Athens, 7 May 2021
The «ELPIDA – Association of Friends of Children with Cancer» and the “Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation” organized a touching event in honor of the “Power of Motherhood in the COVID-19 Era“, on Thursday, May 6, 2021, on the occasion of the celebration of Mother’s Day.
At the initiative of Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, mothers from Greece and abroad joined their voices online and spoke from the heart about the amazing power of motherhood that keeps our societies standing during the difficult period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the beginning of the event Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, President of the “ELPIDA” Association and its homonymous Foundation and Nelson Mandela United Nations 2020 Award Laureate, spoke with emotion about the unique power of motherhood, which is “the safest refuge in the darkest hours”: “This year’s Mother’s Day is different as the pandemic has dramatically changed our lives and societies. However, during this great crisis we felt that the power of motherhood could even transcend the laws of nature. Because thanks to this magical power, mothers from all over the world have managed to keep our societies intact and protect their children even in the difficult conditions imposed by the pandemic. It’s not easy. Every mother who is either in Australia, in the USA or on the most isolated island of Greece struggles to keep her children safe. But looking back at human history, we realize that mothers have always had the same role during wars, natural disasters, pandemics. In the darkest hours, the motherly embrace is the most comforting and safe refuge, not just for the child, but for the continuation of humanity.”
H.E. the President of the Hellenic Republic Ms Katerina Sakellaropoulou spoke about the heavy burden that mothers lift during the pandemic period, in the greeting she addressed at the beginning of the event: “The conditions of the pandemic made the role of mother even more complex and its load heavier. I am thinking of working mothers, who struggle to combine work and family responsibilities with young children at home; mothers of single-parent families, who are trying to get past demanding daily difficulties, with sole responsibility for health, education and upbringing decisions; vulnerable or elderly mothers and grandmothers who are experiencing, for almost a year now, the painful severance from their children and relatives; mothers of children with serious health problems. I think of the women who became mothers during the pandemic, the anxieties, the fears, the difficulties they faced, which, although they can not mitigate the joy of the arrival of a new member in the family, nevertheless overshadow and weigh it. But most of all, I’m thinking about the internal struggle of mothers who provide health care in this difficult time.”
The First Lady of the Republic of Cyprus, Mrs. Andri Anastasiadis, spoke about the importance of practical support for motherhood, especially in times of crisis, such as the one created by the pandemic: “At a time of rapid change, the highest, the most beautiful and the most important role is the role of mother and at the same time the most difficult and the most demanding for the family and the social cohesion and eurythmy. It is in this context that the practical support of motherhood becomes imperative. As the Republic of Cyprus recognizes the possibilities but also the difficulties that every mother faces in the modern era, we set as a priority the harmonization of her family and professional life. As I mentioned at the beginning, the pandemic and the conditions it created were a very difficult period for every human being, man or woman. At the same time, we were given the opportunity to review our habits and tactics, to realize that the essence is in the little ones, to feel grateful for what we have and to invest in love, solidarity and mutual support. Motherhood, as a blood bond with the child, teenager or adult, endowed with the power of love and beauty, is the cornerstone of family but also of the social structure in general, symbolizes the hope for a better future, a pioneer for once again in maintaining balance in this difficult period”.
Representing the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, the Director of the UNESCO Department of Gender Equality, Ms. Jamila Seftaoui spoke in detail about the challenges faced by mothers around the world due to the global pandemic and stated that the world community should make decisions in support of women and motherhood: “It is clear that states need to reconsider and implement the Beijing Commitments, the Sustainable Development Goals, the 2063 Agenda, but also the key commitment to respect for human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women. Pandemic financial support packages should be targeted to support women, we need to revisit women’s rights in the labor market. Mothers should have access to financial and digital tools for starting a business. We must guarantee the safe opening of schools. Already, the UNESCO Global Education Coalition Program aims to support 175 governments, agencies and organizations in this direction to return thousands of girls to school. Men must be involved in this effort. Men’s responsibility for a world of gender equality and equal opportunities is important for them and for our entire societies. Dealing with the ‘next day of the pandemic’ will not be successful without women!”
