Afew days ago, I met with Christos Alefantis, Managing editor of Shedia, at their offices in the Metaxourgeio area of Athens. I was excited about the interview, as I was always curious about Shedia – how it became so well known, how it began, who runs it, where is the newspaper created? When I arrived for the interview, I was greeted by (I assumed) one of Shedia’s street vendors. He smiled at me and asked who I was there to see. When I replied, I received a warm smile and was directed to mr. Alefantis’ office, understanding that the warm smile was meant for mr. Alefantis. This made me realize the esteem that this man felt towards mr. Alefantis, and I immediately felt more comfortable and at ease – and eager to begin our conversation.
l learned that Shedia is a member of the International Network of Street Papers and is published by DIOGENIS, an NGO in Athens (in Thessaloniki, Shedia is distributed via subscriptions which are sold through one of Shedia’s social welfare programs that are coordinated by its vendors so that they generate an income). With this month’s issue Shedia is celebrating its 5th year in operation and service to the community.
Shedia’s story began with a group of people in the afore-mentioned network and more specifically, through sport: the most widespread and well-known sport in the world that unites people, football. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to it either as a simple activity, a hobby or as a professional prospect. Thus, in 2003, through the network, an initiative was formed, which included a group of homeless people who had a passion for football.
In particular, there is a Homeless World Cup which is organized by the Homeless World Cup Foundation which hosts the annual tournament. In 2007 the Homeless World Cup was held in Copenhagen, Denmark and the men’s team representing Greece won the Fair Play Award. In 2017 the Games were held in Oslo, Norway where the greek team consisting of young women from an orphanage won the Fair Play Award. Generally speaking, as Mr. Alefantis says, “we don’t care much about victory!”
He goes on to point out that “the purpose is to feel happy out there, playing the game, to respect your opponent, and have patience, perseverance and joy whether you win or lose the game or the jersey.” He showed me the photo hanging on the wall behind his desk, of the participants smiling and celebrating. I assumed they had won. But Mr. Alefandis proudly told me that when the photo was taken, they had just lost the game.
Continuing the story of the magazine, in 2013 the Shedia team, as we know it today, was officially formed. Of course, there were difficulties in the beginning (and even afterwards), which had to be dealt with during times of economic, humanitarian, and social crisis. The goals of the magazine were to deal with these issues precisely: the fight against poverty, social exclusion, etc. Therefore, after the team was formed, the next step was awareness – as the street vendors explain, “it was important for us to raise awareness about who we are and what the goals for the future are.” Meetings with public and private institutions were necessary in order to search for homeless people who could work as street vendors (the very people they wanted to help) and in order to inform organizations about Shedia’s function. The first such meeting was with the City of Athens’ homeless shelter, and in turn, with each of the City’s social service departments.
For the past five years, Mr. Alefantis, as a determined journalist and creator of the magazine, supports and encourages both within the office and beyond – on the streets – the values of constructive journalism: that is, the journal itself as a part of the solution for today’s social problems. Because “the people who come here are already resigned from life itself,” the goals of Shedia can be summarized in the following way: “by working, they experience joy just by the simple greeting ‘good morning’ and even if no one buys the magazine from them, they gain respect, this self-support, the fact that they are not invisible to the rest of the people in society, to society itself. ”
I will never forget the moment in the interview when Mr. Alefantis and I were both so moved by the magazine’s column entitled “People” in regards to our conversation about the personal and conscious struggle that homeless people face. Along with this column, there are two other projects that highlight the character of Shedia: one refers to “City Trips” where street vendors act as tour guides and lead students of all ages and adults through the streets of Athens. The other project is about a social program called “Art” in which street vendors over the age of 50 can participate with selling their handcrafted creations made from the magazine’s reusable unsold paper.
In closing, I would like to thank Mr. Alefantis and the entire Shedia team who welcomed me with such warm smiles, for our inspiring discussion. I come away from the interview with a most important life lesson: that by being mobilized, by doing something you are passionate about – this teaches you a lot about yourself, it makes you more aware of others who may pass you in the street, and this awareness of others creates a new consciousness within yourself.