08 / 1993
Lafkos is a village of 600 inhabitants on the Southern slopes of Mount Pilion, 500 metres above sea level. Though a very beautiful place, the village suffers from economic, social and cultural marginalization. The main problem is the shortage of water that prevents Lafkos from having its own seasonal crops and young people are therefore leaving for the nearby city of Volos or for Athens. Three years ago a big fire destroyed many olive trees that are the main resource of the village. Many families were left without a single tree. Inhabitants are now mainly concerned with restructuring their traditional houses. They are often sold to tourists and foreigners. A few villagers still make a living with their stock farms. There are no public services and people are always forced to go to Argalasti, a village 12 kilometres away for their post, school etc.
"Violeta" is an initiative set up by the Office for Popular Training of Volos and of the present President of the Society, Paola Mayer, a German married woman from Lafkos. Together with her husband - they are both pharmacists - she runs 9-month courses on ecological crops in Lafkos, wich began in April 1989. Seminars were not sponsored by any institution. Some 20 local people took part. 4 women decided to join Paola Meyer and to set up the Violeta Society. Three of them are Greek peasants with only a primary school education. The fourth is a Frenchwoman who has been living in Lafkos for many years. After the course, they experimented for one year in a field borrowed from a friend. They were able to obtain a grant of 940.000 D from the E.C. to open a shop and buy seeds and flowers. Every member of Violeta is now able to cultivate her own field and to sell her herbs to Violeta. In the firts year (1990)profits were around 500-600.000 D. They are increasing by 20-30% each year.
In the beginning people from the village saw the project as a strange idea: it was hard for them to believe that it could be a success. Now they have a more positive attitude towards Violeta. But it is still very difficult to find help for herb harvesting since the Society can only offer very low salaries. Basically everything is done by the five members. Another problem is that during winter the shop closes due to the bad weather conditions. All decisions are taken together and meetings are held regularly every week. Two members grow and pick herbs, whilst the other three run the shop and process the herbs and they are therefore get 30% of the profit from these activities.
In future, Violeta wants to expand its production and sales activities and to build up water tanks and cultivation tools. These are costly activities, difficult to achieve in the present situation.
Violeta does not belong to any network and it is not in touch with other initiatives of this kind. Beside the E.C,. grant, it has also obtained the money needed for the dry room from the Greek body for small and medium sized enterprises. It has not asked banks for loans because of the high interest rates.
Violeta has been a major change in the life of its members and in the village of Lafkos. The five women have created a unique opportunity for establishing personal friendships, becoming more autonomous and for coming into contact with other realities and people, even from abroad. Many people have come to know Lafkos through this activity. Violeta has also been advertising on local radios and in the local and national press.
Translated by Alessio Surian. As IRED consultant, Christina Petropoulou visited Violeta in June 1993.
PETROPOULOU, Christina, IRED NORD, 1993
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