Yiayia Next Door: In the wake of family violence, two brothers found refuge with the grandmother next door

By Kathryn Chung

<em>Photo credit: Mark Roper</em>
Photo credit: Mark Roper
In the devastating aftermath of their mother's death, two Melbourne brothers found refuge with the caring Greek grandmother next door, sparking a social media movement around community connection and ending family violence, as well as creating meaningful change.

When Daniel and Luke Mancuso started documenting their daily interactions with Yiayia, the Greek grandmother next door, they didn’t realise how much of an impact it would have. “We were just showing off how lucky we were receiving Yiayia’s home-cooked meals,” says Daniel. “It wasn’t until the page received some traction that we realised the big picture here and the power in our reborn friendship with Yiayia.”

The Instagram page, called Yiayia Next Door, now has over 70,000 followers, and has since turned into a social enterprise that supports initiatives that address family violence and inspire communities where people feel safe and connected.

Despite its positive impact, the genesis of Yiayia Next Door is a tragic one. In July 2013, their mother, Teresa, was killed by their father, Fernando Paulino. It took four years to finally convict Paulino, who was sentenced to 30 years in jail.

At the time, the judge at the sentencing described the crime as “one of jealousy, hatred and rage by a male against a woman who just wanted to be equal, independent and free, or more simply just wanted to be.”

Next door neighbour Yiayia kept their spirits up in their time of grief with homecooked meals handed over the fence. Photo credit: Mark Roper

As the brothers struggled to navigate their grief, it was their elderly neighbour, known affectionately as ‘Yiayia’, who was there for them every day, handing over home-cooked meals over the fence.

“We knew deep down why Yiayia was being so loving and doing whatever she could to support us. We were all dealing with the trauma and grief of not only losing our mother, but Yiayia losing a lifelong friend in our mother, Teresa,” says Daniel.

“They were challenging times,” recalls Luke. “Definitely more downs than ups. And the ups didn’t really last long once the reality seeped in. Especially during the period when we were yet to receive any form of closure from Mum’s death.

“So there was a lot of guilt initially because we both knew deep down who was responsible … asking ourselves constantly if we could have done anything to prevent it. Having Yiayia’s unconditional love and support was crucial because she would often remind us that we did everything we could and the best way to get through this was to follow her example of sticking by one another and picking each other up whenever we were down in the dirt.”

Having experienced the harm of family violence first-hand, the brothers know how important those community ties can be. “Our support network was only through our neighbours, friends and family at the time, as Mum would often flee when it got really intense,” says Daniel.

“We’re fortunate for the community around us during those times, they were a safety network of places and people close by. We know Mum stayed only because she wanted to be by our side and because she didn’t have any financial support as a stay-at-home mum.”

After she died, they were offered a lot of government counselling, which they found very beneficial, however, wish more could have been done early on. “We think having a better system or involvement with the police would be a big help,” says Daniel. “It seems like it’s not taken as seriously as it should be and the offenders seem to keep repeating their aggressive actions.”

Now we can all enjoy Yiayia’s home cooking with ‘Yiayia Next Door’, featuring traditional recipes from her kitchen

One of their most recent projects is a cookbook, Yiayia Next Door , featuring traditional Greek recipes from Yiayia’s kitchen, with a percentage of the sales going towards the Australian Childhood Foundation. The brothers say that while the journey of Yiayia Next Door has been challenging, it has given them the opportunity to shine a light on their mother’s legacy and create meaningful change from a heartbreaking tragedy.

“We really want to highlight the significance and importance of community,” says Daniel. “Even more so, to inspire people to be their own form of Yiayia Next Door to the people around them. As everyone knows, life is unpredictable and things change constantly, for better or for worse. Kindness is free and so is supporting one another.”

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