Twenty years ago the island of Leros, in the Dodecanese, had a very negative reputation. The EU began supporting reforms to the psychiatric hospital there and a gradual transformation was achieved.
A team of international specialists went to examine the situation in the 1990s and made remarkable progress with the patients there that had, prior to the EU's intervention, been housed in military installations leftover from the Italian occupation.
By liaising with the Ministry of Health, and mental health professionals, much needed revisions to the existing laws (dating from the 1800s) were about to be made. Inspired by the philosophy of Franco Basaglia, an intervention team led by Franco Rotelli came to Leros from 1990-1994. Combining this intervention with the phenomenon of social cooperatives in Italy, the transnational collaboration between the mental health professionals and the Ministry brought forth the legislation that was to become known as Koi.S.P.E.
This form of organisation allowed patients to create and produce and, instead of just passing time, they could put their wares on the market. Before the Koi.S.P.E., no state organization was allowed to conduct commercial activities. Under the Koi.S.P.E., patients can work and earn a their own money while also contributing to the economic well being of the local community.
Starting with some crops, pastries and two cantinas, the patients and staff started to turn things around. Being reintegrated into the workforce and seeing that their work was valuable, necessary and profitable had a positive impact on the patients. Soon an entrepreneurial opportunity presented itself.
Residents on the island had been making honey for years, although it was never for commercial sale. The honey was of inconsistent quality and lacked the necessary standardization to sell it on the open market, so it was just traded or given between friends and family. The patients of Leros, with €50,000 in funding from the EU's Leader+ program (which covered 65% of the total cost), began buying the raw honey in bulk, filtering it, packaging it and marketing it and were able to make honey production into a profitable business. Not only that, but the honey was able to gain ISO 22000 certification, which means that it meets all the EU food safety standards.
The whole Koi.S.P.E employs about 20-25 patients, three of which are dedicated to honey production, which is in operation for six months out of the year and no one works more than part-time. The money they earn is a supplement to their basic income which allows them to buy products and services they might not normally be able to afford, which inevitably puts some of that money back into the community.
And where is that money coming from? Right now the honey is only sold locally, but recently Fortnum & Mason have begun ordering honey and the first shipment has already been sent to the UK. Perhaps the beekeepers of Leros will benefit as well due to the increase in demand for their thyme honey, which is known for its flavour, colour and antiseptic qualities. The honey also acts also acts to prevent cardiovascular disorders and can benefit those suffering from urinary and digestive system diseases.