A long-time visitor of the Compassion Soup Kitchen – a tall, easy-going man who holds no secrets when it comes to sharing his philosophy, beliefs, or stories. Nor does he shy away from the past sadness that led him into deep depression and life on the streets, where he had to learn to live again.
From his earliest years, Smurf had to deal with difficult experiences. “My mum had all my other siblings, and so when me and my twin were born, my mum was on the streets at the time, so I was born onto the streets.” By the age of 11, Smurf and his twin brother were living in a small facility at the back of an orphanage. It was a tenuous existence and the orphanage eventually went into foreclosure. “They said that we couldn’t stay there and if we wanted, they could find us homes. We wanted to find a family for us two. Then they got a call from an Australian family who wanted twins,” says Smurf.
Together with his brother, they later began a life in Australia with a new family, a difficult change that meant leaving behind their mother, siblings, their native Cyprus and starting again in a new country. Smurf struggled with the new rules and restrictions – a far cry from the freedoms of his early years – and did not last long with his adoptive family.
Despite the disruptive change that this entailed in his first few years of life, there are some fond memories of that time that bring a smile to his face. “My adoptive parents were cool. They taught me basic English and how to read and write.”
Years later, as an adult, he was already established in New Zealand when he experienced the tragedy of losing his wife and children in a tragic accident, a blow that would mark a before and after in his life.
For Smurf, evading reality seemed to be the only way to end the suffering he was enduring. Life unravelled and the streets of Auckland became his home for almost three years.
“When I was up there, I started looking after many street kids and tried to keep them out of trouble.
Eventually, in conversations with them, it came up that I was like a tall Papa Smurf. Since that day, the name stuck!”
After a while, fate brought him to Wellington, where he experienced a deep depression remembering his wife and children. “I was at a point where I just wanted to go and sleep with the drugs taken and slip away, pretty much and go somewhere.”
Walking into the Compassion Soup Kitchen for the first time, he found the warmth he hadn’t felt in years.
“Because I don’t have a family, it’s like my extended family. So I have a lot of appreciation for this place.
You feel welcome even before you’ve entered the front door”
Sitting at a table for a warm meal each day, he met other people in the same situation with whom he shared experiences and life stories. During these conversations, Smurf felt a compelling need to capture his thoughts and turn them into letters and words through writing and poetry. These became the ideal tools to express his feelings and cope with his sadness.
In 2017, Smurf participated in the Te Hā Tangata – The Breath of the People project, an initiative that emerged from the Compassion Soup Kitchen’s literary workshop, which draws on the experience of those living on the streets and seeks to elevate their voices and challenge stereotypes about them.
Smurf is still smiling. His spontaneity and good humour make it hard to imagine the difficult road he has travelled to get to where he is now. He is calm and clear about his life and what it could have been.
“I had no one, so I made a family here. That’s the reason I want to say thank you. Definitely. Without the Soup Kitchen, I literally wouldn’t be here.”
* Our kaupapa is to collate and share the stories of the whānau with respect; this story is compiled from the testimony provided by Smurf.