Monday, 6 June 2016

Women You Should Know - Gina Psyliakou by Aradhana Kothari

Women You Should Know:
Gina Psyliakou
by Aradhana Kothari

I used to work for a service that offered support to disadvantaged and vulnerable young people. The difficulties with the job were the usual barriers - unsociable hours, insufficient budgets, infinite reserves of resilience needed, and the ability to withstand verbal abuse - that came hand in hand with working with young people who had been dealt the hard end of life. 

Standing in my office on an unremarkable day, a staff member comes into the room. Striding in slow motion, stopping with the superhero stance that befits her most recent actions. This woman has just achieved something outstanding. You know it; she knows it; everybody standing in this ridiculously small office knows it. But of course, she doesn’t. The Foo Fighters play as she moves casually past, in sync with all of the words. The one lyric I can’t help hearing is: “There goes my hero, he’s ordinary.”

This is where my heart resides: in the ordinary heroes. The action of getting up everyday and trying to make the world a better place, purposefully. The global citizens who have the empathy to act without pride, greed, and ego-governing. Making small changes and meeting challenges with the faith and belief that you can make a difference; continually fighting, often without acknowledgment or acclaim.

Gina Psyliakou is an everyday heroine. Born in Greece, Gina came to England in October 2000. Studying graphic design, then changing her focus to Humanistic Therapy. Moving back to Greece in 2014, Gina continued to work supporting vulnerable people, and currently works with refugee children. Now she is a “Friendly Space Facilitator” with Praksis in association with Save the Children.

What is it that you do as a Friendly Space Facilitator?

We’ve created a space within the refugee camp where children can play, learn and regain their sense of carelessness. We work with the children of refugees providing them a safe space where they can play, gain a sense of normality, overcome the trauma of war and hardships and build their resilience in order to survive the harsh reality they are living in. Those spaces are important for the camp because they bring a sense of normality and joy within a very dire environment. I am based in Chios Island ... next to Lesvos and [it] has big numbers of refugees arriving.

What originally inspired you to work with disadvantaged young people?

When I was studying in Banbury... there was a lot of talk about young people and their behaviour. The ASBO [court] order had started being served to young people that were antisocial according to the government. It felt like young people were being criminalized for being young and for the failures of their parents, their schools, their governments and society in general.

This made you want to get involved?

I started working as a graphic designer, campaigning to start inspiring young people to believe in themselves to have a dream. I felt that they had lost their way, and had no one to guide them. They were just reacting in a world that we had created that wasn’t okay. The world wasn’t inspiring them to be the best they could be. By the time I finished my degree I realised that I wanted to work more with young people and support them directly.

So after Banbury where did you start with your newfound passion?

I went to Brighton and I found my first volunteering position, which changed my life forever. The Young Peoples Centre is for young people that have been isolated from society, and are unloved and wounded. Here is where they can find a place they can belong and be themselves. Where they are accepted and cared about. It is an inspiring place that has taught me so much.

What would you say was your biggest lesson at the Young Peoples Centre?

[T]o support a young person you have to empower them and teach them how to do things for themselves. Help them believe in and understand themselves enough to be able to tolerate failure and keep going. And never, never give up on them, no matter how many times they fail. We, as professionals, representing sometimes the supportive parents these kids never had, we have to be consistent, honest, fair and forgiving.

Tell me who has inspired you in your work?

The people that inspired me where those who challenged me in my work, by making me reflect on my behaviour and [taking] the time to teach me. I have also learned a great deal from the young people I worked with over the years and especially those who had horrible unloving childhoods, but still had a big capacity for love and forgiveness.

What things in your opinion should we have in mind to live better lives for ourselves and others?

That’s a big discussion, but three things that I believe would make a big difference and bring a domino effect are: living closer to nature, strengthen our sense of community and eliminate competitiveness. I believe there is a big void within us by living away from nature that cannot be contented with anything else. That sense of humility you feel in nature and the connection to everything around you, gives you a sense of peace and balance, something that we’re denying ourselves by putting us above nature.

Secondly, I feel that isolation is one of the big issues in the western world; individualism is overrated. We are social beings; we don’t develop without connecting to others, so we need a feeling of community and solidarity in order to survive.

And lastly,... [I think that] competition should only be acceptable in sports and even there up to a point. We should strive to better ourselves in everything we do and work with each other for the common good, not individual prosperity only.

Gina is an agent of change, fighting for a better world for herself and those around her, where optimism is fast becoming a precious commodity. Reminding us to power forward by walking, sauntering, stumbling or crawling, because it will be worth it in the end.

Aradhana Kothari is a former Youth Worker and Community Development worker (although the role never really escapes you). Living nomadically at present trekking high mountains and diving deep seas Aradhana is enjoying the exploration of new cultures, tastes of new food and constant challenges on her understanding of the world.