Speaking about the ways, policies and solutions that can support motherhood, Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center, said: “This is where we all stand together. Mothers must be treated with dignity. This means that there must be security for their basic needs such as food, clothing, medicine supplies and housing. Time for work, sleep, entertainment, personal care and the ability to take care of their families without having to go beyond themselves. Leading poet Maya Aggelou said, “To be able to describe my mother would be like trying to write about a hurricane that is developing with all its might or the colors of the rainbow.” Today let us all commit ourselves to take action to lighten the burden of the pandemic that has fallen on mothers. And let us agree that we will not be satisfied only with a world that will be fair, but that our dreams will go far beyond repairing what has been torn down. We strive for a world of compassion, peace and respect for one another, where every mother will be honored as a child of God, where all our talents and abilities can shine. This world cannot be built simply by repairing what has been torn down. This world can only be made with love. The love that we learned from our mothers, and we also taught our children as mothers “.
The Director of Clearance Groupe, Groupe ETAM Claire Giscard d’Estaing warmly thanked Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, whom she called “her Greek mother” and spoke from the bottom of her heart about the difficulties she faced as a mother who tried to support her three children during the pandemic, but also as a wife who had to stand by her husband who was mourning the loss of his father and former President of the French Republic Valery Giscard d’Estaing: “Apart from what I personally experienced during the pandemic, what really impressed me was the strength and courage of the women around me: the Power of Motherhood. Many women have experienced much more difficult situations than I have. But they were incredibly strong and were able to support their children in the hope of a better tomorrow. Today my thoughts are with all these women. Those who have as motivation and compass the love for others and much more to those who stand by their children who are suffering from cancer. This year has shown us that together and united we are stronger. “ELPIDA” is a living proof and a refuge of real hope in the modern world”.
The beginning of the event was moderated by journalist Mrs. Mara Zaharea.
FIRST PANEL: MOTHERHOOD AS A UNITING FORCE IN THE MODERN WORLD
In the first panel of the event, mothers from all over the world spoke about the unifying power of motherhood.
The Vice President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demographic Policy, Dubravka Suica, spoke about what has been done at EU level on gender equality and maternity support, and in detail about the disproportionate weight that women have lifted during the period of the pandemic: “Before the pandemic, important steps had been taken for gender equality: female employment rates were close to those of men and fathers were more involved in household chores and childcare. The pandemic widened pre-existing inequalities in the EU and highlighted the crucial role of women at the forefront of dealing with the pandemic: either as nursing staff or as care workers, often with very low incomes. At the same time, many women had to take care of two generations concurrently, children and the elderly, which of course is a great example of solidarity between generations.”
UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini spoke about the challenges in the field of education during the pandemic, as well as about the mothers who were called to undertake the education of their children at home due to the closure of schools: “Motherhood is the most difficult full-time job in the world and has become even more difficult. Every crisis has racial implications. And the pandemic crisis is no exception. At the height of the pandemic, 1.6 billion students were affected by school closures. Respectively, their parents and guardians were affected and the situation remains the same to this day, as many countries apply different ways of learning. Mothers are indeed the first teachers for their children, but unless they are professional teachers, they cannot have this role at home trying to manage distance learning. This fact is a great source of stress and pressure for mothers all over the world “.
The Professor of Civil Law of the Law School of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens Mrs. Dimitra Papadopoulou-Klamari spoke in detail about the legal regulation of mother in Europe, saying that “there is not a single family law in the EU, each country basically maintains its own law” , and citing a series of examples talked about the legal basis of motherhood in cases such as assisted reproduction, surrogacy, adoption. “We celebrate Mother’s Day, but of a mother, the foundation of which can have a different regulation from country to country”.
