Amid Financial Crisis, Cyprus Convicts Offer Help

MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) â¿¿ With Cyprus' economy falling apart, even those behind prison bars are pulling together to help people in need.

Dozens of central prison inmates donated around 9,000 euros ($11,649) in cash to a volunteer clinic Saturday in order to help needy families receive free medical attention amid the country's most severe economic crisis in decades.

The inmates, many of them serving long sentences, raised the cash from the 300 euros in pocket money they're allowed to keep for once-weekly purchases at the prison canteen.

Lara Ioannou, 25, whose husband has four years left on a 13-year drug-related sentence, helped hand the money to Eleni Theocharous, a Cypriot European parliament member and pediatric surgeon who also runs the country's first volunteer clinic in the heart of the capital's medieval center.

Ioannou said inmates thought that access to medical attention is as equally important as food as needy families try to weather the country's financial collapse.

Yiota Chrysanthou, 31, whose 27-year-old brother has around three years left on a 12-year sentence also for a drug conviction, said inmates want this to be the first of hopefully many such donations from them.

Theocharous said she was shocked by the unexpected display of charity by people that society often forgets.

"I was deeply moved by the inmates' moral depth, even in their circumstances," Theocharous said. "It just goes to prove that our collective humanity shines through in times of such poverty and hardship."

Theocharous said she would plead with President Nicos Anastasiades to pardon as many inmates as possible.

Metropolitan Isaiah, a senior member of the Orthodox Christian Church, said: "This demonstrates that love of our country and its people supersedes all else."

Around 20 people, including four children, paid a visit Saturday to the small clinic located across from a primary school, nurse Despo Plyta said.

Theocharous said plans are under way in cooperation with the Cyprus Church to build several more volunteer clinics across the island.

Debt-ridden Cyprus faces a steeply shrinking economy and spiking unemployment after seeing its once-thriving banking sector decimated under a deal to receive ⿬10 billion ($12.94 billion) in rescue money from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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