“Do not ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” JFK
On your way to Ithaca,
Wish the road to be long,
Full of adventures, full of knowledge.
(Excerpt from the poem ITHACA (1910) by Constantine Cavafy.)
I think that these excerpts are very apt for what IHA (International Hellenic Association) has promised to do on the small island of Pserimos, a border island in the Aegean Sea and part of the Municipality of Kalymnos, when it undertook to renovate the Primary School that had been closed for the past 14 years.
IHA (International Hellenic Organization), a non-profit volunteer organization from Delaware, United States of America, whose members-volunteers are mainly from the Greek Diaspora as well as Greece, decided to take the initiative and coordinate all that was necessary for the school to be renovated and to once again function for the first two pupils of kindergarten age, Panormitis and Taxiarhis, both aged four. The aim is
for the families that have left Pserimos due to the school being closed to return and bring life back to the island. At the moment, there are only 19 permanent residents on the island most of whom are elderly. A daily boat service will also operate to help the families stay on the island, and cross over to the islands of Kalymnos and Kos for work. With the donation of small and large sums of money by the President, the Vice-President, members and friends as well as the donations of materials by various companies that were needed for the renovation, the school was completed in record time – within two years. The work continued throughout 2022 with the cooperation of the Municipality of Kalymnos, the various government offices, and the Citizen Association of Pserimos under the untiring leadership of their President.
Along with the school, the living quarters and kitchen for the teacher were also renovated and furnished. New toilets were added. A monument to Alexander the Great has been built within the school grounds, donated by two lady members of IHA who come from Macedonia. The work will continue with the building of a playground-park area in the school grounds and a basketball court in the area given to the Scouts. Other plans are also on the drawing board such as a solar panel park to make the island energy efficient, the recycling of rubbish etc. The island will become an example of a true Smart Island for the other 136 small, inhabited border islands to follow. The aim is for the island to become self-sufficient and for the people to return to their homes.
Pserimos, with only 14.6 sqm, is a true paradise lost in the endless blue of the Aegean Sea. The settlement on Pserimos goes back to the Ancient Greek period and is referred to in the Catalogue of Ships (Greek: νεών κατάλογος) in Book 2 of Homer’s Iliad, which lists the contingents of the Achaean army that sailed to Troy. The name ‘Achaeans’ is used by Homer to refer to the Greeks collectively at that time. There were twenty-nine contingents under 46 captains with a total of 1,186 ships. Using the Boeotian figure of 120 men per ship, this results in a total of 142,320 men that sailed from Greece to Troy to bring back Helen, wife of King Menelaous of Sparta, who had been abducted by the Trojan prince Paris. Many refer to it as an elopement and not an abduction. The Trojan War, which lasted 10 years, is dated to either the 12th or 11th century BC. Often the dates given by Eratosthenes (c.276BC – c.195/194BC),, an ancient Greek scholar and founder of scientific chronology are preferred. He dates the sacking of Troy to 1194 – 1183 BC, which roughly corresponds to the archaeological evidence of a catastrophic burning of Troy VII.
In modern times, with the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Dodecanese islands, which Pserimos is a part of, came under Ottoman rule. Later, they came under Italian jurisdiction. It was finally recognized as an independent settlement when the Dodecanese islands were incorporated with Greece in 1948. The island had over 400 inhabitants and more than 100 children attending Primary School. All this, until 2009 when the school closed and most of the residents left and went to either bigger islands or migrated overseas.
Today, the township spreads out in front of the semi-circular harbour-beach area. All you do is pick up your towel and you are at the sandy beach. It is visited daily by tourists from Kalymnos and Kos on tourist boats such as the ‘Black Pearl’, ‘Byron’ etc. Besides the swimming, the taverns that line the beach serve tasty local dishes, coffee, and snacks. Rooms are rented out for those that want to stay and there is a modern hotel complex with a swimming pool and stone-built apartment-rooms. The low-lying hills all around give the township and the harbour natural protection.
The inauguration of the school was set for Sunday, September 3, 2023. This coincided with the celebration of the 199th anniversary of the Battle of the Elder on the island of Kalymnos, a naval battle between the Ottomans and the Greeks during the Greek War of Independence of 1821. A handful of Greek ships defeated the Turkish-Egyptian fleet, keeping the flame of freedom alive.
The sanctification of the school was carried out by HIs Eminence Metropolitan Paisios of Leros, Kalymnos and Astypalea, who also conveyed a message from His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Deputy Minister of Shipping, the Regional Governor of South Aegean, the Mayor of Kalymnos as well as other representatives of the Municipal Authority of Kalymnos and Members of Parliament and the President of the citizens of Pserimo. IHA was represented by the President, the Vice President and several IHA members. The locals and Greeks of the diaspora that were holidaying there were also present.
After the inauguration, the Greek Lyceum of Kalymnos performed traditional Greek dances of the area.