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Six years ago, Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring his country’s Civil War to an end. Many people were equally moved by the work of a group of Greek women who were nominated for the 2016 Peace Prize but didn’t win.

Aimilia Kamvisi, Efstratia Mavrapidou and Maritsa Mavrapidou were natives of the island of Lesbos. Each day they travelled to the coast to offer their support to refugees who had made their way to Greece by boat. At a time when their own communities were stricken by economic recession, they reached out with an open hand to people who had even less. Maritsa and Aimilia were both 86 years old at the time, and Efstratia was 90. They were bemused by the acclaim they received. In their minds, they were doing what anyone would have done. They were living up to the best traditions of filotimo.

The literal translation of this word is “love of honour” but that definition doesn’t come close to giving it full expression. If you ask ten native Greek speakers for their definition, you might get ten different answers. What they will agree on is that filotimo stands for qualities to be admired. It encompasses generosity, love and respect for family, compassion for strangers and the will to make a positive contribution to the wider world. It’s a way of doing better. It’s a way of life.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have experienced the warmth of Greek hospitality will have an inkling into why there’s no direct translation of the word. It’s too wide-ranging a concept to fit into a small linguistic box. We don’t have to look far to see examples of something similar in our own communities.

What’s the word for a person who gives their time to build a food resource, to develop a support network for parents and children, to open the door to people more accustomed to having it slammed in their faces?

No single English language word can do justice to the character of people who offer friendship and support, day after day, to complete strangers. When Maritsa Mavrapidou passed away three years ago she left a legacy as rich as any Nobel Prize winner. She reminded us that some things need no translation. The honour a person brings to themselves and their community in demonstrating filotimo is infinitely more important than the need to define it.


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