Crisis-hit Greeks Foot Steep Bills for Health and Education

Every month, when his respiratory medicine runs out, Dionysis Assimakopoulos heads to the most unlikely pharmacy in Athens.

Amid derelict stadiums dating from the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the volunteer-staffed social pharmacy of Hellinikon has handed out free medicine to hundreds of poverty-stricken patients, keeping some of them out of death’s reach.

“My wife and I have been unemployed for over two years. We need about 150 euros for medicine every month,” says Assimakopoulos, a former baker.

Established at the height of the crisis in 2011, the pharmacy runs on donated medicine and disposables. Some 40,000 people have brought medicine, many from abroad, says on-duty pharmacist Dimitis Palakas.

Another patient waiting in line is Achilleas Papadopoulos, a retired tenor. His pension of 700 euros is not enough to cover the antibiotics he has come for.

During nearly a decade of cuts imposed as Greece struggled to avert national bankruptcy, public education and health were among the sectors hit the hardest as the country lost a quarter of its national output.

Amid sweeping layoffs, wage cuts and tax hikes, many could not maintain their social insurance contributions and were pushed out of state-provided health support.

“Only 11 percent of Greeks can currently afford private insurance giving full health coverage,” says Grigoris Sarafianos, head of the association of private Greek health clinics.

According to the national statistics service, Greeks paid 34.3 percent of their medical expenses out of their own pocket in 2016.

The crisis exposed “huge state shortages,” says Petros Boteas, a member of the Hellinikon health team, which serves over 500 patients every month.

“There are fewer doctors and hospital staff. Money for medicine has been cut. There is a long waiting list for doctor’s appointments…we had a cancer patient given an appointment in three months,” he told AFP.

To avoid a long wait — especially in an emergency — many are forced to seek private healthcare, regardless of the cost. There are currently over 120 private clinics in the country.

‘Go to a better school’

A similar scenario casts its shadow over education.

When Aspasia Apostolou’s son was 11 years old and finishing Greek public primary school, his class teacher did something unexpected.

“He told us our son is bright and that he should be in a better school,” reminisces Apostolou, a 44-year-old lawyer.

According to the government, public funding for education fell by about 36 percent during the crisis.

Thousands of trained staff including teachers and doctors emigrated — part of an exodus of some 350,000 people — or opted to retire.

A recent study by the London School of Economics found 75 percent of Greek crisis emigrants hold university degrees.

The OECD in a 2017 study — prepared at Greece’s request — said austerity cuts had “a major impact on the demands on the Greek education system, and on those working within it.”

It said that in 2015, there were approximately 25,000 posts vacant for teachers in primary and secondary education schools.

Apostolou now pays 5,800 euros ($6,500) a year in tuition fees at a private school where her son can be assured of a well-structured curriculum.

“At our old school, the children usually come home early. So many school hours are lost because of teacher shortages during the year,” she says.

“There is no evaluation, no reward for effort in a public school. You wallow in mediocrity.”

Between 2011 and 2014, the state cut education wages and expenses by 24 percent, the OECD study said.

While school books are provided by the state free of charge, the cuts continue to impact other essential resources including computers and petrol for heating.

It’s not uncommon for schools to be shut down for lack of heating. The last instance was in February at the Athens school complex where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras himself was a pupil.

In public schools, much now relies on private initiative and personal goodwill, what Greeks call ‘filotimo’, says Athanassia, a veteran public school teacher.

“I’ve worked in schools where the principal or teachers or parents paid out of their own pocket for essentials…or discreetly brought food to needy families,” says Athanassia, who has worked in 20 public schools as teachers are shared out to plug staffing gaps.

“Whatever works is based on filotimo,” she adds. “If funding were better, it would be totally different.”

According to the Greek statistics agency, around 12 percent of the country is near the poverty level.

In response, Tsipras’ government in 2016 began a program giving out free school meals at hundreds of schools in poorer regions.

Similarly, the government allowed access to public hospitals to long-term jobless with Greeks without health insurance.

“It’s a step forward, but inequalities persist,” says Petros at the Elliniko clinic.

“Without health insurance, securing a public hospital appointment might take six months, even for critical examinations,” he adds.

FC Bayern Opens 1st African Soccer School in Ethiopia

German champion football club Bayern Munich has signed an agreement to open its first soccer school in Africa, locating it in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

FC Bayern Munich told VOA’s Horn of Africa Service that it is inspired by the young football players and fans in Ethiopia, which is ranked 150th worldwide, according to the international soccer governing body, FIFA.

“Two-thirds of the Ethiopian population is younger than 25 years. We will support the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) in terms of young development and coaches education programs,” Holger Quest, team leader of media operations at FC Bayern Munich, told VOA. 

