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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 7 February 2015
NEWS 6 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ‘We should not allow issues to divide the Greek community’ Bill Gonis, president of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia, talks excusively to Neos Kosmos THEODORA MAIOS As we sit down to discuss his new appointment, Mr Bill Gonis OAM explains that, after years of experience in the corporate world and after all the support and encouragement he received from the community, he now feels ready to take on a new adventure in his life as the new president of the Greek Community of South Australia. Passionate about charity, dedicated in helping people, and with a real love for anything Greek, Mr Gonis will concentrate his efforts in making the Koinotita a progressive and approachable organisation with a high focus on looking after its members, as well as the whole Greek community. His aim is to approach all matters with an open mind and a respectful manner. “There is definitely a lot of work to be done internally and externally,” he says, “but one thing we need to remember is that we are all Greeks with a common bond and, despite any differences, it is vital that we all stick together and help each other out. The door is always open for discussions that would benefit the Greek people. In life, we should ‘never say never’.” Neos Kosmos: In 2006 you were awarded the Order of Australia Medal. A very honorary title indeed; what qualities do you think you applied that brought you this title? Bill Gonis: I started volunteering my time in the early ‘80s because I believe it’s important to meet and stay in touch with people who need our support, especially within our Greek community. I obviously felt extremely honoured and humbled at the same time and was awarded for the work I did, which was a really pleasant surprise. Neos Kosmos: When and what are the reasons behind your decision to actively get involved and become a member of the board for the Greek Orthodox Community? Bill Gonis: Both my parents migrated to Australia in 1956 from Peloponnisos, Greece. As a family, we have been involved in the Greek Community - the Koinotita - from a really young age, so Greece has always been very close to our heart. Last year I was encouraged by a few members within the Greek and Australian community to become actively involved, support and bring any relevant experience and knowledge across to this organisation. You know, it’s easy to sit on the outside and pass comment while doing nothing about it so literally at the last minute I decided to put my nomination in and the members honoured me with their vote. Neos Kosmos: The Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia - what are the core values and the mission of the organisation? Bill Gonis: The Koinotita was formally established 83 years ago but its members had been active in our community even earlier. We are talking about a team of established Greeks at the time, who decided to get together and attempt to make an organisation serving the purpose of Christian love, Greek education, mutual trust amongst all Greek migrants, charitable work for the benefit of the poor and respect of the law and other cultures. I think that they are the most important values in establishing a great community and we are still very keen in keeping these core values alive today. Neos Kosmos: Last year, the Greek Community decided to proceed to elections seeking change. Now that things have started to settle, there is a new board and a new leader with years of experience in the corporate sector. Going forward, what is your plan and what changes should we be expecting? Bill Gonis: In fairness to everyone and to myself, I have been in the organisation for six weeks and yes, we Bill Gonis do a good job but I believe that we can improve in some areas and perhaps introduce more progressive programs. But in order to find out exactly what it is that we need, I think it is important to go back out to our members and be inclusive, ask the general community what they would like to see. At the end of the day, it’s about what the people need. We need to have the people supporting us, the community supporting us, and more importantly, we need the youth to come back. All these things are crucial in order to maintain and grow the organisation but also to set a strong foundation for other people to feel confident enough to come in and participate. Neos Kosmos: What are you anticipating to be the biggest challenge for you as the new president of the community? Bill Gonis: I know already that bringing youth back to the organisation will be my biggest challenge. Back when I was younger, the connection with our Greek heritage was innate. Unquestion- able. These days things have changed. Neos Kosmos: So, how are you planning to attract and inspire the new generation, which is not as ‘connected’ with its Greek heritage, to participate? Bill Gonis: We need to introduce the importance of our culture and show the younger people that Greece is relevant to them. Our aim should be to try and understand young people better. They grow up a lot quicker and approach things differently. They are preoccupied with social media, they have busy lives, they mix with different cultures and experience other strong influences inside and out of the family unit. We need to come to the 21st century and understand the psychology behind some of the decisions young people make in order to keep them close to us because they are our children and the future of our culture. Two things keep a country alive; its history and its language. We need social media to reach out to them, we need history and language to be taught, but most importantly we must connect the grandchildren with their grandparents and encourage this relationship through programs which would benefit everybody. Neos Kosmos: The minute you are appointed as the president of the Greek Community, you know immediately that the relationship between your organisation and the Greek Archdiocese is challenging. There are always two sides of the story. We spoke about respect and love within the community, and although the other states have reunited, in South Australia this issue remains unresolved. What’s your view. Do you see any progress being made? Bill Gonis: This has always been an interesting question. It provides various responses and answers. Right now it is a fact that the religious debate does hinder some people and in fairness there are people from both sides with a particular view on this matter. Understandably, there are strong views expressed by the community not wanting to lose their independence. I respect and appreciate the work that has been done on both sides in the last decades but I also feel that it is far too early to publicly speak at this point of time. It has been addressed in our constitution that the community is an independent group. But these days, one can ‘never say never’ and I need to do a lot of investigation before I can officially give you a definite answer. I would like to point out that, regardless, there needs to be a communal respect for the benefit and interest of the Greek community. We are all Greek and we should not allow issues like this to divide the Greek community. We all have a common bond and what I would like to see is respect in the way Greeks conduct and work with each other when that time comes. For the time being, we have a lot of work to do within our community, before we look outside and address other important matters.
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