July 21, 2015 / 3:46 PM / 4 years ago

Greek bank curbs hit children's charities just as needs soar

ATHENS (Reuters) - Donations to Greek children’s charities have dived since the government imposed drastic curbs on bank withdrawals, putting some volunteer-run services at risk just when they are needed most.

One charity chief is turning to the millions of Greeks who live abroad for help, as business and individual donors at home cannot get hold of cash beyond the 60 euros (£42.15) they are allowed to take out of their accounts each day, or 420 euros every week.

“The Smile of the Child” - a charity which receives almost no state funding - said much of its income had been almost wiped out since the government introduced capital controls just over three weeks ago to avert a run on the banks.

“As soon as capital controls were implemented, we saw a complete drop in donations to almost nothing,” the charity’s President Costas Giannopoulos told Reuters.

The public health system is struggling following five years of economic crisis and government austerity policies. However, the charity runs services including mobile health units offering free paediatric, dental and eye care to children as well as a helpline which receives thousands of calls a year where young people can report issues such as physical and sexual abuse.

With living standards tumbling, growing numbers of Greeks rely on these services. Asked what would happen if the capital controls are not eased, Giannopoulos said: “It means we’ll be in danger.”

“That’s why we are trying to mobilise Greeks abroad ... to understand that there is a Greece which is fighting to support people at the bottom of the chain.”

The ethnic Greek diaspora spans the world, with large populations in the United States, Australia, Britain and Germany.

“The Smile of the Child” needs around 1.3 million euros (£913,310) a month to operate fully but has only around 400,000 euros in the bank.

A new deal struck between Greece and its international creditors last week could also push up demand for volunteer-run clinics and food banks across Greece.

The cost of living already rose on Monday with value-added tax raised to 23 percent on public transport and a range of foodstuffs. Cuts to pensions, further tax increases and reductions in public spending will follow under a third bailout programme for Greece.

“The Smile of the Child” already expects to help around 50 percent more children this year than in 2014, with around 120,000 under-18s expected to benefit, up from 83,000 in 2014.

In 2011, only around 20,000 babies and youngsters were being supported, a sign of the social crisis following years of high unemployment and cuts to areas such as health and education.

STILL WAITING

“Make-A-Wish”, a charity which aims to fulfil the hopes of children with serious illnesses, is still waiting for the proceeds of a fundraising event held just before the capital controls were imposed in late June.

Sandra Zafirakopoulou, the charity’s general manager, told Reuters that restrictions on bank transfers - which are now finally being eased - had caused problems.

“There are many donations that were promised to us that evening which we still haven’t received because it’s only now that money transfers have opened again,” she said. “We have big businesses which booked corporate tables at the meal and they haven’t paid yet.”

In recent weeks the charity, which gives sick children gifts such as a holiday abroad or a new tablet computer, has suffered a roughly 60 percent drop in donations from small and medium-sized businesses and an around 40 percent fall from individuals.

A spokesman at international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, which increasingly helps Greeks who cannot get access to basic health care and medicine, also told Reuters that it had seen a “major drop” in donations over the last month due to bank services and PayPal transfers not being fully operational.

But as they and other charities hope for a return to normal conditions, Giannopoulos worries about some of the most vulnerable children who need help.

“Companies used to give us petrol, foodstuffs, clothes ... Now they are telling us to wait and see. If we wait, then will the children we look after be able to wait as well?”

editing by David Stamp

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