Our Founder
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Our Founder

On behalf of the Board of Directors, the staff and the members of Ethnic Community Services Co-operative we would like to farewell our Founding Member and Executive Director for the past 38 years Vivi Koutsounadis. We honour her and thank her for her many years of service and her life time commitment to the values of multiculturalism and social justice. She continued her commitment to ensure that all Australians particularly Aboriginal people and people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds, Refugees, Asylum Seekers and most importantly women and children, have access to the community services they need and have a right to fully participate in our Australian society.

We at ECSC pledge that Vivi’s legacy will be continued through the work of ECSC into the future. Thank you Vivi!

About Vivi

Vivi Koutsounadis has been the Executive Director of ECSC (formerly ECCFCSC) since 1979 and is retiring from this position this year – 2017. The cooperative advocates for equitable access to culturally and linguistically appropriate child care, disability and aged care and other issues of CALD people. She has been working with disadvantaged groups at local grass roots level, mentoring, empowering these groups to speak up for their rights.

For 40 years she has been involved in advocating for and with and developing capacity building in ethnic communities and was founding member of ECC of NSW, FECCA, IWSA and other CALD women’s organisations at state and national levels including Migrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance of which she was chair. She has served on numerous States, Federal government commissions. Inquiries, Reference Advisory and working and other groups advocating for the issues and needs of CALD people and other ‘special needs’ and disadvantaged groups such as Indigenous, people with disabilities, those in remote and isolated areas, women, children and families, asylum seekers and immigrants and refugees.

Vivi’s Story

“I came to Australia from Greece in 1954, with my family when I was 9 years old. We experienced a lot of hardship, not understanding English, people calling me a wog. My migration experience had a great influence on what I became and my family also had a strong influence on me. My mother was illiterate in Greek, my father was very bright but being one of eleven children on the island of Chios he was unable to attend high school. But they were both intelligent and tolerant people.

My parents had a milk bar in Redfern. Redfern was where most of the factory industries were located. So, there were lots of migrants of all nationalities who came to the shop. We were the only shop that served aboriginal people. The shop became an unofficial welfare centre and people would bring in their children and my mother and I would look after them, help bank their money, talk about their problems they had at work, take them to the doctors, interpret and so on. That sort of experience provided me with an invaluable insight into life.

I got a Commonwealth Scholarship for University. Thank God for the Commonwealth Scholarship because people from working class backgrounds would never have been able to go to University otherwise. At the start, I wanted to be a teacher but then halfway through I thought what am I going to do with teaching? I’ll be better off working in a welfare sector helping people so I changed to BA psychology. I graduated (1970) and I was looking for a job. I went to interviews and I had an accent, I was a woman, and I was from Greek background. These were the things I was told. There was no Anti-Discrimination Board at the time for me to complain to (language, gender, culture). So I found a job as a welfare worker with the Aboriginal Service of South Sydney Community Aid. And that was a real experience. It was the time in the 70’s when the Aboriginal movement started in Redfern. People like Mum Shirl, Charles Perkins, Lester Bostock, Paul and Isabel Coe, Chika Dixon and others were active.

Back then all these Aboriginal women came to me to ask me to find their children. I didn’t have a clue about the stolen generation, no one did. And I asked them what happened to your children? They were taken from me from the hospital or from the home, they said. I said look there must be records since you can’t take a child away without going through the court process, but there were no records.

One woman remembered the name of the family that took her daughter 16 years before. So I got out the telephone book and looked up the names. There were around five pages of the name that she had-but I was determined to do something about it so I rang every single number and finally found them. It was a white family living in the northern area and the girl was 16 years old.

Now the birth mother had said to me that before she dies she wants to tell her daughter that she didn’t abandon her – she was taken off her. I spoke to the adoptive mother, and she said ‘What does she want? She’s our daughter”. I said ‘can she just speak to her? She wants to give her a message before she dies’ and they were good people and they arranged to meet… I’ll never forget that.

In 1969 the Department of Immigration realised that there were no services available to support the settlement needs of migrants coming to Australia-no interpreting services, no welfare services. So, they established the Grant – in-Aid Scheme and funded organisations to work in high migrant needs areas and where I was working they had a qualifies social worker to help migrants, Martin Mawbray was the worker but he wanted to move on.

At the time when he resigned the labour government came in and that was a watershed in Australia’s history. We had had 20 years of the Liberal government and they had done very little for the migrant communities. They believed that migrants would come here and they would assimilate, go through a machine and become Australian people. I applied for the job and got it. There was however a drama because to work I had to be a registered social worker with the Social Workers Association. So, the agency thought well, the only person that could change that was the minister. So, we went to Chifley Square to see the minister and he said I’ve heard of you madam”. At the time the Ethnic Communities Council had begun to form and I was active in it and he knew it. So, he made a special Minister’s provision so that I could take the position. That’s how I met Al Grassby.

In 1979, Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services Cooperative – of which I was a founding member and employed as its first Executive Director – received federal funding from the Department of Social Security to set up the Ethnic Child Care Unit (based in Addison Rd Community Centre). The funding was provided to help them research the child care needs of ethnic communities in Sydney and provide information to ethnic families about accessing child care services. The ECCFCSC was also funded to train and support child care providers regarding them providing culturally and linguistically appropriate care.”

Images from the Farewell Dinner held to honour Vivi Koutsounadis, Friday November 10th 2017.

 

Vivi’s Farewell Speech

Speech to the farewell for Vivi Germanos-Koutsounadis held on 10th November, 2017 at the Cyprus Community Club by the Ethnic Community Services Co-operative.

“Dear friends, colleagues, co-workers, my family members thank you for coming tonight to celebrate my retirement from Ethnic Community Services Co-operative after 40 years of its establishment and service to CALD people and the Australian community as a whole.

I would like to pay tribute to my father and mother and all the migrants who migrated to give us – their children – an opportunity to have a better life, an education which they did not have. My father was bright but he needed to go and live in the city on the island of Chios where the only high school was based. His father could not afford to pay for his education and so he was apprenticed to a shopkeeper who exploited and abused him physically for many years until his father removed him.  

My mother from age 7 was sent to live as a companion to a saintly wealthy widow who treated her well and where she managed the huge estate. Her aunt, as she called her, taught her many important things, how to express herself, to be independent and to make decisions.  She stayed with her ‘aunt’ until she was 21-years-old when she returned to her village and married my father during the war and I was born one year later. My two brothers followed. Later on, my father became a merchant seaman and was away for six years. I had to help my mother with the work on the farm, look after my two brothers and, as she was illiterate, became her letter writer to my father. So I learn to take responsibility from an early age. When my father returned home he decided for us to migrate as a family to Australia in 1954.   

We lived in a big house in Glebe and gradually it was filled up with other newly arrived Greek migrants, mainly families and proxy brides. I was the eldest of the six children who lived there and every morning I took them to school and every afternoon walked them back home. I often minded them as their parents worked long hours in factories. I was the interpreter of the house, as I had learnt English. I listened to the various problems of the women and the men with the system and services and especially the proxy brides – some of whom did not like their prospective husbands but did not want to go back to their parents. They had no families and I was a bridesmaid six times and a godmother for the children. My mother advised the girls about women’s matters.