Last week, Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder, other state officials and FC Bayern executive board members traveled to Addis Ababa to sign the agreement.

Soeder told Ethiopian media the agreement would bring Bavarian expertise in football to the sports-hungry nation of Ethiopia. 

“That is a good basis for a promising partnership,” he said.

The international FC Bayern Youth Cup tournament took place in Nigeria in 2018 and 2019. The success of the tournament led to the idea to give young athletes around the world a way to showcase their talents, and include those players from disadvantaged areas.

FC Bayern Munich has developed many world-class players in their academy, including Thomas Mueller, Mats Hummels and Toni Kroos Kolgers. 

“We want to share our knowledge to help football grow across all continents and nations,” FC Bayern media head Quest said.

Speaking to VOA Horn by telephone from Addis Ababa, EFF President Esayas Jira said Ethiopia would benefit from the coaching and training to be offered by FC Bayern.

The soccer school would accept 30-40 young athletes ages of 8-10, with their training costs covered by Bayern Munich, Jira said.

“The kids would have a chance to join Bayern Munich youth academy” once they successfully completed school training,” he added. 

In the agreement, Bayern Munich said it would also finance the school training and education. FC Bayern coaches would lead youth coaches to train local players in Addis Ababa starting May 3, Jira told VOA.

FC Bayern’s club mission states their programs help equip children with the tools to play football, and combines FC Bayern strategy of football with the lessons of “our philosophy and mentality, which typifies qualities like ambition, respect, ‘fair play’ and a strong team spirit that are beneficial both on and off the pitch.”

Bayern Munich’s football school provide young athletes three days of weekly training “to give youngsters a sense of what it is like to train like a professional football (player),” Jira said.

The FC Bayern club also hopes the new school increases exposure to the team in Africa.

When Bayern officials and Bavarian Prime Minister Soeder met with Ethiopia’s first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, to discuss the details of the agreement, they presented her with a Bayern Munich shirt with “Sahle-Work 1” on the back.

FC Bayern has also established football schools in China, Thailand, Japan, Singapore and the United States as well. 

Half of Americans Back Stronger Role of Religion in Society

Around half of Americans favor religion playing a greater role in U.S. society, while 18 percent oppose that idea, according to a Pew Research Center study published Monday.

Despite there being a separation of church and state, religion plays a significant part in daily U.S. life: the president traditionally is sworn in using a Bible, while “In God We Trust” is printed on bank notes.

France, Sweden and the Netherlands, meanwhile, posted almost opposite results: 47 percent, 51 percent and 45 percent respectively were opposed to religion playing a key role in society.

Among the 27 countries surveyed in 2018, France (20 percent) and Japan (15 percent) were the countries with the lowest proportion of citizens favoring strengthening religion’s role in society.

Indonesia (85 percent), Kenya (74 percent) and Tunisia (69 percent) came out as the countries most in favor of a bigger place for religion.

The study did not make a distinction between different religions.

In the U.S., the proportion rose to 61 percent among people aged 50 and over, but dropped to 39 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds.

The study was carried out with a representative sample of at least 1,000 people in each country.

Scouts BSA Girl Troops Gaining Popularity in US

It’s a cold, windy day in Washington, D.C., but that’s not stopping a group of about 20 girls from taking a 5-mile hike in Rock Creek Park.

As the girls in their khaki uniforms walk through the woods, they said they are happy to be in the first all-girls Boy Scout troop in the nation’s capital. Olivia Hurley, whose brother is a Boy Scout, said she always wanted to be one. 

“I think I’m going to get life skills and community service opportunities,” said the teenager. “I like being with all girls because it gives us an opportunity to learn and empower each other.”

The Washington troop was formed on Feb. 1, when the 109-year-old Boy Scouts of America allowed girls ages 11 to 17 to join all activities. Now called Scouts BSA, boys and girls are placed in separate troops. Girls were able to join the younger Cub Scouts program last year. 

​According to the Boy Scouts of America, approximately 15,000 girls have joined about 2,000 new Scouts BSA troops in the United States. There are about 40 troops in the Washington metropolitan area.​

Outdoor focus

The girls in the Washington troop said they like the challenge of learning and doing the same things as the boys, including leadership and outdoor activities. Today, they are learning to build a campfire, which Sophie Schell discovered is easier said than done as the wind kept extinguishing the flames. 

“I thought it would be a cool opportunity to practice my leadership skills, so I get better at leading and being more in the outdoors,” she said. “I also know some pocketknife safety, and I’ve swung an ax, which is pretty awesome.”

Dressed in a traditional Boy Scouts uniform, Scoutmaster Craig Burkhardt is leading the girls. Scouting is a tradition in his family, and he hopes it will continue with his daughter, who asked to join Scouts BSA. 

