A European Social Fund employment scheme in Cyprus enabled Andreas Apatzidis, 41, to get the position that really suited him.
Working alone..finding a suitable job
“This is the ideal job for me, because I like working alone. I know what I have to do, and there is nobody giving me orders. I always try to do the work as well as I can, and I believe I have earned my colleagues’ respect.”
Andreas Apatzidis is full of warm enthusiasm and nervous energy. Relaxing in the Cyprus sunshine, he talks about his duties as a delivery driver for the baking and food retailing company Zorbas. “When people ask me to help out or do extra work I always do it. I have a good relationship with my superiors as well. Sometimes I am by myself all day, but I do my work and then go home, and that’s how I like it. I couldn’t stand to be shut up in the same place all day, every day.”
Andreas has come a long way. He moved to Larnaka in Cyprus in 1995, from his native Thessaloniki, in Greece. There, he had studied bookkeeping before completing three years’ military service. When he left the army, he found it hard to settle into a suitable job even with his diploma. So when he read in a newspaper that Cyprus was recruiting volunteers for its own armed forces, he signed up for a five-year term.
In Cyprus, Andreas met his wife Helen – they married in 1999. She already had two daughters, Maria and Georgina, and the couple soon had two more children of their own, Giannis, 9, and Andrea, 4. After his army contract ended, he took a job with an energy company. But as the sole earner for a family of six, when he suddenly found himself out of work, times grew very tough indeed.
A total life-change
Andreas lost confidence in himself. “My state of mind was very bad,” he admits. “I didn’t even want to go for interviews. But then I heard about a programme for people with problems, supported by the European Union. I went to the social welfare services and told them I needed help. I had to provide for my family.” In July 2006, Andreas started the scheme for Vocational Training and Promotion of Public Assistance recipients to Employment, co-funded through the European Social Fund. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “My life changed totally.”
The programme included a two-part training course: two weeks learning professional and problem-solving skills, followed by two weeks of information technology in Nicosia.
“The course was about knowing yourself better, and managing different situations in the workplace. At that time, the whole family was really stressed and nervous. But thanks to the programme I became much calmer. I learned how to behave better – I was not angry any more. I no longer felt that everybody was against me, or talking about me behind my back. I felt socially accepted.”
It was a bit like going back to school, and he still has the books he studied. At the end of the course, the programme maintained his income while social workers helped him to apply for vacancies. The first job he looked at was on a factory production line, and Andreas knew it was not for him. “When I told them I didn’t like it, they didn’t say I had to take it,” he notes gratefully. Finally, in May 2007, he started at Zorbas, and has never looked back. He appreciates the independence his job offers, and the trust his employers place in him.
Enjoying your work
During the first year, he continued to receive both financial and moral support. For six months, staff from the programme, as well as the company personnel department, visited him regularly to see how he was getting on and find out if he had any problems. Both he and his employees filled in questionnaires on his progress.
By now, Andreas knows the work well. He gets up at 4am every day to drive the ten minutes to the company premises. There, his first task is to load the prepared trolleys of food into his van and deliver them to shops between Larnaka and Nicosia. He is back at the factory by 8am to disinfect his vehicle and load up again with more dishes, for a second round of deliveries. He calls at the same shops to collect the empty trolleys, and then returns once more to base. The Nicosia traffic means he seldom gets back by noon, the end of his official working day, but this does not bother him. He sometimes stays on at work if there is more to do, and he says the overtime pay comes in useful for the family. He can also choose to work on a Sunday and take time off during the week, enabling him to avoid the heavy weekday traffic. His job gets him out and about, and he enjoys chatting with the shop assistants.
Andreas’ employers appreciate both his work and the programme that sent him. “It’s a very good scheme, because there’s a contribution from the government,” says Zorbas’ Human Resources Manager Zacharias Joannou. “Employers need a motive to assist people.”
A happier family
At home, in the family’s compact, first-floor flat, Andreas embraces his wife and children. He checks to make sure that Giannis – who is eager to slip off to play football with his friends – has finished his school homework. “It was very hard when Andreas was unemployed,” reflects Helen. “The course has helped him to know himself better, and he has changed. He no longer feels bad about himself. Anger is part of life, but now he knows how to deal with it.
“We know we are not alone,” she adds. “There’s someone to help, even if we have a family problem – someone to talk to. Now we are doing really well. The programme was a miracle.”