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(Dodecanesean Bee)

Low in profile, high in merit: a Women’s Association that is truly one of a kind

When Greece gradually became a State, integrating one after another the various territories that started ridding the Ottoman yoke, the insular complex of the Dodecanese was actually the only part of this area that had to wait much longer, eventually experiencing an interim period of Italian rile - before it came to join the Greek national territory, in the aftermath of the Second World War (1947).

Meanwhile, during the mid-war period, Athens and Piraeus – at the time two of the most important cities of Greece – experienced the development of numerous and thriving communities of Dodecanese expatriates who preferred life in exile over the risk of becoming Italian by force. A major concern amongst those people at the time had been their children; particularly from the moment Greek schools in the Dodecanese were obliged to adopt the Italian education system. What those refugees were actually in quest for at the time  had been the chance to have a new life, far from their homeland that had started to become strange…

Thus, the expatriates of the Dodecanese established various patriotic organizations, all of which harboured the vision of UNIFICATION of their home islands with Motherland Greece. For this purpose, they made a point of hosting conferences and rallies, published newspapers and magazines and indeed engaged in a variety of activities aiming to familiarize the community as well as the Society of Nations with the Plight of the Twelve Islands (Dodecanese).

One of the associations was established in 1928, under the name “The Dodecanesean Youth of Athens”, whereas a second association – rallying women – was established in 1931, upon the initiative of a brave woman with a vision: it was Antigone Zouroudis who spared no effort in laughing appeals – both through the press and by personal correspondence – to Dodecanese women dwelling Athens and Piraeus.

As a matter of fact, those women decided to join forces with the male expatriates from the Dodecanese, while at the same time engaging in parallel activities aiming at disseminating to a wider public the genuinely Hellenic character of customs and manners, dances, songs etc. of the Twelve Islands, eventually helping revive old local lore and rediscovering festivities within the context of the thematic evenings of Dodecanese relevance. Those events attracted lots of people – not only from the Dodecanese but from all over Greece – who wanted to learn, to understand and who were eventually won to the cause of the Dodecanese, thereby preventing the matter from being relegated to oblivion.

This is how the Association “The Dodecanesean Bee” came to existence

Ever since the day of its foundation, 74 years ago, MELISSA’s members (the bee, in Greek) has been relentlessly working towards promoting and materializing the Association’s.

What started as an initiative for the creation of an agency that would contribute to the effort for the Unification of the Dodecanese with Mother Greece, evolved – once that objective came to materialize – to a fully-fledged association that developed impressive activity in assisting the local population in distress, activities that, among others, included the granting of scholarships for University Students.

Antigone Zouroudis – the “Mother of the Dodecanese”, was the name she had earned for her efforts and this is how she was best known – was assisted by several active and very capable women, among which: Despoina Michailides-Nouaros, Maria Zacharis, Isabel Chorafas and Sevasti Mitsou, seconded by just as diligent collaborators like Helen Georgantas, Condia Pizanis, Antonia Stavrianos, Irene Moskovi, Bilia Myriklis, Niki Lambros, Elaine and Miranda Minglis, the sisters Eudoxia and Euridice Varikas and many more.

Apart from the institutional Dodecanesean Thematic Evenings, hosted in central theatre halls as Olympia, Kentrikon or the Municipal Theatre in Piraeus, the Association went on to organize outings, balls and receptions, tea-evenings at such posh places of the time, such as the Acropole Palace Hotel and King George Hotel in Athens as well as the Greek Ladies Lyceum Hall, the Military Club, the Hilton Hotel in Athens, the Aktaeon Ball Room (in Neon Phaleron). The Association also hosted were lotteries for charity purposes, conferences in the Parnassus Lectures Hall and the Archaeological Society Hall. Among the various initiatives taken at the time was also the hosting of Calanda: true to a perennial Christmas Greek custom, groups of girls, donning traditional clothes from the Twelve Islands, visited homes and businesses, chanting Christmas carols and collecting donations for the financing of their cause (just like bees collect pollen to make precious honey).

