Greece’s iconic grandmother, or “yiayia,” Efstratia Mavrapidou, who took care of refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos years ago, passed away at the age on 96 on Tuesday.
The grandmother was beloved not only on Lesvos but across Greece, as she and her two friends epitomized the concept of a sweet Greek yiayia.
They were famous for taking care of the refugees who appeared on the island’s shores during the height of the refugee crisis in 2015.
A famous picture, taken by photographer Lefteris Partsalis, shows the grandmothers feeding and caring for the newborn baby of a woman who had just arrived on the island as a migrant, and came to represent the humanitarian crisis across the world and exemplify the world-famous concept of Greek hospitality.
The humble Greek grandmothers were even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.
According to the powerful women, they saw the young mother struggling to feed her newborn child, who was hungry but refused to eat. They gestured to her to bring the baby over, and one of the grandmothers took the baby in her arms and sang to it while she tried to feed it.
She soon realized that the milk was too warm for the baby, so she cooled it down in a fountain and began to feed the hungry child, giving its mother a much needed moment of rest.
— Lefteris Partsalis (@Partsalis_L) October 18, 2015
Greek grandmothers on Lesvos became symbol of hospitality during refugee crisis
The trio was made up of Efstratia, her cousin Maritsa Mavrapidou, who passed away in 2019, and her friend Aimilia Kamvysi, who is still going strong at 92.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou wrote a statement about Mavrapidou on Facebook, stating:
“I met Efstratia Mavrapidou during the summer of 2020 when I visited Lesvos. Simple, sweet, and deeply human, just like her cousin Maritsa Mavrapidou and her friend Aimilia Kamvysi….and that’s why they were all capable of becoming a mother or grandmother to all the world’s children.”
“We say goodbye to her with sadness and emotion, and along with her we also say farewell to a generation that serves as an example for the coming generations, one which offered love and aid readily without requesting it in return.”
After the picture was taken, the Greek grandmothers from Lesvos continued their efforts in taking care of refugees in their village, Skala, which was at the epicenter of the refugee crisis on the island.
This was likely due to the fact that all three of them had been the children of Greek refugees who came to the island from Asia Minor in the 1920s.
Lesvos became a central location during the refugee crisis, as its proximity to Turkey meant that it was, for many migrants refugees, the fastest way of reaching the European Union.
During the peak migration years of 2015-2016, more than one million people traveled across the Greek seas and land borders to the European Union from Turkey. From April to July of 2019, a total of 12,363 people were recorded landing on Greek shores and at other border crossings.
Many Syrian refugees, in particular, escaped the bloodshed in their country by traveling to Greece by way of Turkey at the time, but since then migrants and refugees from across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa have used the route to try to enter the EU.