“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Edith Wharton
I’m really excited to begin bringing you stories of regular people, like you or me, who are making a difference in their community. In these unsettling times with the news often disconcerting its wonderful to read about good people doing good – it helps us remember there is loads of good out there! In this post I’ll be sharing about a local man that I have known for many years, Nikos Chremos. I always admire a person who is bilingual, not only is Nikos bilingual, but he uses his language skills to help non-English speakers in his community.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
Nikos Chremos works as an interpreter for the Durham Public Schools here in North Carolina. His job is demanding and sometimes spills over into the evening and weekends, since the needs of his clients don’t end with the school day, but he doesn’t talk or complain about that part of his job, he takes it in stride. When you meet Nikos he may appear to be like many other people you have met. He likes to work on repairing cars. He likes music and has enjoyed playing in a band. He practices yoga and along with his wife teaches yoga classes at Ashtanga Yoga Club Durham. However, upon scratching through the surface you will find an extraordinary person with interesting life experiences, a big heart, a storehouse of knowledge, and a willingness to help others any way he can.
“Always be more than you appear and never appear to be more than you are.” Angela Merkel
Nikos, son of a Greek immigrant, has lived in Durham for 14 years, prior to that he lived in Greensboro NC. He grew up in Richmond, and Philadelphia. He and his sister grew up speaking Greek at home and he has always had an interest in languages, perhaps because he spent his whole life around foreign languages and non-English speakers. His official language studies in school were in Spanish, he has worked as a Spanish teacher in DPS, but as you can imagine he has a little knowledge of many languages.
“In diversity there is beauty and strength.” Maya Agelou
Working as an interpreter, Nikos serves a large and varied number of families and students. Prior to coming to Durham Nikos worked for Lutheran Family Services Refugee Resettlement Agency in Greensboro, helping to set up housing for incoming refugees. Although he was not officially an interpreter at that time his knowledge of languages was helpful. After moving to Durham, before beginning work as an interpreter at DPS, Nikos volunteered at a literacy center helping Spanish-speaking adults who were learning to read and write in Spanish. Later he volunteered as a tutor for students from Spanish speaking families through Centro Hispano.
“Because that’s what kindness is. It’s not doing something for someone else because they can’t, but because you can.” -Andrew Iskander
Many of the families Nikos works with in Durham Public Schools have overcome great obstacles to be here in the United States and enroll their students in DPS. Some of them are refugees from countries in upheaval, some are legal immigrants, and some are illegal immigrants. They each have a unique story, but the one thing they all have in common is they do not speak English. What I realized while learning about Nikos’ job is that without people like him the students and families who do not speak English would be lost completely. Any parent who has put their child on the school bus for the first time know the amount of trust it takes, the fear that something will go wrong on the way to or from school. Now imagine if you just came to the US from a refugee camp, in a war torn country, with zero infrastructure, the whole idea of the school bus is not to be believed – and yet they must. Oh, and you also don’t speak the language – for these people Nikos is a lifeline, and in a case like this it took a week of daily phone calls reassuring a hysterical mother that the bus may be late (traffic, discipline issues, leaving school late), but it would arrive and it would return her precious child safely to her. That is not the kind of job that ends at a certain time of day, your phone rings whenever you are needed. Helping these families goes beyond registering for school, filling out paperwork, and getting school supplies.
When asked about his favorite part of the job Nikos said “I like to ease anxiety. I enjoy being able to show that I have the situation under control, I have the information they will need, and I can be contacted if necessary if there are problems. I also like assuring parents and students that they have every right to attend school, they have every right to complain about problems, and they have every right to receive any and all applicable services that an English speaking, US born student would receive. ” Nikos says, “One thing I hope to teach families is that there is a certain process and it is good to know the process.” Of course he also must teach these parents that the process is ever changing and arbitrary so flexibility is important. Nikos shared that even as an English speaker it is often hard to get to the bottom of which school programs still exist, what counseling services are available, Special Ed services, transportations, etc. What are the budgets for these services and who controls how much time a student should be in one place instead of another. Who decides who can receive a school-sponsored tutoring service? These details change every year and are nearly impossible to ferret out – basically impossible for a non-English speaker unfamiliar with the school system – and that is where he and his colleagues’ services come in.
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” Seneca
If you know of someone whose light should be reflected for all of us to see, please email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or reply below – because there are never too many stories of good in the world! If you would like to have my blog posts delivered to your inbox please subscribe today, you can expect a post every 4 weeks or so. (I do not share your email with anyone)
Light, Love, Laughter,