“Scouting is a very adaptable program for girls,” he said, despite critics who think girls should not be in the Boy Scouts. “The girls in my troop jumped into it with more enthusiasm than I’ve ever seen in any of the boy troops.”

Girl Scouts program

Perhaps not surprisingly, Girl Scouts of the USA is critical of the all-girl Scouts BSA troops, calling Girl Scouts the world’s single best leadership development program for girls. The group has a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America for changing Boy Scouts to Scouts BSA.

Samantha Hermoza said she joined Scouts BSA because Boy Scouts do a lot more outdoor activities than Girl Scouts.

“The Girl Scouts is a good organization,” she said, “but I prefer being outdoors with nature.”

In the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, another girls troop is reciting the Scouts BSA oath at their monthly meeting in a local church basement. Today, they are learning first aid, how to properly fold an American flag, and how to tie different kinds of knots.


Scoutmaster Meghan Thomas said the girls have jumped into the program. 

“They’re excited to be pioneers by being part of an all-girl troop,” she said.

Her daughter Corbett joined Scouts BSA, but also remains in the Girl Scouts. 

“They both have different activities that they do, so I enjoy both of them,” Corbett explained. “And I didn’t want to quit one just to join the other.”

Her sister Sophie preferred Scouts BSA. 

“It gives more opportunity to show that just because we’re girls, we can go hiking or camping, and things like that,” Sophie said.

Assistant Scoutmaster Mark Sprulls hopes each of his three daughters will become a coveted Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank in scouting, like him. 

“I want them to have the same opportunity and learn the same types of skills that I learned. I would like them to be confident in themselves, and be able to handle any situation, and not think that they have to rely on a man to help them,” he said.

Spanish General Election Candidates Clash over Catalonia

The main candidates in Spain’s general election on Monday clashed over how to handle Catalonia’s independence drive, accusing each other of lying in a tense television debate that left questions open on what coalition deals could be struck.

Spain’s parliamentary election on April 28, one of the country’s most divisive since its return to democracy in the late 1970s, is being fought more on emotional and identity issues, such as Catalonia’s botched independence bid than on the economy.

No clear winner

None of the four candidates emerged as a clear winner from the late-night debate during which all except the anti-austerity Pablo Iglesias appeared quite tense, trading barbs and accusing the others of lying, being out of touch with reality and not doing enough to handle corruption cases within their respective parties.

Pablo Casado, of the conservative People’s Party, and Albert Rivera, from the center-right Ciudadanos, repeatedly accused outgoing Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the election front-runner, of working against the country’s interest.

“The unity of Spain is at risk because of the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez … those who want to break Spain apart have Sanchez as their favorite candidate,” said the right-wing Casado.

“Do we want the future of Spain to remain in the hands of those who want to liquidate Spain?,” the center-right Rivera said in the late-night televised debate.

Rivera also kept pointing to a picture of Sanchez meeting with Catalonia separatist leader Quim Torra, which he put on his podium for much of the debate.


The October 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia — declared illegal by Spanish courts, but followed by a short-lived declaration of independence — has sent shockwaves through Spanish politics, which are weighing on Sunday’s vote.

Sanchez, who became prime minister in June of last year and has been more open to dialogue with Catalan separatists than his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy, responded by saying he was in favor of dialogue, but was opposed to independence for the region located in the country’s northeast.

He said several times throughout the debate that his two right-of-center opponents, who both accused him of lying, might need “a truth detector to see if they tell any truth.”

Sanchez’s Socialists are seen as ahead in opinion polls, but without enough seats to rule on their own. The same polls show they will likely need more than the support of the anti-austerity Podemos to rule, and may need the support of nationalist parties, including those from Catalonia.

What coalition deal?

The polls show it will be even harder for the three right-wing parties to win enough seats to rule.

But the number of undecided voters is so high that all possible outcomes are within the margin of error and could still change on Sunday, pollsters say, all the more so because of how hard it is to predict how many seats the upstart far-right Vox party will get.

Opinion polls show a possible coalition deal would be between the Socialists and Ciudadanos, but Rivera has repeatedly ruled it out and did so again on Monday.

Sanchez, however, did not respond when Podemos leader Iglesias repeatedly asked him if he was ruling out a deal with Ciudadanos, indirectly keeping the door open to such an option.

Vox isn’t invited 

Vox was not invited to the debate and was not mentioned by name by any of the candidates, with only Sanchez mentioning its leader Santiago Abascal by name, to try and rally left-wing voters against the possibility of seeing a right-wing government backed by the far right.

Vox is forecast to be the far-right party to get seats in the national parliament in nearly four decades, marking a watershed in the country’s modern democratic history.

Another TV debate among the same four candidates will follow on Tuesday, giving them another chance to differentiate themselves ahead of the election.

