“We give hope for the future, one child at a time.”
So reads the masthead of HOPEgenesis, a Greek NGO that “aspires to reverse the trend of declining birth rates in Greece.”
Thank goodness someone has stepped up to take on the fertility collapse in that benighted country, where the population of 10.7 million is expected to decline by one third in the next 30 years. The current fertility rate is almost 1.3, which is 38 percent below the 2.1 replacement level. Greece last had replacement-level fertility in the early 1980s. It has steadily declined ever since.
Young people continue to leave the country for opportunity elsewhere. And there is the familiar Global North scenario of rising life expectancy accompanied by falling fertility. That means an ageing society. Ageing societies inevitably lose vitality and creativity. And then there are the economic repercussions.
This disturbing trend alarms Greek patriots who love their country, its people, its rich heritage and its vibrant culture.
One of these folks is Dr Stefanos Chandakas, an obstetrician/gynaecologist. Back in 2007 Dr Chandakas founded Omada Aigaiou, an NGO to provide no-cost health services to remote Greek islands. During the course of that work, he saw the withering communities and social implosion wrought by the birth deficit in those remote regions and islands plagued by a severe lack of prenatal care services. He understood the problem and resolved to do something about it. So, in 2016 he founded HOPEgenesis.
Now Dr Chandakas is not just any OB/GYN. He is something of a force of nature, holding, along with his MD, a PhD. Once one of the youngest gynaecologists in the British Health Service, he scored an MBA from London’s Imperial College of Medical Business Administration. If that isn’t enough, he was on the Greek sailing team in the 1996 Olympics.
Dr Chandakas well understands what the fertility collapse means for his country. From the HOPEgenesis website (in Greek and some English):
Its aim is to make known, analyse and study the causes behind the issue of low birth rates so as to develop actions and movements that will reverse the negative birth-death ratio.
The organisation is working and focusing on solutions to reverse the birth deficit, both at the level of local communities – so as to provide the necessary security to women who are or wish to become pregnant – and at the level of the wider social fabric, through information, awareness raising and in-depth study of the issue.
ΗΟPEgenesis has implemented a raft of programs to fulfil its mission. In the regions where it is active, expectant mothers and women desiring to become pregnant can apply for assistance that includes covering the costs of pregnancy, childbirth, transport as well as lodging and expenses incurred in being connected with appropriate obstetrical personnel and facilities. Assistance is also available for IVF treatments.
The online portal where women can apply for assistance is proudly headed “Motherhood is a right, not a privilege.” Now that’s the kind of social justice warrior we need! The HOPEgenesis Medical Team thus far consists of more than 80 volunteer physicians, midwives, nurses, and other healthcare professionals in 15 regions of Greece.
HOPEgenesis understands that communities should be child-friendly and is involved in establishing clinics, nurseries, preschools and research. There is a “Neighbourhood Nanny” program to assist working mothers. In many areas of Greece, out-migration and low fertility have collapsed social infrastructure, so access to prenatal care and keeping schools open are critical. A sense of belonging, whether it be to extended family, community, ethnicity, or nation, is fundamental to family well-being.
This is all part of HOPEgenesis’s Fertility Awareness for Greece program, a multi-pronged initiative to bring attention not only to the national fertility crisis, but also to raise awareness of fertility issues at the community and family level.
HOPEgenesis’s list of corporate and philanthropic supporters is impressive. It includes the Bodossaki Foundation that focuses on serving Greece and the Greek diaspora, as well as EuroLife, the Onassis Foundation, the Hellenic Initiative, Vodafone, the Greek America Foundation, Altelier Swarovski and numerous others. Over 180 companies in Greece are on board. So is the Greek Orthodox Church.
Is it working? Is this non-profit NGO spearheaded from the private sector having any success in reversing the birth deficit in Greece? The short answer: it is too soon to tell. There is no quick fix. Long-term endeavours strive for long-term results. Fertility has been declining in Greece for more than 50 years. Perhaps another half century will be needed to improve things. But there is reason for encouragement.
To date, in the remote islands and outlying areas of Greece where HOPEgenesis has been involved, 401 babies have been born over and above expectations and projections. That is a drop in the ocean. But these 401 tots are bucking a trend.
A modest start. But look at what they are taking on! The important thing is that somebody is doing something. A thousand-mile journey begins with the first step.
What is that Greek word I am looking for? Yes – Kudos (κῦδος) to HOPEgenesis!