In the morning of 30/06/2016, the ceremony for “North-South” award of the Council of Europe for 2015 took place at the Portuguese Parliament in Lisbon. The 2015 prize was awarded to the Founder and President of METAdrasi Lora Pappa as well as former President of the Republic of Mozambique and founding member of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) Joaquim Alberto Chissano.
The prize is awarded every year to two personalities who have demonstrated outstanding work in promoting solidarity, democracy and human rights. Previous laureates include Simone Veil, Mário Soares, Queen Rania of Jordan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Stéphane Hessel and Asma Jilani Jahangir. It is the first time that Greek candidacy is honored with this important distinction, after 20 years of Greece’s participation in the Council of Europe North-South Centre.
The prize was awarded by the President of the Republic of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, in the presence of the President of the Portuguese Parliament Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues and many other distinguished dignitaries.
“This award is dedicated to the thousands anonymous Greeks, Europeans and world citizens, who put themselves in the place of the Other. This Other who had to leave their home to save their life and the lives of their family from conflict, persecution, hunger or poverty.” Lora Pappa stated among other things in her speech.
The presence of 36 members of the METAdrasi team, wearing the METAdrasi field vest added a unique dynamic to the ceremony.
Ms Pappa addressed all members of the METAdrasi field team, active in 23 geographic areas in Greece, and who were watching the live broadcast: “… my gratitude is particularly addressed to all those who are involved with and support METAdrasi. […] I thank them from the bottom of my heart, for making possible what seemed impossible for 20 years in Greece…”
She then referred to the burning issue of unaccompanied children in Greece, noting that hundreds are still without proper accommodation, and described the Organization’s efforts to help address this problem through a series of innovative actions.
Referring to METAdrasi’s 300 interpreters “many of who were refugees themselves, and speak 33 languages and dialects”, Ms. Pappa emphasized that “they have helped hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants exercise their right to communicate, to express their needs, their physical or mental suffering, to share their distress, their dreams, their misfortune, their deepest secrets”.
She also recounted some difficult moments of the group: “Sometimes, those interpreters had to participate in the procedure of cadaver identification by relatives. And I ask you: how can one remain strictly professional and neutral in such situations? How is it possible not to cry, not to embrace, not to mourn together with a father or a mother who sees a body; the body of their child, lifeless, and has to bury it in a foreign country?
The energy of despair and the power of hope that move people often make me think about how the impressive/powerful photos of Sebastião Salgado resemble the situations we encounter daily and in which, with dedication, fervor and consistency we continue to help, not out of pity but with respect and dignity.”
Among other things, in her speech Ms. Pappa suggested: “…we need to be creative, courageous and effective, and despite limited resources find practical solutions, with patience and humility, to the problems that sometimes seem insurmountable. These efforts show that it is always possible, even for an organization that works on national level, to transform, even slightly, this vast world..”
Ms. Pappa concluded with the words of a famous refugee, Einstein, saying that “only a life that we live for others is a life worthliving”.
On the same day, during lunch at the Presidential Palace, the President of the Republic of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa bestowed Laura Pappa and Joaquim Chissano with the Medal of Freedom. It is the first time that laureates of the North-South Centre receive this outstanding distinction. Mr. de Sousa, a beloved President in his country, shared his love and concern for Greece and promised to visit us at the earliest opportunity.