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Greek teachers find work in South Africa

By Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
February 9, 2012 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
  • Greek teachers are finding work teaching the Greek language in South Africa
  • Teachers pay for relocation to South Africa but still receive salary from Greek government
  • Up to 50,000 Greeks live in South Africa, according to Greek consulate in Johannesburg

(CNN) -- For a woman whose country is on the brink of financial collapse, Greek teacher Julie Koukliati is surprisingly cheerful.

"You only hear bad things about Europe and Greece but people there still have hope," she said. "They are still falling in love, going on vacation, they are getting on with their lives."

Koukliati is quick to add, however, that many of her friends and family are inquiring about South Africa, where three weeks ago she started a new job teaching Greek at a private school in the city of Pretoria.

Koukliati is in South Africa as part of an initiative by the education ministry in her country to teach the Greek language to expats living abroad. However, the program has been drastically reduced as Greece tries to cut back on spending. Over 2,000 teachers were sent overseas in 2009, and last year the number was cut down to 1,430. The teachers pay for their own travel and relocation but continue to receive a salary from the Greek government.

Teachers' salaries have recently been cut by the Greek government, and Koukliati says she now earns 200 euros less than she did two years ago. She's expecting another cut soon as her government explores more ways of saving money. Working in South Africa, however, will cushion that blow.

"The truth is I get two salaries now," she told CNN. "One from Greece and one from here."

Apart from the primary school where she goes in the morning, Koukliati teaches older kids at a Greek community center. She told CNN: "The community here asked the ministry of education back home to take care of this part of Greece which is in South Africa, and it's a strong part."

Up to 50,000 Greeks live in South Africa, according to the Consulate General of Greece in Johannesburg. Community organizations have told CNN that they are receiving more job applications from electricians and artists desperate to escape the tough economic conditions in Greece.

When asked how she feels about the fact Greek teachers are losing their jobs back home while she is paid to teach foreigners, Koukliati insists she's still serving her country. She said of her students: "Their roots are in Greece. Their parents and grandparents don't want them to lose their roots. In their hearts and their parents' hearts Greece is always there. So I'm still working for Greece, that's for sure."

The number of Greeks living in South Africa has dropped sharply in the past decade. A report by the General Secretariat of Greeks abroad estimated that 100,000 expats lived in South Africa in 2004 -- roughly twice the number living there today.

South Africa has its own unemployment problems, but a deficit in specialized skills could see the once dwindling Greek community burgeon again.

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