London based, Adelaide born filmmaker Basil Genimahaliotis joined me recently as we visited the Greek villages of Calabria to film a documentary on the Greko speakers.
As part of our journey, we took along letters collected from Dr Efrosini Deligianni, the head of Modern Greek Studies at University of NSW, with her Greek language students making cards with messages in Greek. Dr Deligianni was an enthusiastic supporter of the project and it was heartening to see university students willing to engage with children on the other side of the world.
In Melbourne, Anastasia Spanos, a teacher from Oakleigh Grammar – Junior School & Middle School, coordinated her students to write a number of letters, each with a personalised message in Greek. The messages came from the heart and were supportive in nature, encouraging the young Greko children of Calabria to maintain their language. This type of encouragement will go a long way, with one of the letters emphasising the history and age of the Greek language. The Greko community of course speak the ancient dialect, while in Australia, a world away, it is Modern Greek. Yet, the common theme being to continue learning Greek and to preserve Greek in all its forms.
In Thessaloniki, I met up with my friend, Christina Michailidou, a primary school teacher and presenter on Boite Surreal Radio. Christina, at short notice was able to produce with her students a number of letters and drawings. The children, such as Anastasia, drew a picture of summer in Greece and a series of messages as a four page fold out. The colour and detail of the drawings provided a beautiful and powerful message for the children in Palizzi, one of summer and the hope that the language can be preserved in Calabria.
The letters were delivered in the Greek town of Bova Marina, to the teacher of the students from a smaller town called Palizzi, which sits on a mountain 7 km from the coast. What made the exchange special was that the kids performed a number of songs in the dialect for us in the town square. To hear the kids sing like that, it not only gave us goose bumps, it demonstrates the hope for preserving the language amongst the younger generation in Calabria.
Along with the parents who attended, we are grateful to Maria Olimpia Squillaci who arranged the event with the school. The kids enthusiastically embraced the letters which have been taken back to Palizzi. The children in return produced a brilliant hand drawn and sketched A3 booklet, including pop out information, which the kids have cleverly added to provide an interactive element of the dialect.
For example, a blue pop out of a man with a diagram and words describing features such as eyes: Ta Maddhia, mouth: To Stoma, nose: I Mitti, head: I cefali. An orange pop up gives me the 12 months of the year, for example, January: O Jenari, February: O Flevari, March: O Marti, April: O Apriddi.
A number of drawings of the town were also presented, succinctly and brilliantly capturing the medieval style of the village with its Byzantine church. The careful details are of the drawings immediately make you feel as though you are sitting in the town.
All 12 children signed the back of the card, a card which will be cherished for years to come and eventually it will be donated to the Hellenic Archives in Sydney.