By Dafni Theodorakea
Greece, August 2021, a nightmare. The firefighters receive the first calls for the really life-threatening wildfires spreading out in the wider area of Athens. Some critical hours later the outcome is nonetheless quite shocking : a volunteer firefighter lost his life on the service, hundreds of people lost their homes, many acres of land got burned, thousands of animals god killed or displaced. It’s without any doubt a natural disaster reminding us of the need to reconsider the symbiotic relation between people and the environment. It is lamentable to know that this living nightmare in Athens is caused by humans when, at the same time, the main “victims” are also the humans.
Despite this shocking tragedy, a drop of hope comes along by looking at those people who are willing to sacrifice their personal safety in order to protect the environment. Firefighters, professionals or volunteers, the locals, little children, tourists, firefighters from other countries came to the rescue of the athenian landscape, on the rescue of the environment. During these days, everyone, including me, was stressed, and was trying to do their best and help in every way they could. It was not easy, but it was necessary to act up for the environment and for the people affected by the wildfires. Suddenly, whatever we were only watching on TV considering it’s way too far from us, becomes reality
While climate change is at the epicenter of our conversations, it’s not on our to-do list when it comes to taking concrete measures to slow down the degradation of our planet.
The wildfires in Athens were unfortunately a harsh wake-up call. Personally, I had never thought that one day I would watch with my bare eyes 50 meters of fires and wild animals literally begging for some drops of water from humans. I suddenly watched how firefighters became my personal heroes. They not only demonstrate courage and strength, but also an effortless and pure interest to save the environment. By adopting a selfless and self-denial attitude they managed to calm the fires and restrict the environmental degradation as much as they could. Among these heroes, a certain figure caught my attention. Katerina Ioannidou, a volunteer firefighter, an activist, a woman and above all a human being. She transformed my definition of ”braveness.” By fighting against the fires for over a week, motivating the tired firefighters and the locals, coordinating the local forces and taking care of injured animals she became a modern Wonder Woman. As it is often said, this is not a woman’s job, but she managed to take responsibility, initiatives and risks and most importantly she took action in order to save the environment.
What is quite interesting is that many congratulated and applauded her, but only a few followed her example and that makes me wonder if she was only an ephemeral “green” symbol or something more. While our planet is suffering, it’s urgent to realise that not only its recovery is our responsibility, but also our duty. Resilience is the key, and Katerina Ioannidou realised this. I was forced to realise it, and that was quite scary.
My experience of being a volunteer during this nightmare taking place in Athens taught me to be more like Katerina, less selfish and more invested in planetary health action. Our relation with the environment is now more than ever our priority and we have to come together in symbiosis with our planet. No arrogance, no selfness allowed. We are not the masters of the universe, we are his friends and we need to be more eco-friendly with it. “The Earth is what we all have in common,” said Wendell Berry. Thank you Katerina for reminding us of this in such a crucial moment. Stepping in leadership, especially when it comes to a woman’s effort to invest in planetary health is essential. Who I really am and what I do offer not only to myself, but also to my community and the world around me is the essence of the mindset of a leader. I have realised the power of investing in planetary health and as a woman, inspired by a woman, I can also advocate in the future for the”green values” that need to govern our society.
About the author: Dafni Theodorakea is a Law student, originally from Greece, currently living in Paris. She graduated from the Law School of Montpellier and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Rights from the University of Paris-Nanterre. She is currently doing her practice in Women Leaders for Planetary Health and is passionate about women’s rights, especially in the Global South.