by Natasha Pavlopoulou
ATHENS, May 7 (Xinhua) — In the Ambelokipi district in central Athens, there is a special meeting point named Myrtillo — a cafeteria and arts center which in 2014 received the award for “Social Enterprise of the Year in Greece.”
It is an innovative, cooperative self-sufficient business, which serves a special purpose: the integration of vulnerable groups into the Greek labor market. It is the first Greek business that only employs vulnerable groups and people with disabilities.
“Only 15 percent of people with disabilities participate in the production process today in Greece,” said Kostapanos Miliaresis, co-founder and general director of Ethelon, an organization that promotes corporate volunteerism in Greek society.
We met him by chance in Myrtillo, where he had an appointment with his team, in the atmospheric lounge overlooking the garden.
In Greece, six out of 10 severely disabled people aged 16 to 64 are in poverty or exclusion, according to the National Confederation of Disabled People.
There are at present 17 employees in the cafe, of whom 14 are persons with disabilities, working in various sectors, from cleaning and cooking to organizing and taking part in decision-making. All of them, after proper training, are jointly responsible for the viability of the project.
Myrtillo’s founder Georgia Vamvounaki-Raffan pointed out their location, within the Park for Culture and Children, was constructed after the World War II with funding from Norway and equipped with machine tools to provide training facilities for people with disabilities from the war.
Over the following decades, hundreds of young men and women learned various skills here as mechanics, carpentering, watchmaking, etc.
In the 1990s, the buildings fell into disuse but were given a new lease on life thanks to a citizen’s initiative.
Vamvounaki-Raffan told Xinhua that in the coming months, with the help of the Municipality of Athens, Myrtillo will play a vital role in the regeneration and tree planting in the park.
Her third child Damianos, 26, has Asperger syndrome — a condition some other employees in Myrtillo have.
Michalis Papadimitriou is one of the waiters of the cafe and previously worked for 13 years in a bakery. The barista, George Manousogiannakis, 37, has received two degrees and loves his job as well.
Natasha Fida, Kostas Nakos, Aimilia Kardara, Aris Bezos, and the other members of the team, were happy to be part of the family as well.
The venue often hosts courses, live concerts and book presentations.