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Emilia Kamvysi, 86, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, inside her house at the Skala Sikamias village on the island of Lesbos on October 5, 2016. (ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

'Those poor babies'

Greek grandmother, 86, an unassuming candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize

October 6, 2016

Emilia Kamvysi is an 86-year-old Greek grandmother and possibly the most unassuming Nobel Peace Prize candidate in the history of the venerated award. “What am I going to do with it anyway?” the retiree from the island of Lesbos said of her potential share of the $1.2 million prize.

The question is rhetorical — the woman of modest means, who says she lives well enough on her $360-a-month farmer’s pension, has pledged she would donate the money to the decaying Greek healthcare system. “I wish that Greece wins this prize, not just me,” she told USA Today.

Kamvysi — along with her neighbors, ages 89 and 85 — was photographed sitting on a bench last year assisting a Syrian refugee mother by bottle-feeding her child. The photo was widely shared on social media, and she and the other women became symbols of Greek generosity toward the thousands of migrants who have fled the Middle East and Africa in recent years. The three women, along with a Greek fisherman Stratis Valiamos and American actress Susan Sarandon, were subsequently nominated for the Nobel prize by a group of Greek lawmakers, academics and others, for their humanitarian efforts for the refugees.

Emilia Kamvysi outside her home on Lesbos. (REUTERS/Petros Tsakmakis)
Emilia Kamvysi outside her home on Lesbos. (REUTERS/Petros Tsakmakis)

“There are many people that helped the refugees — the fishermen, the volunteers. It wasn’t just us,” Kamvysi said. “Those poor babies, escaping war and drowning in the waters. It’s such a shame. We’re all crying in the village whenever there’s a shipwreck.”

The migrants remind her of her parents, who fled their home on Moshonisi Island during the Greek-Turkish war in 1922. Last year, at the peak of the refugee crisis, as many as 6,500 people arrived daily in the Greek islands. Last month, an average of 100 refugees arrived per day. In September alone, more than 600 migrants lost their lives or went missing in the Mediterranean. “My mom was born in Turkey,” Kamvysi said. “She left persecuted and arrived here when she was only 17 years old. They came with hurt souls. It’s exactly how I see the refugees are today. When they arrived in Greece, the locals didn’t want them and saw them as foreigners.”

“Our mothers arrived on a fishing boat only with a trunk of clothes and a sewing machine,” said Maritsa Mavrapidou, Kamvysi’s cousin, 85, who was also in the viral photo. “Concerning the photo that people talk about: we didn’t do really anything,” Mavrapidou said. “The mother came out of the boat, soaking wet. We held and fed her baby while she was changing. I have 16 grandchildren. Our hearts break to see so many children on the refugee boats.”

The third woman pictured was Mavrapidou’s 89-year-old sister, Efstathia. On Friday, the three women will find out if they will become official laureates.

Read the full story at USA Today.


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