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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 19 September 2015
14 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 19 SEPTEMBER 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Making a Father Themi’s epic tale - from rockstar to life-saving missionary MARIA-STELLA PAPAGEORGIOU From an atheist Marxist rock star who has shared the stage with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to a Greek Orthodox priest saving lives in the depths of Africa, it's no exaggeration to say Father Themi Adamopoulos has seen it all. Which is probably why Hollywood is considering turning his life story into a box office hit. But for the time being, his autobiography is being published. Father Themi's autobiography is expected to be published next year, letting us into a story of discipline and dedication, a story of love and compassion for all. When the Ebola virus struck Africa in 2014, Father Themi could easily have left his post and returned home. Instead, he chose to remain in Sierra Leone, showing the people that he was not going to abandon them at their time of need. During this time he continued with food distribution, medical assistance, hygiene awareness, education, church services, but above all, the first thing he did was to give them courage. Father Themi is back in Australia for the first time in three years, in an effort to raise awareness and urgently-needed funds for his mission in West Africa. He took time out from his busy schedule to speak to Neos Kosmos about his work. "It was an invisible, silent war - worse than the civil war. This time the enemy is called Ebola. You should've lived through the Ebola crisis, it is just another world," Father Themi says, noting that he found it very difficult to return to Australia having gone through all those experiences in Africa. "It's hard coming back and trying to fit in, to think this is normal, well, it is not normal because you know what's going on back in Africa, you know the pain, you know the suffering, you've seen children in the streets begging, you've seen kids that lost their mother and father because of Ebola, you understand that the kids slept in the house with the corpses of their parents, they would be staying there for three to four days and you thank God they did not get Ebola," he explains. In Africa, death is something that you live with every day, it is not hidden. His sister Mary Adamopoulos, an educator and a very strong supporter of Father Themi's cause, also spends most of her time in Sierra Leone. She says her brother takes care of children of all ages and claims the number of deaths within one family can be extraordinary. Aren't they traumatised by it, I wonder ... "It's survival, you just have to get on," Mary muses. For Father Themi, however, there is a price people pay for being exposed to such hardship. People with disabilities, particularly those who cannot walk, are considered cursed and are removed from the family because parents fear the curse may be passed on to the other children. "They become angry and aggressive," he adds. "We shelter them, we take care of them, but if you say something wrong they get agitated because since they were little kids they have been rejected, they are considered to be cursed. "So they become beggars from a very young age or they die in the streets." How can someone change this mentality? "Through education," Mary says, but Father Themi is a bit more sceptical as he has found many educated people who still believe in superstitions. Brother and sister both agree that education and the teachings of Christianity are the best way forward. "We have our primary school, we are now starting a kindergarten and a secondary school, we have got a youth group and all these kids are learning the Orthodox way because we care for them. They do not have to be Orthodox, we care for all of them," says Mary. Father Themi is quick to point out that all this work requires support from people here in Australia, both moral and financial. "Our main concern is to take care of the Ebola orphans. We are building two orphanages, one for 3-9 years old and another one for 9-16 year old kids until they go to university. We cater for all kids, even those who don't come to school. We feed more than 500 kids daily. We are the only school in West Africa that provides a hot meal to kids at a school setting because we have three compounds, one for the disabled people of the civil war, one school with 400 students, churches, a clinic, and now we are building an orphanage. We have also built a big dining room," he explains. In order to continue his work on Sierra Leone, Father Themi relies on the support of many others here in Australia. Amongst them is Jane Pallot, the head of the Melbourne committee of Paradise 4 Kids, a voluntarily organisation which was formed ten years ago when Father Themi went to Sierra Leone. The Melbourne committee is made up of volunteers who ensure that A West African band entertains guests during the annual charity dinner of Paradise 4 Kids. PHOTO: KEN SPENCE. Children go to bed hungry in Sierra Leone. Feeding the children every day with hot and nutritious meals improves their schooling and their lives.
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