Our Vendors: Panayiotis Triantafillidis (Shedia, Athens, Greece)

This weeks #ourvendors interview is from Panayiotis  who sells the street paper Shedia in Athens, Greece. This year, INSP will host its Global Street Paper Summit in Athens. Here, we meet Panayiotis, who says, “within this street paper I have found my second family.”

Panayiotis sells the street paper Shedia in Athens, Greece

By Panayiotis Triantafillidis, Shedia 

I come from Istiaia (a town in the north of Greek island Evia), though I was born in Athens and lived most of my years in the area of Aspropyrgos. I am a Greek gypsy and this has caused me many problems in life.

My father was a merchant, and I helped him in several jobs. When he died in 2008, we were heartbroken. It’s been so many years and I still don’t believe it.

I desperately wanted to leave home, but I couldn’t because I had to look after my mother. She was very strict. She didn’t want me to walk on the streets late at night because she was afraid that I would have trouble with the police. It’s common for us gypsies to face racism. One day, I said I would leave the house and not go back. Since I was a child, I’ve dreamed of having my own home, but I could never afford it as I didn’t have a regular, stable job.

When I was young, I was in an accident and lost all of my teeth. That made it difficult when I was looking for a job, because people saw me like this and thought I was a drug addict. When I went to an area named Renti [a working class suburb of Athens] I got to know the neighbourhood, and people liked me. I was taking care of dogs, feeding them and helping the neighbours. One woman let me stay in her house and allowed me to have a bath and a sleep there.

Later, I moved to the city centre. I had no steady job but I had some money from helping in a kiosk in Syntagma Square. In return, the owner gave me food and a small amount of money. But I had no friends, and was very lonely.

One day, I noticed some guys with red vests, selling a magazine [the street paper Shedia] but I didn’t know what it was because I didn’t know how to read. I never went to school. I was sent once by my mother, but the older kids beat me up and stole my money so I never went back.
I asked a vendor about the street paper. He explained to me what it is and how it works, but I did not quite understand the whole thing.

In the meantime, I was working in a cemetery. At first I was afraid but after a while I got used to it. There were times when I was very hungry and didn’t have a single cent for food. Once I met a group of policemen who liked me and helped me, but their views were quite extreme. They influenced the way I thought and made me feel hostile against asylum seekers and migrants, and to be racist towards them. But luckily, I quickly understood that was wrong. I regret my actions, I was disappointed in myself. I never expected myself to be and think like this.

One day, as I was walking down a central Athens street, I noticed a big gathering outside a place [a grassroots Migrant’s Assistance Centre]. I asked the people who were queuing what they were doing there and they told me that they were attending Greek language classes

I asked if I could myself attend and was told that they accept all people. That was the time my mind changed totally. I realised what I did wrong and how many good things we miss.

With the help of a private tutor I quickly learned to read and write. One day I saw someone with a red vest again. This time, I could read what was written on it – Shedia! I asked again, I learned, I understood better. I visited the offices, talked with the people, and everything was explained to me in detail. This time I was really keen to start.

Shortly after, I got a phone call inviting me to the office. I was handed the red vest and my first ten free copies. The first day I went to my pitch early and waited until it was time for me to start my new job. It was an unfortunate day, as I had my bag stolen, but I did not give up.

I saw that things were quickly starting to change and I was sure that I would make it. In two months I had saved a small amount of money and immediately rented my own small flat. Shortly after that, the people from the street paper helped me to fix my teeth. I was so happy and had energy to sell more magazines. When I get home, one thing I do before I sleep is to think of Shedia and the people who gave me this opportunity. Now that I am able to read, I cannot stop reading every page of the magazine.

There are of course some people who do not like the magazine and say a lot of bad things about us. The worst someone said to me is that we are begging. I felt embarrassed, but I realised that not everyone can understand how important it is for me and how it has helped me.

People now get to know us even more and I am very happy about it. I am pleased people can see how I have changed. Even if, someday, I manage to find another job I do not want to leave Shedia. I will make sure that I make some time to sell the street paper. Sometimes I struggle to pay my rent, but I do not give up.

People ask me about the people of Shedia and what I answer is that within this street paper I have found my second family. We do many things together and I am very happy, very proud and lucky that I joined this family.

If it wasn’t for Shedia, I would be a wild tramp. In Shedia, I have realised all the dreams I’ve had since my childhood. I did not expect it to happen but it did. And now I can dream even more.

INSP publishes an international vendor story every week. Come back next Wednesday to read another story from one of the thousands of inspirational men and women who sell street papers.