The next step was to purchase a terrain in the suburb of Kifissia, in Northern Athens: this is where the Kifissia Preventorium was built, allowing for children of Dodecanesean origin from Athens and Piraeus to spend their holidays in fresh air and beautiful surroundings. Summer camps hosted by the Association has also been an initiative that worked out beautifully for several years in a row, thanks to the vigilant eye and disinterested efforts of Beatrice Rombotis, Marika Zacharis, Sofia Manoussakis, Irene Moskovis, Photini Vaklaras and others.

Always sensitive to the signs of the times, the Board of Directors of the MELISSA association eventually decided to shift away from the financial assistance and summer camps in order to assist youth in more substantial ways.

Thus, the Association resolved for the leasing of the property it owned to a private businessman who, in turn, decided to use the premises to house a Private School.

The assets collected through such leasing along with the money gathered within the context of various other initiatives – activities the Association has always been keen on and never ceased to diversify – helped finance the objectives of the institution whereas at the same time, MELISSA helped create an Esprit de Corps amongst the women of the Dodecanese dwelling far from their homeland. MELISSA came to build a reputation for the University Scholarships it instituted.

As a matter of fact, thanks to MELISSA scholarships, several thousands of young people made their way through University and other Superior Education Institutions. Interestingly, 55 students have been able to attend University during the current Academic Year 2004-2005, on grants reaching 170 Euros per month and paid during 9 months per year. Among the persons assisted through MELISSA grants are included illustrious names of Greek intellectuals: the sculptor Costas Valsamis, from the island of Symi (who never ceased to openly reminisce affectionately the assistance MELISSA had provided him with) and many more.

A branch of the MELISSA Association was founded in Rhodes in June 1986. Fully active to this day, the Rhodes branch features some 200 members – including some very important names in the Rhodian social life – all of them committed to the cause of the Association: they imitate the diligence of the bees in working relentlessly for the collection of resources, further forwarded to the Central Treasury in Athens for the financing of missions MELISSA is meant to accomplish.

Income for this Association is generated through subscription fees (20 Euros per year) contributed by the members, as well as through donations from friends and associates and receipts from the various events hosted.

For a candidate postulating for a scholarship, the following documents are required:

1. A standard request for scholarship, featuring personal data of the applicant and addressed to the “Didecanisiaki Melissa”– Rhodes Branch, Address: 2, Gabriel Charitou Street, GR-85101 Ialyssos. Requests are filled once a year, in early October.

2. A tax clearance statement, to be issued by the competent fiscal services, stating the income of the postulant or (if the postulant has no income) of his/her the family.

3. A Family Status Certificate, to be issued by the Municipality where the postulant is registered, featuring family status, the number of members in the family and other relevant data.

4. A Certificate of Student Status to be issued by the University or Vocational Studies Institution in which the postulant has been accepted or is already attending, as well as

5. any other document eventually attesting on the conjuncture, special aptitudes and performance of the postulant which will be taken into account in considering his/her request (e.g. music, sport, brothers and sisters who are also students, medical certificates attesting health status or disability etc.

Scholarships are not granted for excellence only, the fundamental criterion being for the student to be deprived of sufficient  resources to study.

Candidacies for scholarships are considered by the Board of Directors (17 members) once a year, in Autumn (when registration to the various faculties takes place), that reviews the reports and considers the circumstances.

Ladies wishing to become members to the Melissa Association are merely to apply by sending a relevant request (quoting their name and family name, address, telephone number, e-mail and fax number if available). MELISSA will get in touch with the applicants with a copy of the Statutes in view of informing applicants on its activities, as well as bringing them up to date on the ways in which the subscription fees and eventual contributions may be sent in.

You may contact our Association via e-mail at: dodmelissarho@gmail.com

Gentlemen wishing to join forces may do so as assisting partners – as the Statutes stipulate, upon request, as described above.