also acting as a support group. With all posts private, members are given the space to openly talk over their feelings, their experiences, to vent their frustrations and anger.
They also compare notes about DNA to better understand results, discuss challenges faced with the Greek language in their search, as well as fraud.
“There are a lot of researchers out there who say ‘I can help you find your birth family. You must sign this form, take it to the Greek embassy and that gives us the power to search on your behalf’ – because you can do that. But then they say ‘we want a donation’. So that’s my gripe,” he explains, noting one researcher who, an adoptee herself, lives in Greece and has made a living out of charging orphans to find their families – a red line for Ioannis, and one he doesn’t allow anyone to cross.
“Knowing our birth families, knowing who we are, where we came from, who our mum and dad is, is a fundamental human right; it’s not something you can pay for, or something that you can buy.”
To avoid this, Ioannis says he has been streamlining the group, with members now required to answer a series of questions to prove their reasons for joining.
While his number one aim is to piece his own puzzle together, while helping as many Greek orphans as possible in their own quest, he is also on a mission to highlight their collective, lifelong plight to the Greek government – who he believes is slow in recognising “a wrong that has been done to us orphans, because they were so quick in jettisoning us out of the country to unfit parents”.
Ioannis is adamant that it is not financial assistance they seek, but rather acknowledgement and support from a governmental level. He says the establishment of a Greek national database listing Greeks who have had their DNA tested, which can be accessed would be invaluable in finding and connecting with their blood relatives sooner.
“A lot of us are ageing. I’m 66 coming, pushing 70 and we don’t know who our birth family is, and it’s sad. I’m very fortunate to have found two of my uncles who are still alive, but they’re of great age,” he says. But not everyone is as lucky as Ioannis.
“I must say loud and clear, Greece has failed us. I would love the government to get on board and to do something with its orphans because so many of us are left not knowing a thing about their family. Greece, yes we know the economic crisis, but still, for goodness sake, we’re the forgotten ones; we were born there of Greek people – I’m as Greek as Greek can be.”
To join Greek Orphans Seeking Answers (GOSA), visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/225165427849789/