The Founder of the “Artflyer” Foundation, Mrs. Alexia Antsakli-Vardinoyannis, spoke about motherhood as a source of inspiration for initiatives aimed at creating a better world: «The miracles of what the «ELPIDA» Association has achieved, as well as the example of my mother who is a photographer, have always inspired me and taught me that motherhood is not only the responsibility of raising our children, but it is also to follow your dreams of creating a better world so that you are an example for your children. This precious lesson of this double responsibility guided me in my quest to become a better mother every day and gave me the strength to follow my dreams in such a way as to teach my children that the good is within each of us. I chose to work through art which is, and always has been, an integral part of our lives “.
The moderator of this section of the event was journalist Mrs. Adriana Paraskevopoulou.
PRESENTATION OF THE RESEARCH “GREEK WOMAN IN THE PANDEMIC PERIOD”
After the first panel, a presentation followed, of the research carried out on behalf of the “ELPIDA-Association of Friends of Children with Cancer” for the “Greek Woman in the Pandemic Period” by MRB. The presentation of the research was made by the CEO of MRB Mr. Dimitris Mavros.
The research was conducted on a sample of 554 women, of different ages from 17 to 64 years old, with nationwide geographical coverage, in the period 16-17 March 2021.
The main findings of the research were summarized as follows: Greek women have high self-esteem for the way they faced the challenges of the pandemic, have stressed the improvement of their relationships with their children, had difficulty balancing between their obligations and personal needs, expressed high concern for the next day of the pandemic, stated that they are supported by their partners, but not always sufficiently, and emerged as heroines of the pandemic, among all categories of women, nurses, doctors and mothers with children with chronic diseases.
SECOND PANEL: THE POWER OF HOPE: PERSONAL TESTIMONIES
In the second panel of the event, mother-heroines, each with her own shocking story, spoke from the bottom of their hearts about the power of motherhood that helped them stand up even in their greatest difficulties.
Mrs. Eleni Alexiou Head Midwife of the 3rd Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic of the University General Hospital “Attikon” spoke about the first childbirth performed in our country by a woman who has been found positive for COVID-19: “In the unknown, pessimism, fear and deaths around the world, the crying of a baby born to a virus-positive mother is enough to remind us that hope is always alive! However, the environment for this mother was gloomy. She saw people around her in uniform like astronauts, unable to distinguish faces. Anxious about the course of her childbirth, her baby, and her health. She felt isolated. Without her own people at this important time in her life. And unfortunately without being able to touch her baby, caress it, kiss it… “
Mrs. Anastasia Stamatea – Vardoulaki Chairman of the Board of the Association of Parents and Guardians of Children with Neoplastic Diseases “I PISTI” spoke about her personal struggle on the side of her son when he was diagnosed with cancer: «In today’s great event I participate as a mother who was called at some point to prove that maternal power knows no bounds. That it can overcome any kind of adversity and through my own experience to convey the message of solidarity and hope to all mothers who fight for their children in any way. When in 2013 my little son fell ill with acute leukemia, the initial despair was followed by an unprecedented determination, born of the thought that I owe it to myself to give the biggest fight of my life. I had no choice. I made the Oncology Unit my home, the other parents my family and the medical and nursing staff my close friends. The position I was in did not allow me to lose hope, nor to be over-optimistic. There is no greater torment than this feeling of constant uncertainty. Hours, days, weeks, months a door split me in two. Inside the child’s room I was smiling and unwavering, and outside it was dark and shattered. It was a battle that was not going to end quickly, a lot that would put my mother nature to the test, wild and deep.”
Mrs. Georgia Oikonomou, a mother who has been hosted at the “ELPIDA Guesthouse”, spoke with tears in her eyes about the period when she and her son Nontas, who is now healthy and studying Medicine, were hosted at the “ELPIDA Guesthouse”: “I am always moved when I talk about this big chapter of my life. Because it is not only Nontas, all the children are ours. We are all mothers there united like a fist, we are mothers of all children and above all our mother is Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, whom we all thank, from the bottom of our hearts. I have as a tender memory a poem that talks about the fear of the collapse of the mother, the soul of the mother and at the same time the energy that the mother herself receives her child. This is really true and it expresses I think all the mothers there in the “ELPIDA Guesthouse”, when we all together become one, we become the MOTHER with big bright letters that fascinates every child, the mother, the angel the wild human angel who tries to run, to save and does not know how. And she tries for life to triumph because the purpose of every mother in there is for life to triumph”.
