Papa Stratis

1958 – 2015

On June 2015, I was in Lesbos island, Greece, covering the refugee arrivals by sea for UNHCR. During this time, I had the luck and honor to meet and spent one day with Papa Stratis.

Papa Stratis, also known by the name Efstratios Dimou, was an Orthodox priest in Kalloni village, and founder of the NGO “Agkalia” (Embrace).

I first met him at his front yard of his house, surrounded by flowers and his bear-like dog, Shiba. We sat on the stairs making our first conversations while drinking orange juice. It was also time for Papa Stratis pills. He was suffering from a chronic respiratory problems and he was on permanent oxygen supply. With that said, five meters’ distance by foot and he had to rest himself for half an hour. However, this did not stop him for having a cigarette every now and then and kindly ask me not to tell it to his wife Stavroula because this made her upset.

Once we done with breakfast, we left for the car. Having these health issues, Papa Stratis was forced to spent most of his time inside his car when he was out. He used to call his car “Tarzan” for its ability to scramble onto the island’s most inaccessible corners, and it was always packed with food, water and spare clothes for people in need.

Papa Stratis, along with other volunteers in Kalloni village, has helped people in need from 2007, through the NGO “Agkalia”. At first, it was locals, fallen on hard times due to the Greek economic crisis, but then, refugees started to come and they came in big numbers. “Every day, between one to two hundred people come to Kalloni” he said “and the locals tell them to come to us for help. We give them water, food, milk for their babies, shoes, clothes. They can stay here as well, we have blankets, mattresses on the floor.”

We left the house for his daily routine activities. When not driving, he speaks to the phone (sometimes he does it both) arranging meetings with people that want to help, and other times trying to find goods for people in need. This is a constant struggle as there is no external founding and they depend completely on the generosity of the local people. We spent half the day driving here and there under the hot Summer sun of June, trying to meet the needs of the day. At some point, later in the afternoon, we called it a day since Papa Stratis was tired from his health issues. We went back home and knowing that I will see him again at some point I thanked him for the day and said goodbye.

On September the 3rd and back home in Athens I received a phone call. The voice on the other side of the phone informs me that Papa Stratis isn’t with us anymore. He passed away the day before after slipping into a coma. Cancer was what defeated him, but before he left he had already won the battle of being a real human.

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