She walks the talk-throwing herself in humanitarian work, her one and only mission being to put "Emfasis" on Human Dignity
When did you leave Greece for the first time and in what way has this influenced the rest of your journey?
I travelled overseas in the late 70’s to live with my father, who had recently migrated to Saudi Arabia, due to the financial difficulties in Greece - a period filled with political and economical turmoil. I came across a very fragile and newly born Greek community, which was trying to come to terms with adjusting to a very different way of life, adverse weather conditions, lack of basic services, such as school, hospital/medical centres, transportation. After spending months in that challenging yet mystic country, I watched the community spirit strengthen, positively influencing the life of hundreds if not thousands of Greek families. Upon my return to Greece, I realised this experience had changed me for the rest of my life. I was longing to explore and discover things beyond the Greek frontiers.
When did you arrive in the Emirates? How did you find the way of life since the beginning of your stay here?
I travelled to Dubai for a couple of brief visits in the 80’s. As a family, we were transferred to Dubai just before the Millennium! A very symbolic year indeed I felt at home, as if the place was made for our young family. Quiet yet buzzing, modern yet traditional, it was simply love at first sight. I still long for the days when I could proudly leave home, just 10 minutes prior to any appointment and arrive a couple of minutes early. There were few neighbourhoods, Jumeirah 3 was a stretch and Umm Suqueim a choice for the brave! If you had driven past the Rock N Roll Caf on Sheikh Zayed Road, you were exploring unknown territories.
The interactions with Emiratis was always a mystery; sometimes you received instant acceptance, other times you’d feel like an intruder. My primitive Arabic earned a lot of smiles, but being Greek seemed to be the ultimate ice-breaker. At work, my Greek nationality always seemed to tumble down all walls. I have got the same treatment ever since
The work pace has always been exponential and demanding. You must perform at your best at all times, feeling the pressure of a highly competitive environment which can at times be mistakingly perceived as relaxed and forgiving. Nevertheless the beautiful weather, combined with the overall safety felt all around, is the great balancing factor.
In this region, you seem to be mostly associated with your non-profit organization, Emfasis Foundation. When did this come into your life and why?
After a 15 year cycle of work transfers around the globe and several countries, my husband and I decided that it was time to provide a permanent home for our two sons. We chose to return to Dubai in 2009 after a long break in South East Asia. By 2010 the signs of the Greek economic slow down became steadily apparent, and in 2011 I started to receive calls for help and support. Together with my loyal friends and supporters network, who’d trusted me to make a difference to a number of children charities all over the world, we began collecting donations for medical assistance through major existing Greek NGO’s. In 2012, I travelled to Greece frequently, trying to personally assess the extent of suffering. I realised the situation was worsening daily. In 2013, I took the decision to go all the way and Emfasis Foundation was born. I hope you understand, this was not a decision taken lightly. I was living overseas and was already heavily involved in corporate work, and a mother of two teenage sons that needed me to be there for them.
There are always plenty of reasons to say no to what life throws at you, but in my case, one was enough to say yes – I couldn’t turn my back to human suffering.
How have things developed since then and where is Emfasis today?
Even in my wildest imaginations, I wouldn’t have guessed that the foundation was going to expand so quickly. Cries for support started coming from everywhere. It was unanimously agreed that we were going to go out on the streets, meeting, listening and talking to those affected by the recession. We would not have desks and offices. People were in shock, ashamed, frustrated, excluded, and hiding in the anonymity of the streets in a big city. Unemployed fathers, single mothers, teenagers with multiple behavioural and psychological challenges, working children, refugees, asylum seekers, illegal substances users, homeless or at the brink of entering homelessness. They were feeling disoriented and afraid. They had lost hope in the notion that their life would ever improve. We started from nothing, trying to draw a human map. We found them everywhere, despite being initially hesitant to come forward. Eventually they started to trust us and share their most sacred stories, secrets, desires, frustrations! We realised the extent to which state support was lacking. No one knew what to do, where to go or how to start re-building their future lives. Our almost 100-strong body of volunteers, whether from the social field,i.e. psychologists, social workers, employment specialists, sociologists or just volunteers armed with a great heart, threw themselves into restoring the human dignity. Today we have over 3,000 people in our records who have in some way received support from the Foundation. We have successes and failures; success fuels our determination to become even more efficient, whilst failure humbles and educates us.
Do you only help people in Greece or in the Emirates as well? What does the future hold for Emfasis?
We help people wherever we can for as long as we can. In the Emirates, we saw the community growing from a few hundreds to thousands in the space of a few months. Lack of career opportunities back home was triggering a massive migration wave of Greek work force to the UAE. You have to understand, not all of them had the time nor the luxury of preparing adequately for the transition. Many members of the community have received basic legal advise, employment advisory, English lessons, interview skills, even financial support in extreme cases. We are truly grateful for the touching response of the community to our appeals for help. For instance, we managed to repatriate the body of an elderly lady who passed away in the most terrible circumstances from a stroke. Her family was unable to cover the expenses at the time.
We also strive to provide advice to many before they arrive in the UAE, in order to prepare them better for their new venture. It is difficult to foresee the future however our sincere wish is to see the day the world will be a better place, and Greece will be able to treat its citizens with dignity and respect - providing them basic human rights to housing, health and education. Then we won’t need to exist.
Final words of wisdom:
I don’t consider myself wise, but I will try. Stay humble, stay true, don’t ignore your inner voices, you are allowed to fall provided you will always stand up again.
Tell us something that no one knows about you
I have always wanted to sing.. a dream left behind many years ago...