Home | About NEO Magazine
May 2008

Cypriot Youth President Debbie Kamilaris

Debbie Kamilaris had visited Cyprus before and for years had joined her parents as they became involved in the various Cypriot organizations here in America.

“I would hear the issues growing up, see what happened, how it had affected my family and both my parents,” says the 24-year-old president of The Cypriot Youth Committee of America (CYCA), the six-year-old official Youth Division of the Cyprus Federation of America (CFA). “I just couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose your home and leave a place where you grew up and all your family was there and leave behind everything you knew.”

But now in 2004 her parents Stavros and Maria were taking the family back to the occupied area for the first time and to the reality of the homes they had left behind.

And Debbie says the trip was both memorable and emotional.

“For the most part the homes looked the same from what my parents said, just kind of rundown,” she remembers. “Both houses were occupied. In my dad’s house, they let us walk around and I think for him it was really emotional, because it wasn’t just a house his family had: they had a farm, they had stores, and a lot of different things that were left behind. For him it was emotional because he’s always been so passionate about Cyprus and the Cyprus problem.”

Her father had been in the army and had left Cyprus when he was a teenager. His daughter has been formally involved in Cyprus organizations at least since she was a teenager and she’s just as passionate about the country and the issues that face it.

“I feel it’s important for people to know about their heritage, to be involved in different cultural activities, because this is something I guess we need to keep alive,” says Debbie. “For me it’s important, number one, to motivate other youth to learn about their culture, about their heritage, and to go to Cyprus and know the history of the island and different customs and things that go on.”

She’s been president of CYCA for a year, and putting a modern spin on an old tradition, the group’s meetings are held monthly at the Starbucks in Edgewater. “We have people coming from New York and New Jersey so we just thought it was easier to get to,” she explains.

Most CYCA members from ages 17-30 come from New Jersey and New York, though there are members from other states, and the group is a member of NEPOMAK, which stands for Neolaia Pankosmias Omospondias Apdhimon Kyprio, or the World Organization of Young Overseas Cypriots. This organization has member branches around the world in eight countries, including the UK, US, Australia, Canada, Greece, and South Africa.

“And every summer we have a conference in August where we all meet and different speakers from Cyprus come and brief us on developments in the Cyprus issues,” says Debbie. “We do workshops to see what issues people from other countries have and talk about different challenges and things that have worked in one country that might work in others. This happens every summer usually in Lefkosia.”

There is also a NEPOMAK Discover Cyprus Program run in association with the University of Cyprus and the Cyprus Youth Board. This summer program takes applicants ages 18 to 22 from around and immerses them in a three-week intensive language course at the University of Cyprus’ School of Modern Greek in addition to a series of excursions to museums, monasteries and the Green Line.

“This is just another way for people who are part of CYCA to learn more about Cyprus and what it has to offer,” says Debbie. ““We get several applications every year and we try to get people who don’t necessarily have an opportunity to visit Cyprus every summer and maybe haven’t been there and want to learn more.”

Closer to home, CYCA sponsors an annual Cyprus Children’s Fund Benefit, a Career Fair, and is an integral part of the major annual events such as the annual CFA Gala Awards and the convention in May.

On its own, it recently sponsored a meeting of the group with the new consul general of Greece, Andreas Panayiotou, a February Cyprus Night in Tenafly with the Lampousa Salamis organization that “focused on educating everyone about Cyprus,” says Debbie, and it is a co-sponsor of the annual Horos tou Lemoniou with Lampousa Salamis and the New Jersey Cypriots at the Pines Manor in New Jersey.

“I think people are still motivated to get involved in Cyprus groups, but for different reasons,” she says. “It’s a little bit harder getting people in college interested because they have a lot going on and it’s really hard to do other things outside of school. But once people graduate and get into a working environment, a professional environment, they’re more likely to want to join an organization such as CYCA for networking opportunities and different reasons.”

A graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in finance, Debbie now works for Johnson & Johnson and is a world traveler in her own right. “I’ve been to Belgium, Italy, Holland, Greece, and I’m actually going to China in June. It’s business related, but I do get to see the country and see different things while I’m there.”

She fits in all this with her activities in CYCA because she feels the goal of the organization is important. “Basically the mission of CYCA is to strengthen ties to the Cypriot heritage through the development of educational, artistic, professional, political and social programs in the US.”

CYCA members, she says, “want to have ties to their culture and their heritage and become friends with people of the same background. A lot of the time we have similar backgrounds, we have a lot of similarities, and so it’s easy for us to become friends and develop relationship and friendships.”

Sponsored links

Home | About NEO Magazine

web stats tracker