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GREECE: Interview with Maria Chalari- International Human Rights Expert [Part 2]

Photo courtesy of Maria Chalari

{In case you've missed it, read Part I of this interview!

In Part Two of this interview with Maria Chalari she discusses some of the challenges she's faced as a woman throughout her career which has not seemed to inflict her ambitious plans.  Maria stands as a leader in the face of Greece’s instability and financial crisis, as she nobly attempts through human rights education and research to develop solutions towards a future that promotes inclusion. She leaves women with a sense of knowing that in the face of what seems to be impossible there is a splendid expectation for an equitable future.

(7) What career achievement are you the most proud of?
In the Summer of 2011 the Institute of Education in partnership with the University of Nizwa in Oman offered me an internship to work in Oman. During this internship I had the chance to work in the Diploma Programme ‘Early Intervention for Children with Disability’ with a leading scholar in my field at the University of Nizwa. There, I provided assistance to the main Specialist Tutor and thereafter I individually completed a remaining 39 teaching hours to offer student support and guidance to the 45 Diploma students of Inclusive Early Intervention in accordance with the requirements of the University of Nizwa Diploma Programme in Partnership with the Institute of Education, University of London. I was also invited from the University of Nizwa to present my work in a Gulf-wide Regional Academic Seminar Series that offered me a real international platform through which I showcased my work. I am very proud of this career achievement because the University of London chose me for something so important without having finished my first year of my PhD studies.
While I was in Oman I traveled a good deal and experienced a culture totally different from the European cultures. Although sometimes I faced difficulties (mostly because of my gender), I tried to approach this experience with humility and a keen sense of social justice and I appreciated the need to explore issues in their own particular contexts and to carefully weigh evidence. The above internship strengthened my skills in acting independently at the professional level and helped me become more sensitive about cultural and gender differences, and capable of working in multicultural, multi-ethnic environments with respect for diversity. This internship also made me fight with my fears, and feel more confident for my abilities.

(8) What sort of difficulties have you faced, if any, as a woman throughout your career?          
In the past I have faced discrimination at some recruitment processes, where the interviewers saw me incompetent for challenging roles because of my gender and asked me questions like whether I would be able to continue my job after marriage and especially after being a mother. I remember another interview for a job at the University of Athens where the interviewer questioned me and remarked on my dignity and morals and continued by asking me if my surname ‘Chalari’, which in Greek with a change in intonation means relaxed but not in a good way, shows my character.
In general, I face many difficulties as a woman throughout my career every day. First of all my tasks and challenges are so many that it is so difficult for me, and for every woman I think, to keep a balance between so many duties and obligations: baby, husband, kitchen, house, career, traveling, society, personal health, passion, desires etc. I have to be super multi-tasking to face the challenges in my daily life. I very often find myself juggling between work, home, relationships and personal life and handling lot of stress which deprives my peace, rest and sleep.

(9) What sort of plans do you have upon obtaining your PhD?
After obtaining my PhD I would be very interested in working as a Post-doctoral fellow for a few years and then follow an academic career. I love the idea of being able to educate and inspire the next generation of educators and social scientists. I am sure it will be a rewarding experience.

(10) What is it like being a new mom and maintaining a career?
I feel that being a mum and maintaining a career is one of the hardest things I will ever have to do. My son now is only 10 months old and for the last 10 months I have focused mostly on him and on my family, as a result my career has ‘suffered’ a bit. I am sure that as my son will be getting older I will be more capable of keeping a better balance between my role as a mother and my role as a career woman. I believe that the key to the above will be my great husband who is willing to equally share parenting duties with me.

(11) What sort of advice would you give a young girl who was interested in following your footsteps in philanthropy?

I would tell her to follow my steps in philanthropy only if she had a genuine interest in contributing to other people. The word ‘philanthropist’ literally means someone who loves man (anthropos - άνθρωπος in Greek) and as it implies, philanthropists should generally be altruistic in nature, rather than engaging in activities that will directly benefit them.

(12) Are you currently working on any projects?
Currently I am working on a research project about Greek education system in the midst of Greece’s socio-economic and xenophobic crisis. This research project focuses on Greek teachers and the way they experience and respond to the recent political and economic situation in Greece in relation to the new challenges that stem from it. The purpose of the research project is to explore how we can build on the strengths of the present education system in order to create a system to suit the current major societal changes and face the challenging circumstances. Greece, at this present time of financial crisis and accompanying social uncertainty, is a really fascinating place to study the evolution and nature of the challenges the education system and teachers face, how certain social ideas are communicated through schooling to young people, the role schools and teachers play in either enhancing or mitigating tensions of citizenship. It is also an important context to rethink education as a process of self-knowing and empowerment.
I believe that we are in need of not only exploring precariously and insightfully the negative implications of the socio-economic crisis, but also of understanding the core values of the current era and the crucial issues that may become opportunities as well as driving forces for reflection and change. If we manage to think of the crisis from the bottom up, to see the gaps rather than the closures, and closely examine the breaks and rupture points through which new tendencies in society are disclosed and made apparent, then we could deploy and use education in framing an imperative for insights and indications of what is to be done.

(13) What’s next for you?
One of my future dreams is to study photography after completing my doctoral studies and to manage to combine my theoretical studies and my research interests with my love for travel and to capture critical moments with my camera.

(14) What would you like to share with the Women For Action audience?
I would like to share with the Women For Action audience ‘Ithaca’, one of my favourite Greek poems written from C. Cavafy.

As you set out for Ithaca
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard
(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Ithaca is not just a Greek island, it an inner-self quest for rediscovering who we really are; at the same time it is a celebration of the human nature and the capability of achieving our goals, even if it means that we have to go through the most difficult and unexpected obstacles to reach those goals. 

(Interview by Julene Allen and Chiara Cola)

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Julene Allen