Feature - The lynchpin of the Cyprus Presidency
02.11.2012, 13:09 (CET)
During its six-month duration, the number of meetings organised on the island by the Cyprus Presidency will total 170, while it is also hosting an array of cultural and other events. With an expected 40,000 people visiting Cyprus from July to December, the arrangement of transport, accommodation and catering can seem an insurmountable task.  While organisation is of course a major factor in shaping perceptions of whether a Presidency is successful or not, it is the contribution of enthusiastic individuals that leaves a lasting impression on visitors. Entrusted with conveying the message of ‘filoxenia’ and promoting the hospitable character of Cyprus and its people, the liaisons and volunteers working for the Cyprus Presidency are the lynchpin that make the Presidency click.

Whether responsible for handing out accreditation badges at airports, escorting delegates throughout their visit or preparing upcoming conferences, the tasks of the volunteers and liaisons of the Cyprus Presidency are never-ending.

There are currently over 70 volunteers helping out during the Cyprus Presidency, while 41 liaisons – all civil servants – complete the team.

Although notably diverse, consisting of university students, graduates and seasoned civil servants, this group is a vibrant one, always buzzing with excitement.

First point of contact

The liaisons are tasked with escorting European delegates throughout their stay on the island, arranging transportation from and to the airport, the hotel and the conference  venue and helping out with communication.

“When it came to the liaisons, we went for civil servants due to the level of commitment and consistency that was required for this particular position. Language skills were also one of the most important considerations,” says Ms Evgenia Constantinou, the head of the liaisons and volunteers at the Secretariat of the Cyprus Presidency. 

Nine European languages are covered by different members of the liaison team, including French, German, Spanish, Italian, Czech, Slovakian, Polish, Bulgarian and Romanian. Knowledge of the English language was a pre-requisite.

For Iriana Daniil, the liaison who escorted the European Parliament President, Mr. Martin Schulz, during his visit to Cyprus in July, there is so much more to a successful conference than the meeting itself.

“It is important that you give the visitors a good impression, that you make them feel comfortable speaking in their own language and that you provide them with all the facilities they need to do their job efficiently, while also making them feel at home,” says Ms. Daniil.

 “The idea of working so close to the European Union was incredibly appealing. It’s a unique opportunity to see how an EU Presidency works and to come in contact with people that you only see on TV,” says Chrystalla Agathokleous, a 20-year-old European Studies undergraduate student and volunteer.

Youth assuming the reins

While the media limelight falls on the European delegates and officials who visit Cyprus for the different meetings, plenty of enthusiasm is on display as volunteers go about their work in the background.  

Volunteers are used interchangeably at different information points at the airports in Larnaca and Paphos, the ‘Filoxenia’ Conference Centre in Lefkosia (Nicosia) and at other conference venues across the island. They welcome European delegates, hand out accreditation badges and offer any useful information required.

“At the conference centre, we basically do anything that needs to be done, from accompanying interpreters to ushering and directing people into the conference rooms,” says Christodoulos Stavrou, a third-year undergraduate student and volunteer.

The majority of volunteers are in their early twenties and are currently pursuing their undergraduate studies at universities in Cyprus. 

“The Presidency constitutes a once in a lifetime opportunity and the experience we are acquiring is incredibly valuable. We are a team filled with young people and there is a real buzz around the place, we are really excited about helping out during the Presidency,” says Christodoulos.

“It is encouraging that young people are thoroughly involved in the Presidency and that they have assumed the reins. This means that society wants young people to be at the forefront of the Presidency, and that can only be a good thing,” says Ms Antonia Papatheodoulou, a liaison who works as a head nurse at the Limassol General Hospital.

Building a strong team

With youth taking centre stage for the smooth running of the Cyprus Presidency, the fostering of a team spirit was not hard to achieve. Chosen from all over the island, volunteers had training sessions and were briefed on how to best exemplify the hospitality of the island.

“We first approached the universities two years ago to give presentations about what we were looking for and there was a great turnout. After interest from graduates, we also had an open call, where we received a lot of applications,” Ms.  Constantinou says.

Ms. Constantinou explains that a back-up system, along with the large number of volunteers, was needed in order to facilitate round-the-clock presence of personnel at the info points of both airports, due to late arrivals.

Building a strong team

An experience with a long-term impact

This being the first time Cyprus has been at the helm of the Council of the European Union, volunteers and liaisons alike express their hope that the experience will have a positive long-term impact on the volunteers involved. 

“This is a one-off experience which could have lasting effects. The interaction with other Europeans will be an ‘eye-opener’ for Cypriots,” says Ms Papatheodoulou.

Amidst all their tasks, this enthusiastic team of liaisons and volunteers working for the Cyprus Presidency want to try to ensure one thing above all, that visitors leave the island with an enduring positive imprint, a memory of Cyprus being a ‘filoxenos’ – hospitable place.

 So what kinds of signs do the volunteers and liaisons receive from visiting European delegates?

“Most of the visitors ask us about the history of Cyprus and want to learn about the political and financial situation,” says Ms. Daniil, while commenting that many thoroughly enjoy the good weather they find in Cyprus and express regret that they can’t stay longer.

With the notion of ‘filoxenia’ constituting a central message of the Cyprus Presidency, the Presidency rests its hopes on its enthusiastic volunteers and liaisons to leave visitors with fond memories to take home.

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