The Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) hosted a significant Youth forum on Tuesday night that was organised by two passionate young Greek Australians Dean Kotsianis and Vasilios Berbatakis. An intergenerational audience of 100 people including young, inspiring Hellenes from all walks of life came together to discuss the relevance and evolving role of Greek Youth in the community. The key segments discussed were battling Stigmas, ensuring continuity, connecting inter-generationally and creatively enacting change.
Dean Kotsianis opened the summit by acknowledging the positive attendance and representation from most of Melbourne’s Greek groups including Universities, regional, professional and social clubs who had come along to exchange stories, experiences, ideas and confirmed their commitment for working together and helping each other.
“I’ve always been about connecting what I’m doing with something bigger because surely there’s something more important than me happening in the community with the people around me and redefining the borders of my project. I’ve always been interested in acknowledging but also brushing a light on my limitations and the real meaning of my value. We are important and we are everything in some senses…” he said.
He also suggested that "3rd generation Greek-Australians are beginning to look very different and diverse as mixed marriages occur (inter-ethnicity), new combinations of identities emerge, and interests change over time. This new spectrum of the Greek-Australian forces us to think laterally into new ways of HOW we involve these people and get them to see value in what we do.”
Vasilios Berbatakis added "Greek youth presence is in no shortage in Melbourne, and all we have to do is add a bit of context to what they're doing, help guide them towards something collective and bigger than themselves, and tie them back in some way, to Greece!"
GCM President Papastergiadis addressed the room, sharing a brief history about how he became involved with the Greek Community of Melbourne.
“My journey started where you are now, many years ago. I became involved in the Greek Club at Monash University and one of the things I wanted to do was to broaden our relationship with the community we live in. It was important to me that we examine our identity in this country, hence we started a series of events to challenge stereotypes including poetry and theatre nights. Importantly, we initiated a journal call “Mosaic” that chronicled the story of young Greek Australians. It was a ground breaking journal that was made available to all students in Victoria.”
He also congratulated Dean Kotsianis and Vasilios Berbatakis for their efforts.
Mr. Papastergiadis went on to give a snapshot of the Youth initiatives that the Greek Community of Melbourne is involved with, including the development of a relationship between Australian and Greek and Cypriot universities; and a Centre for Hellenism, Cosmopolitism and Multiculturalism at Melbourne University by the creation of an International Chair. He emphasised “The aim of that chair is not just about teaching language, but it’s more so to create the research about what it is that we’re doing here in Australia. We need to drive the agenda and the ideas. And if you don’t have academics working with us who are facilitating this research then quite often what we are going to have is just us thinking about something, not doing it or not having the right people coming up with the ideas to make sure it happens.”
He also highlighted the significant role and contribution that the Greek Community of Melbourne plays in Youth Affairs within Australian society including lobbying the government and the setting up a youth centre in the CBD in the next 6 months.
In closing, he invited ongoing collaboration between the Greek Community of Melbourne and all youth groups “We are here to help and we want you to be part of that conversation. You should work with us as much as you can through Dean and Vasili be an active participant, come up with your own ideas. We’re going to back them.”
Also in attendance representing the GCM were Leo Vlahakis Co-Chair of the Cultural Committee, Vice-President and Head of the Education sector Theo Markos; Nick Dallas who runs the Greek History and Culture seminars and Tass Sgardelis who was also one of four panellists. They also included John Leventis (Cretan Brotherhood of Melbourne), Olympia Nelson (National Union of Greek Australian Students) and Chris Karkanis (HACCI).
Special guest speaker Fotini Kypraios Chair of Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (HACCI) and Director of Internship and Program spoke about Connectedness in the Youth Program, highlighting the Internship and Mentoring Programs on offer as well as the HACCI Young Professionals program.
“We bring young people in to give an opportunity, to open a door to help them build their CVs and give them their first steps in a job sort of context. You’ve got a whole generation of leadership positions in the Australian wider community that we didn’t have growing up so HACCI has tried to bridge that gap… because we realise it’s really hard when you leave Uni to get job, you can’t get an interview without experience and you can’t get experience without getting the interview. I personally meet with every internship applicant and I’ve personally had a lot of coffees over the last five years and find out wat you’re looking for and what you’re trying to get to and see who we can connect you with in our network to give you that integral experience and to start building your CV.”
During the Forum, Melbourne's youth was engaged and actively involved in understanding their past, determining how to take control of their present and how they could creatively determine their future to best represent their interests. The consensus showed that 3rd generation Greek-Australians are still invested in learning the Greek language, traditional cultural practices and sensitive to important historical milestones, but want to explore and exude their meaning through modern mediums. It was also evident that the Greek youth of Australia want to capture and explore the best elements of their heritage through innovative and creative project building.
The event stood as evidence of Melbourne's prolific Greek presence that boasts a unique, longstanding and changing relationship with its youth. Continued efforts aim to bring more opportunities across the board for Greek youth and closer contact with senior leaders to accurately and regularly voice and tackle concerns.
The Forum concluded with the announcement of a series of Greek Youth projects to be made possible with the help of Go Fund me accounts that have been set up to for each individual project. They include a Greek Virtual Reality stall at this year’s Antipodes | Lonsdale St Greek Festival, a Greek inspired mural in the CBD and a freefall BBQ to put on next year at Theofania Panigiri in Red Hill.
A community chat group will also be set up through Facebook that will encourage Greek Youth collaboration and networking.