“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to help them,” says the Bible and for Despo Sozou and her husband Sozos, the proverb has become a way of life.
Sitting across the table from a woman whom I had only spoken to a couple of times on the phone, I wondered how the kindness and selflessness of such a worthy mission could possibly fit into the space of an interview.
“I started about seven years with an international non government organisation called Agape and I got involved in the Cyprus women’s ministry advising women and couples through their troubles,” Despo told me.
“Once a year I organise a conference for women and invite a speaker like a psychologist who speaks to women to encourage them and I also lead small groups of women with a book called ‘the significant woman’ which is to encourage women to identify with themselves, their qualities and how to help other women,” she continued.
In 2011, Despo was chosen as part of a small team of charity workers from all over the world to go to India for training and to see the situation there and learn how to help out.
Her husband Sozos, who is an associate for Agape, also went with her, and since then their life has never been the same.
“We came back and my husband and I looked at ourselves and we just had to go back; we didn’t want to go for a holiday, we wanted to make a difference so we started saving and thought we will go and just help in any way we can,” Despo says.
Under the guidance and support of Agape, the pair started to collect funds to return to India the following year.
“Before I knew it people were offering donations so we started collecting all this money and we were able to go and do vaccination programmes, food programmes, visit leprosy colonies, children’s orphanages and villages,” she says.
Since their first trip, Despo and Sozos have visited India in May every year, where they stay with two pastors who take care of them and offer them accommodation.
So far they have vaccinated approximately 3,000 men, women and children, and have offered food, clothing, medication and in some cases money to thousands of people.
“It’s amazing when you can raise even the smallest amount and it all mounts up.
This year we want to give over 1,000 vaccinations to children because many children are not nourished well and many die,” Despo adds.
Having recently become grandparents for the first time, the couple become particularly emotional with small children who are denied access to basic goods such as food and medical care.
“I think it’s so unfair, why not give them a vaccination to help them, why should they die from diarrhoea or starvation?”
Despo fondly shares the story of a child whose parents had heard of their mission and travelled hundreds of miles by train and on foot to meet them and ask for help.
“The baby was about seven months but it wasn’t growing properly and was very small. Just by giving the parents €150 they were able to get treatment at the hospital and the child is now doing really well,” she says.
However, help from the Sozou couple comes in many shapes and forms.
On one of their trips they were able to visit orphanages where they found people to cook curries for the children, bought shoes and toiletries, as well as an air-conditioning unit for the hot summers.
“If we are able to find doctors who believe in what we are doing they volunteer to be with us to give the vaccinations,” Despo continues.
The reality of the cast system in India which makes harsh distinctions between rich and poor has a particularly dramatic effect on the young as thousands of children fall victim to all kinds of abuse.
“Last year we had the opportunity to visit an orphanage called The Railway orphanage. We found out that it’s called ‘The Railway’ because a lot of families have children and they can’t feed them so they put them on this train which stops at the railway and hope that someone will take the child to the orphanage near by,” she explains.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that a mother cannot look after a child so she just lets the child go because he may have a chance to beg and get a bit of money to eat, but usually they fall in the hands of the wrong people,” Despo says.
During their last trip, the couple went into a village with two volunteer doctors and provided men, women and children with basic medical care and supplies including eye drops, ear drops, painkillers, cough syrup and antipyretics.
“The hepatitis vaccination which is in three doses costs €3 per child in India, this is nothing. In Cyprus children have free medical care, if you have money you can even go private, but children here by the age of six will have all their vaccinations,” Despo points out.
Commenting on the opposition she has met from people in Cyprus who say that she should help with the crisis on the island instead, Despo says:
“I haven’t seen five-year-olds begging in the street without parents, I haven’t seen children nearly dying in the street because they don’t have food, I don’t see slum areas. I know that there is a crisis in Cyprus but I think that people are trying their best to help.”
Despo and Sozos are set to leave for India on May 11.
Until that time, they are working hard to collect as many donations as possible to reach as many people and families as they can.
“It’s extremely rewarding and that’s what keeps us going, it keeps us down to earth, we are learning to appreciate things, we’re always blessed.
“Some people tell us that we’re wasting our time because we’ll never save India but we say we’re not trying to save India, but we can make a difference.”
For more information or to make a donation please contact Despo and Sozos Sozou on 99348954 or 22524319.