Businessman and philanthropist George Behrakis has had one mission in mind over the past few years – to save the children of Greece from fatal illnesses caused by smoking.
The retired pharmacist and researcher from Lowell, Massachusetts decided to dedicate a great portion of his time travelling to and from Greece over the last six years after having witnessed young girls aged 11 and 12 being handed free cigarettes in the school yard.
“Due to the demonstrations taking place in the centre of Athens I stayed in a small hotel in Kifissia.
“One morning I took a walk around the area and I happened to walk past a school where I witnessed two women dressed in black giving young girls free cigarettes,” Mr Behrakis told US publication Ethniko Kirika.
“I called my cousin Panagioti Behrakis, a pulmonary physician and lecturer at the university and asked him what was going on.
“Does the government allow people to give out cigarettes to young girls and boys? We have to do something.”
With the knowledge that up to 80 per cent of lung cancer is caused by smoking cigarettes, Mr Behrakis was outraged at what he had witnessed; recognising the negative implications this would have on the future of these children and the country’s healthcare system.
Since that very conversation, the philanthropist has reached out to the prestigious Harvard University and the Hellenic Cancer Society, and has spent more than $10,000 of his personal money.
The campaign against smoking aims to encourage the children of Greece to stop smoking, or better yet, deter them from ever trying it.
In addition to the lectures he has introduced to schools, Mr Behrakis has also self-funded and published a series of small booklets entitled ‘The truth about smoking’.
With a simple and easy to read format, the series covers vital information about the risks associated with smoking with topics including ‘Education for a world without smoking’ and ‘I learn so that I don’t smoke’.
In addition to educating the very young, the campaign is also aimed at adolescents who smoke and in particular pregnant women.
The philanthropist has published a self-help guide for women trying to quit smoking during their pregnancy, with the cover bearing the photograph of a young mother kissing her newborn child entitled ‘Because I love you I don’t smoke’.
When asked whether the time, effort and money spent had so far been worth it, Mr Behrakis confidently responded: “Of course it’s worth it. It feels good to be helping these children.”
“We gather all the children, between eight and nine hundred of them, in a big space. We speak to them and then we give them awards for work.
“For example, we ask them to draw how they will look if they start smoking, and we award the students with the best artwork,” he said to Ethniko Kirika.
According to Mr Behrakis the response to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I am very impressed with these children. They are very capable and have a lot of knowledge,” he said.
source: Neos Kosmos