A Bootstraps-Up Approach To Greece's Debt Crisis Peter Nomikos, a young shipping heir whose family helped turn the Greek island of Santorini into a tourist hot spot, is trying to help Greece dig out of its massive debt with a new charity that asks average Greeks to chip in.

A Bootstraps-Up Approach To Greece's Debt Crisis

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A new charity called Greece Debt Free has given itself a lofty goal, helping to wipeout the country's mounting debt burden. The charity was set up by a young shipping heir, whose family helped develop the Greek island of Santorini into a tourism hotspot. With Greece in deep economic crisis, tourists on the island are scarce these days. Residents there say they'd like to help with their benefactor's charity, but they can't even pay their own bills.

Joanna Kakissis sends this story.


JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Peter Nomikos unlocks the door to the Santozeum, a new museum and art center his family has opened on their home island of Santorini.

PETER NOMIKOS: These are from the excavation.

KAKISSIS: He points out the replicas of prehistoric frescoes on the walls and then walks outside for a view of the deep-blue Aegean Sea. His grandfather helped rebuild Santorini after a devastating earthquake in 1956. Now, Nomikos wants to do his part to help relieve Greece of more than $400 billion in sovereign debt.

NOMIKOS: Greece has given me an awful lot. I feel it's not necessarily an obligation, but it's a desire. And I feel very patriotic.

KAKISSIS: So, two weeks ago, Nomikos launched a charity called Greece Debt Free. It gathers private donations, then uses the money to buy Greek bonds, some of which go for as little as 13 cents on the dollar.

NOMIKOS: We go out and buy the cheapest bonds possible. In other words, the most Greek debt for the least amount of money and then we seek to cancel them.

KAKISSIS: So far, the charity has raised $3 million, but more than half has come from Nomikos himself and another philanthropist. But Nomikos wants the charity to be a social movement. He wants average Greeks to chip in, even if it's just one euro.


KAKISSIS: He might have luck with Mario and Christos Bekiaris. The twin brothers run Altana, a boutique hotel in the village of Imerovigli.


KAKISSIS: Christos says he'd entrust his money to the shipping heir. The Greek state always lets him down, even though he pays his taxes.

CHRISTOS BEKIARIS: We do not get anything back but the beautiful sun of Greece.


BEKIARIS: You know? And I don't know if you get that because you pay tax. That's the only thing we get.

KAKISSIS: The twins say bookings are down 40 percent on the island this year, but they'd like to give the charity a hundred euros.


KAKISSIS: Businesses are also struggling in the town of Oia, on the northern tip of the island. Passengers from cruise ships often stop here for an hour to stroll the whitewashed streets.

CRAIG WALZER: We had - we got a couple of Homer. We got - oh, we already sold it though, didn't we?

KAKISSIS: A few stop at Atlantis Books. One of the founders is Craig Walzer, an American from Memphis. A slew of new austerity taxes have squeezed his budget.

WALZER: My concern right now is will I have enough money to pay the rent in January, when we have no customers coming into the shop and we're really just spending our savings.


KAKISSIS: His neighbor Vassilis Mandilaras says he can't imagine many people on Santorini giving money right now, even to a favorite son.

VASSILIS MANDILARAS: There are ideas that are connecting with reality. And there are ideas who are in the dream state. This idea, I think, belongs to the dream state.

KAKISSIS: He's been running a restaurant, Lotzia, for more than 30 years. And he says he's saving every cent to keep it open. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis.


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