Mrs. Christina Fytili, painter, a cured child of “ELPIDA” spoke about how she experienced maternal care as a child, as a child who fell ill with cancer and how she now experiences motherhood: “I would like to say a big thank you to my own mother and then to the mother of all children who have been diagnosed with a neoplastic disease like me, Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis. My message is different, because I am not a mom whose child was hosted either in the «ELPIDA Guesthouse» or in the Children’s Oncology Unit. I have been there myself as a child twice, as I have been diagnosed with cancer, and now I am getting to know motherhood as a personal experience. I consider motherhood to be the most precious gift God has given to women and the most important good He has done to children. I always carry with me the look, the love, the caress, the strength, the hope and so much more, which are identified with every moment of my mother in every moment of my life and especially the most important ones of that time when I was sick. Today being the mother of an eighteen month old girl, and while I am expecting my second child in a few months, I wish to stand as a mother to my children like my mother to me. As a painter, I consider every work my child. But when I felt my daughter, still from the womb, I realized what the word “child” really means. A little human, who is created exclusively by you, without the influence of others. That you can not bear to suffer the slightest, to cry, anything. And you can not bear to leave it at all. It depends exclusively on you and completes you as a person in order to offer the best you can”.
Mrs. Kostoula Christodoulopoulou, Bone Marrow Donor at the “ORAMA ELPIDAS” Volunteer Donor Bank and mother of three, spoke about her experience of giving an implant to save the life of a five-year-old boy, who now considers herself her fourth child: “At first, when I learned that I was compatible, I was very scared. It was joy and light together. It was a lot of mixed emotions that prevailed, more than my ignorance, that I did not know exactly what was going on. So very quickly I learned, I asked and I made the decision. I want to thank the « ORAMA ELPIDAS », the team and the people who helped and supported me. I want to thank my family who were by my side. And so the journey began. I found myself compatible with a five-and-a-half-year-old boy at the time, the only compatible donor at the World Bank. Of course, not a moment passed in my mind to back off. I was the third person then in Greece, there were not many experienced people to ask, I was a mother of three children. At that time my children were quite young and the phobias were too many, but I gave the transplant with a lot of love and optimism. And now George is my fourth child in a way”.
Mrs. Maria Tsialera, a teacher at the Primary School on the island of Arkioi, the smallest school in the European Union, with only one student, spoke about the difficulties she faces: “I have been on the island of Arkoi for four years. I serve in the smallest school in the European Union, I have only one student for whom I have been not only his teacher, his educator but I am also his friend in games, on the break, on trips, his classmate but I am also his second mother. Because from the moment I met this child I opened my arms, with love with tenderness and motivation, to give him the best I could and to show the world to him! Because the loneliness that this child experiences is terrible. He doesn’t not have friends around him, classmates, children’s voices or even a second child for company”.
Greek-Australian actress and writer Mary Coustas spoke about her great struggle until she managed to become a mother: “Motherhood is a very special issue for me because I tried so hard to become a mother. I made 23 attempts at IVF and eventually became a mother at 49. Looking back on all the moments I was overwhelmed and all the attempts that failed, it was the word “hope” that made me keep trying. And I feel that it is very symbolic that today this special event is organized by the « ELPIDA Association ». Because everything that is great in life requires a lot of hope and support. And the fact that we can talk today about the challenges of motherhood and share our experiences is very important!”
The second panel was moderated by journalist Rania Tragomallou.
CLOSING: HONORING MOTHER
The event ended in a very moving way as Mrs. Elsi Dimoula read a poem by her late mother, the leading Greek poet Kiki Dimoula, entitled “Mother of the Lower Floor“. Before reading the poem, Mrs. Elsi Dimoula emotionally stated: “How can I manage the emotion and how can I thank Mrs. Vardinoyannis for this honor of the double invitation for me and my mother, because some absentees are present…”