N. Korea Confirms Kim Jong Un to Visit Russia for Summit with Putin

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean state media confirmed.

With his Russia visit, North Korea’s Kim is seen working to build up foreign support for his economic development plans, since the breakdown of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February led to stalled talks with Washington on the sanctions relief Pyongyang had sought.

State media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the visit will happen “soon,” but did not elaborate the time or the venue.

Putin and Kim are on track to meet by the end of April, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.

Kim Jong Un’s chief aide, Kim Chang Son, was seen in Vladivostok on Sunday according to South Korean news agency Yonhap, leading to speculation that the Putin-Kim summit will be held in the city around April 24-25.

NK News, a group that follows North Korea, showed photos on its website on Monday of preparations underway at Vladivostok’s Far Eastern Federal University, likely to host part of the summit, with workers installing North Korean and Russian flags.

After the diplomatic failure at the Hanoi summit, Kim is likely looking to prove that he is still being sought after by world leaders, and that he has more options, said Artyom Lukin, a professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.

“Kim does not want to look too dependent on Washington, Beijing and Seoul,” he said. “As for Russia, the Putin-Kim summit will reaffirm Moscow’s place as a major player on the Korean Peninsula. This meeting is important for Russian international prestige.”

З початку року на кір захворіли майже 42 тисячі українців

В Україні з початку року на кір захворіли 41640 людей, зокрема 22369 дітей. Про це повідомляє Центр громадського здоров’я.

З 12 по 18 квітня на кір захворіла 2141 людина, з них дітей – 1035.

За звітний тиждень найбільше нових випадків кору зареєстровано в Харківській (290 хворих, з них 74 дитини), Тернопільській (219/162), Київській (187/71), Львівській (161/120) областях та в Києві (170/82).

Кір – надзвичайно заразне інфекційне захворювання, що передається від хворої людини до здорової повітряно-крапельним шляхом, тобто під час чхання, кашлю або розмови хворого. Вірус кору може жити в повітрі й на поверхнях до двох годин після того, як хвора людина залишила приміщення.

Специфічного лікування від кору немає. Єдиний спосіб запобігти ускладненням і смерті від кору – вакцинація.

Women’s Football in Nigeria Struggles for Funds

Nigeria’s women’s football [soccer] team, the Super Falcons, has dominated the African Women’s Championship, winning nine titles since 1991. But the players have complained of low salaries, delayed paychecks, and being treated as second-class players to the men’s team.

Thirty-one-year-old Toochukwu Oluehi is the Number One goalkeeper on the Nigerian women’s national team – the Super Falcons. 

The team has won almost every African Women’s Championship since 1991, taking nine out of 11 recognized titles. 

But despite their record, Oluehi and her teammates say they are too often overlooked and underpaid. 

“We’re the people bringing glory to the land. So, they should look into the females and try and concentrate more on the females and leave the boys. The boys are earning more than the girls,” Oluehi said.

The women’s team is more dependent on government funding than the men’s team, the Super Eagles, which has won three African titles. The men receive more corporate sponsorships and higher attendance at matches.

Even so, the women are not happy with the pay inequity. 

Players on the men’s team receive bonuses of up to $5,000 each for winning a big match, while members of the women’s team rarely see bonuses of more than $1,500. The men also receive higher daily stipends.

The Sports Ministry’s Usman Haruna says while public demand and corporate sponsorship affect salaries, the women are better paid than they used to be. 

“I know what it used to be for the Falcons in terms of remuneration after a game. But this present administration, to be sincere with you, has lifted them from nowhere to where they are, which is by far more comfortable and better in the African context,” Haruna said.

Despite the challenges at home, Nigeria’s Super Falcons are preparing for this summer’s Women’s World Cup in France, says head coach Thomas Dennerby.

“Everything is good, all players are fit, no injuries at all, and that is a good start,” Dennerby said.

Nigeria’s women’s team has been to every World Cup since 1991, but only once made it to the quarterfinals. 

Синоптики попереджають про заморозки в Україні

23 квітня у більшості областей України будуть заморозки на поверхні ґрунту 0-3° (I рівень небезпечності, жовтий), повідомляє Державна служба України з надзвичайних ситуацій із посиланням на Укргідрометцентр.

За повідомленням, вночі 22 квітня на Лівобережжі – сильні заморозки в повітрі 0-3° (ІІ рівень небезпечності, помаранчевий).

Водночас, застерігають у ДСНС, у зв’язку з відлигою 22 квітня на високогір’ї Івано-Франківської і східної частини Закарпатської областей зберігається значна сніголавинна небезпека (3 рiвень).

За прогнозом Українського гідрометцентру, попри заморозки, загалом по Україні вдень 22 квітня зберігатиметься суха погода, повітря прогріється до 13-18 градусів.