When one young woman left Cyprus for Australia to study she had no idea how long it would take her to feel at home says PAUL LAMBIS
In 1972 Anastasia Constanti (née Karatzia) decided to study abroad. A woman who pursued her own interests rather than conforming to the norms and conventions of the time of marriage with dowry, she saw Australia as a beacon of hope.
“At the time it was very uncommon for women to travel abroad for studies, especially as far as Australia, but given that I had family there, it seemed like the best option to escape the mindset of the time,” Constanti said.
She had no idea at the time that her journey to Australia would mark the end of the pleasures of living at her family home, in an area was occupied as a result of the invasion.
But Constanti’s journey is about more than just escaping a troubled homeland. Her narrative exemplifies the perseverance and dedication of all Cypriots of the diaspora who overcome the hardships of moving to foreign countries, breaking down language barriers, integrating with new cultures, and finally finding a sense of purpose.
Today, Constanti is a grandmother and a significant member in Australia’s Cypriot community, having contributed for over two decades to the establishment of Greek and Cypriot aged care facilities, which she considers as her most “enjoyable and rewarding years.
“I gave my all to the community and feel very proud of my achievements and what I offered to the management, staff, and to the residents,” she said.
Although retired, she is considering offering her free time to be spent with the residents, but she also wishes to spend more time in Cyprus with her granddaughters.
“Working in aged care is very demanding,” she told the Cyprus Mail. “One needs to have the patience and empathy for it, while understanding and addressing the needs of the elderly.
“It is essential to make them feel like they are at home.”
And home is an issue that plays heavy on Constanti’s life.
She recalls arguing with her mother on the eve of her departure to Australia because she refused to let her take some of their family photos with her, “as they were a precious commodity back then.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and ‘stole’ a few photographs that were very precious to me,” Constanti said.
“I was 17 years old when I first laid eyes on Melbourne and fell in love instantly. I rediscovered that carefree feeling I had as a child in Cyprus, and quickly realised how everyone went about their business without caring what anyone wore or did,” she said.
Constanti took English classes for several months while working in her aunt’s milk bar. “She was very supportive and encouraged me to attend a business college where I would learn office work, however after that I struggled to hold a job since my English was limited.”
As her confidence in her language skills grew over the years, Constanti found the courage to sit for public service examinations, which she passed, and was finally awarded a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 1978, Constanti married Panayiotis and had two sons, the oldest of which eventually returned to Cyprus to work for the Australian High Commission in Nicosia, and the other who remains nearby in Australia.
But the turning point in Constanti’s career was when she decided to accept a voluntary redundancy payout and apply for a position at a newly built Greek aged care facility. “I had no idea about aged care nor accounts at the time, but I had bookkeeping skills and with the help of the facility’s treasurer, I eventually became part of the core operations of the facility.”
Her expertise led to her accepting a managerial position at the Grace of Mary Greek Cypriot Elderly Home in Epping, which made her very happy because she finally connected with her Cypriot roots. “I felt the spirit of ‘family’ there, and that I was able to give back to the community,” she said.
Constanti helped the nursing home grow and acquire accreditation, which eventually led to the establishment of another nursing home in the suburb of Sunshine in Melbourne. “Saint Andrews Aged Care is another remarkable facility that instils all the Cypriot customs and traditions that the diaspora has shown over the years to be more culturally connected to our homeland.”
The elderly homes were the vision of the then president of the Cypriot Community of the Northern Suburbs Panikos Mina, who received a government subsidy to house 42 residents. “The facility was built with the help of many volunteers, both physically and financially,” she added.
One of her key goals was to provide activities such as cooking, gardening, reading and leisure games, as well as dancing and singing for all residents. “The facility also organises excursions with other local clubs for social interaction.”
Reflecting on her time in Australia, Constanti believes the country has strong governance, with people enjoying all the services provided while respecting the rules that apply. “Customer service is excellent, and the environment is clean,” she said. “Cyprus has a lot of potential, but it needs to work hard to improve its service and attitude towards the environment. It truly has the potential to be a regional jewel, and with great effort, genuine leadership, hard work, and a vision for the future, our island has the ability to rise above the odds and become something remarkable.”