Starting over in a new country

first_imgI met Thomas Nianiakos shortly after he finished his shift. Although he had just spent eight hours cooking breakfast and a three-course lunch for over 100 residents at Fronditha Care’s residential facility in Clayton, he looked rather vibrant and relaxed.If I hadn’t known about the 49-year-old, I would have said that he loves his job and has no other obligations to think about. However, the reality is quite different.Thomas is a new migrant; although he was born in Australia, he moved to Greece when he was 12 and moved back to Australia five years ago.For most new migrants, Greece’s financial hardships were enough to make them pack their suitcases and seek their fortune elsewhere. Thomas though had much more to consider.“My life changed in 2011, when my wife, Persephone, was diagnosed with leukaemia,” he says.Persephone had not been feeling well for a couple of weeks, he explains. Having three kids was excuse enough for feeling exhausted. She decided to have a blood test. As a microbiologist, she did the analysis herself. The news dropped like a bomb.“I was doing some housework when she called and told me the news,” Thomas remembers.“I could not believe it. You think about cancer as something foreign, that it won’t affect you.”The next year-and-a-half was tormentous for the family. From their home in Lamia, they had to move to Athens for bone marrow surgery. Although there were glimpses of hope, less than two years after the initial diagnosis, Persephone passed.“While you are prepared for it, the reality definitely shocks you,” he says.MOVING TO AUSTRALIAAfter Persephone’s passing, Thomas wanted a fresh start. On every level. He had to consider the well-being of his three young children, Despoina, 13, Athina, 11 and Christos, 3.“Before she died, Persephone urged me to move to Australia.“I felt we really needed this, both my children and I. It would be a fresh start for each one of us, in a county where opportunities for the future would be more plentiful.”His relatives in Australia helped him settle and offered the family a place to stay.However, the family wanted their own space and to really find their footing.Thomas, who had been working as a hotel manager in Lamia, took a course to become a chef and worked part-time to make ends meet.“It was a very challenging period. Looking back, I do not know how I did it. On many occasions, I had to leave my children home alone due to work commitments.“Thankfully, my eldest daughter ‘became’ the mother of the family. She was responsible enough to look after her siblings when I was at work. We didn’t even have to discuss it; she understood that things had changed and she had to take a more grown up role.”I wondered why he chose to change his career path in his 40s.“One of the lessons I learned throughout my experience with Persephone’s illness was that life is too short to do things that you do not like and enjoy,” he says.“I always liked cooking, but never did it professionally. I did not want to lose another day, so I grabbed the bull by the horns.”Thomas has been working at Fronditha Care for almost two years now. A job that fills him with joy and has already led thim to gain two awards for his cooking and leadership skills.“When I applied to work at Fronditha Care I thought it was another job to pay the bills. However, seeing and interacting with the elderly every day, listening to their needs and trying to please them with my food, created a completely different environment. It makes me feel that every day I come to work with my second family.”Thomas Nianiakos with the CEO of Fronditha Care, George Lekakis AO.But what about his first family? I asked him what has changed in the last five years, knowing that he recently got married for the second time, to Lydia, a teacher of Italian heritage.“You can never replace your loved one. I do not want to do that either.“When I met Lydia, I told her that I am not alone; I have three kids that I have to take care of. As a teacher who interacts with kids daily, she told me she had no problem with children. And the rest is history”.Thomas and Lydia have recently taken part in the World’s Greatest Shave, a long-running fundraising initiative by the Leukaemia Foundation, where people of all ages shave, colour or wax their hair, cut pony tails, banish beards, and trim top knots for charity.“We did it to help Leukaemia research, but also as a tribute to Persephone.”Just before we finished our longer than scheduled discussion, I asked Thomas, “All good now?”“All good, God bless,” he answers.I do not like clichés but I honestly think that it was the first time I heard someone saying that and meaning it. A grateful person that counts his blessings every day.What about the rest of his social circle; how did they react to the new start of Thomas?“All of us, we went to Greece a few months ago where we met also Persephone’s mum. She was very welcoming and understood that our new life in Australia is much better than what would have been in Greece. I invited her to come here and see with her own eyes how I and the children develop,” he says. Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagramlast_img

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