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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 18 August 2018
22 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 18 AUGUST 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM An architect of hope Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM, founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, talks to Neos Kosmos about his book ‘The Power of Hope’ FOTIS KAPETOPOULOS K on Karapanagiotidis OAM is tired. He's suffering a throat infection and has just returned from ten-day national book tour for The Power of Hope or: How Community Love and Compassion can change the World. "Yiasou mate… I'm running ragged… they've worn me out again," he rasps over the phone. Kon has decided to carry much on his shoulders as the Founder and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). He is a human rights lawyer, social worker, philanthropist, masseur and lay chef. "I never thought of writing a book, when Harper Collins approached me last year to write a book about hope, I was going through hard times, life was tough, but that was what inspired me, because I thought all refugees and migrants struggle for hope," Kon says. Kon has built a fiefdom of virtue. The Centre's lifeblood is made of volunteers - many are refugees and migrants. Philanthropy, fundraising and income-generation, through projects and services, add to the Centre's coffers for the very necessary work. "The people I work for struggle on a daily basis - refugees, asylum seekers, and all of us struggle, regardless of who we are." His struggle is for those asylum seekers that suffer Kafkaesque horrors in Australia's offshore detention camps; for asylum seekers on temporary visas, who've just been cut off from the meagre $35 a day support that Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) provided up until June this year. These refugee fathers and mothers echo what our own Greek, or Italian, parents said to us: 'We came here for you, we sacrificed for you.' They suffer the indignation of racism and when they’re home they keep reminding themselves of why they are here. Kon says, "My parents never wanted to leave their home, no migrant or refugee wants to leave home and we all need to remember that." A TRIBUTE TO PARENTS WHO SACRIFICED EVERYTHING Kon's book is a mirror to us, children of migrants. It begins with a hagiography of his grandmother Parthena, one of the hundreds of thousands Pontian Greeks who suffered in the Genocide sanctioned by the Ottoman Empire in 1923. He writes about his father and mother who "sacrificed everything for Nola [Kon's Kon Karapanagiotidis PHOTO: KRISTOPHER PAULSEN sister] and me, working as labourers on farms and factories until their bodies "we" children of migrants, "have to be exceptional and our resilience and “My parents never wanted to leave their home, no migrant or refugee wants to leave home and we all need to remember that.” could no longer take it. They worked hard for more than forty years so that their children could dream of something better." "I wanted to honour my father in this book and my mother, they survived in spite of the racism and all that we are, my sister Nola and I, is because of them," he says. Kon talks of the reality that our unbreakable spirit is because of our parents". Reading his book tore scabs off my own wounds I thought had healed. Wounds that I hope my son won't carry. Kon's father, like mine, died in his early 60s. Like many of our fathers, they were both broken. Broken by war and exile. Our parents survived the horror of the Nazis. They saw their people descend into the fratricide of the Greek Civil War, after the Nazis left. Regardless of our parents' divergent class backgrounds - his working-class, mine petty bourgeoisie - they were humiliated by bigotry, menial jobs, isolation and poverty. Both his mother and father had what Kon describes in his book as "an unforgiving childhood." Forced to leave school at an early age and growing up in poverty, they both worked in the tobacco farms in regional Victoria and in factories in Melbourne. "They were treated like shit on the tobacco farm and later my father was treated with contempt by his boss and peers in Collingwood in a wool dye factory," says Kon. "It was casual racism by the boss and workers, they assumed my dad was a peasant and stupid." "They'd laugh at my father in front of me, and my mother also used to suffer daily humiliation," he adds. Yet these parents raised a son with an OAM and a daughter who share "eight degrees" between them. "That is what migration and struggle create," he says. In his book, he talks of his father looking like James Dean, a good looking man - in a photo of him bearchested in the country, he looks more like Martin Sheen from Apocalypse Now. His mother Sia was a "force of nature” who loved him and “yet at the same time created so many issues” for him. His parents' anger often unleashed chaos and Kon was forced to become the Kon Karapanagiotidis and the ASRC volunteers celebrate the outcome of the recent fundraising telethon. Kon Karapanagiotidis on his recent book tour.
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