Mrs Marianna V. Vardinoyannis’ speech
“Humanism and Volunteering: When Defending Health and Solidarity Become a Way of Life”
Your Excellency Mr President of the Hellenic Republic,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am deeply moved by this great honour! I thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Thirty years ago, when I was embarking on this long journey to save children suffering from cancer, along with the founding members of the ELPIDA Association, it would have been difficult for me to believe that a time would come when I would accept such a major distinction, an honorary doctorate from the University of Athens, and especially in Medicine!
I stand before you today, in this edifice of knowledge and culture, with great humbleness and modesty, contemplating the major achievements around the world and in our country for the good of humanity by the life work and sacrifices of scientists, doctors and researchers who hold a doctorate.
And as a Greek, I am truly proud of the 182 years of significant and important work carried by the Athens Medical School, one of the leading schools worldwide.
The responsibility of this degree becomes even greater, as I feel that the University of Athens does not recognise a specific scientific feat in my person and actions, but a way of life and, above all, a humanitarian feat.
Humanism is behind the greatest achievements of man, but also behind the small everyday acts of social solidarity and love.
It is also behind the dreams that become a reality with great struggle. It is behind the equal opportunities for all, social justice and the human right to healthcare.
It is at the heart of our faith in valuing and respecting all humans.
It is the foundation of Ethical Universality, meaning the moral values that are common for all people, irrespective of language, colour, religion, gender or ethnicity.
It is in the power of motherhood, which makes the heart of a mother beat equally for all the children in the world, but also it is in splitting the bread at the family table, which is the first lesson in solidarity and humanism.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have the privilege of being the generation that has lived in two different millennia!
We left behind a tough yet remarkable 20th century and we are building the 21st century with new horizons and expectations for life and with hope against its multidimensional challenges.
And this can be achieved thanks to those people who can dream of and envision the future. To those who adopt critical thinking against all issues and star in their own lives, shaping their own destiny.
Thanks to those who recognise the one and only humanity we belong in. Thanks to those who help others whose voice is not strong enough to be heard, who lend a helping hand to those who are less fortunate.
To all those who create and promote our civilisation. And among them, the children, the new generation that powers evolution with its energy, strength and positive stance.
The new generation stars in the history of the 21st century and we all ought to bequest to them trails of hope and humanism, as the only answer before a world that is changing at a dizzying speed and where only universal values can preserve the loss of our human identity.
As Seferis has so eloquently said, “In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others.” We must serve the people whoever they are and wherever they are.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Through ELPIDA, we had the opportunity to combine theory with practice.
To make the vision a reality. And to transform our concerns for children with cancer and their families into very significant projects for our country, as already mentioned by the distinguished guests tonight, whom I want to warmly thank.
Getting back to 1990, what was deeply etched in my heart was the tears of the parents and the despair in their eyes. Those eyes guided my steps from that point onwards, for one goal: to give the children a chance to hope.
This was the goal I shared with other friends who are just as sensitive about our fellow human beings, so we created our own ELPIDA
Those children became my children and I remember like it was yesterday the anguish during the very first transplants by the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, which was established as our first step.
More than 1000 children have received transplants in that Unit, which started off with 4 beds and now has 18, and thousands have been saved in our Oncology Hospital. Our Hospital which is becoming a Centre of Excellence so that 4 out 4 children can be completely cured.
I dare to say that I gaze into the future with optimism. Because it is the children themselves who teach us that everything is possible when the cancer has been beaten.
They are the ones who make me dream of a world without borders in healthcare, where knowledge shall be shared and the right to healthcare shall be common for all. Where children will not need to travel away from their home and friends to be hospitalised.
ELPIDA is turning over a new leaf through major partnerships on a national and international level. And we bear in mind that the world of technology, scientific knowledge and digitisation on the one hand, as well as the power of volunteering on the other can become the main pillars of the future.
There’s a surplus of compassion and goodwill in our country, which is awaiting to be expressed and used for a fruitful and constant purpose.
And we realise this daily through the selfless contribution of the bone marrow donors, whose numbers keep increasing at the Vision of Hope Association and who are slowly becoming the biggest volunteer movement in Greece.
The work of ELPIDA never ends. It will always embrace those who want to contribute, as is the case with the new generation of our Association through ELPIDA YOUTH and ELPIDA JUNIOR, with young children supporting our work with anything that a child’s heart can offer.
ELPIDA has always served as connective tissue, bringing together all the Greeks in a common effort.
The touching response by the Greek state and society every time we asked showcased the immense strength of our country, the spirit of honour and altruism that describes our people.
The love of the people comes to us in all forms, but what strikes me the most is the support from people who are struggling themselves, but who do not hesitate to donate even just 1 euro from their meagre budget to help someone who needs it more.
From the warm bread donated every morning by the local baker to the families staying in our guest house, to the savings of students donated to children less fortunate than them.
Acts of humanism; acts of love.
This honorary degree bestowed upon me today gives new meaning and different value to this life mission for humanity that I have chosen as my path in life.
I thank you with all my heart!
I thank you for this honour, as well as for the fact that you are a valuable ally in our work.
I would like to say a huge thank you to the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr Prokopis Pavlopoulos, and his wife Mrs Sissy Pavlopoulou for being here today, while I am also honoured by their invaluable contribution in every effort we make for the children.
I warmly thank the President of the Athens Medical School, Professor Petros Sfikakis, and all the members of the Medical School and the entire University for this great honour.
However, I wouldn’t be here tonight without the unfailing support of my husband Vardis and my lovely family, who always stand by me and encourage me every step of the way.
I dedicate these unique moments I am sharing with you today to the entire ELPIDA family:
-The young patients, the champions of life, who are an inspiration and a source of strength with their courage and patience.
-The parents, the unsung heroes, whose sacrifices are an example of why we should never back down.
-Our doctors and nurses, who struggle daily to save lives.
-Our donors, who give away a piece of themselves to save their fellow human beings.
-Our volunteers, our members and our supporters, who form a huge chain of love around the children and strengthen our efforts.
-The Greek society at large, which came together for the children, making ELPIDA huge and proving that, despite any difficulties, the values of solidarity, volunteering and love towards our fellow humans can make a difference.
This is what hope is. It starts with a warm embrace and gives us wings to fly!