Greece’s Eimai, an organization promoting youth leadership and civic engagement, has teamed up with the US-based PeaceJam Foundation to bring a Nobel laureate, university-level mentors and other special guests to speak at the country’s first full-scale installment of the international conference.
PeaceJam is a nine times Nobel-nominated, award-winning school program with a million active young campaigners in 40 countries whose aim is to introduce Nobel Peace laureates to high school and university students to inspire positive leadership.
“We are seeing more and more young people becoming disengaged from school, especially creative minds that need flexibility to explore, learn and innovate beyond test taking. They lack opportunities to experience the real world on a socioeconomic level,” says Ellen Froustis, executive director of Eimai and regional director of PeaceJam Greece. “As a result, they have underdeveloped career skills and job prospects. They don’t often have access to adult mentors who can lead them to the next step, inspire global thinking, connectedness and problem solving – help them see themselves as competitive global citizens. There is a lower level of civic engagement and community-mindedness among our young people. There is lack of trust in the country’s leaders to bring about sustainable reform.”
The two-day conference in Greece is being hosted at Deree – The American College of Greece in Athens, and will take place on February 3-4. Titled “Step Up and Lead!” it will be attended by Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for his resistance against the 1976-83 dictatorship in Argentina and will speak at the event.
“We wanted to invite a laureate who has accomplished social change in a country that has experienced similar political and socioeconomic upheavals to Greece – national debt, high unemployment, poverty, dictatorships, as well as affluence,” says Froustis. “Mr Esquivel is an ordinary person – an artist, a professor – with an extraordinary will and compassion to defend the dignity of his people and fight for equity and justice without lifting a weapon or resorting to violence, without succumbing to corruption to secure his own self-interests. This is the type of role model our young people need – leaders who don’t lose their values in the face of adversity, but rather use them to build the social fabric to allow people to flourish and prevail.”
PeaceJam events – which this year are also taking place in South Africa, Liberia, Belgium, the UK, East Timor and Singapore – comprise a two-day conference where students discuss global issues, attend workshops led by local civil society leaders and share their community projects with the laureate as change agents in their communities. Over the last 20 years PeaceJam campaigners have initiated more than 2 million community projects worldwide. The laureates who are part of the PeaceJam Organization include the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams, Mairead Corrigan, Shirin Ebadi, Oscar Arias, Leymah Gbowee, Jose Ramos-Horta, Tawakkol Karman and Sir Joseph Rotblat.
These Nobel laureates have developed a school curriculum according to their own experiences and paths, helping develop their own solutions in turn to the global challenges faced by their communities.
“Our dream is to see PeaceJam students initiate their first university groups in Greece where they can be trained facilitators for workshops with middle and high school students in our conferences and after-school programs,” explains Froustis, adding that more than 500 students from different schools around the country are expected to attend the event.
Eimai organized a mini PeaceJam conference at the American Farm School in Thessaloniki in 2016 whose success prompted the upcoming event.
“More than 250 students and teachers came together to learn about the refugee crisis and its impact on Greece. Students attended workshops organized by the Bodossakis Foundation and Eleni Kostelidou from the NGO Arsis – both of which work with unaccompanied refugee minors,” says Froustis. “The impact was so great that we decided to move full speed ahead to bring our first Nobel Laureate to Greece in the 2017-18 school year.”
One of the initiatives that emerged from the Thessaloniki event was the LifeBag Project, where student attendees helped provide survival items to hundreds of youngsters at refugee camps and shelters. The project expanded to include participation from schools in other countries such as the US, UK and the Netherlands.
This collaborative initiative was one of five global winners of the One Billion Acts of Peace campaign – an initiative by the Nobel Peace laureates to inspire youth-led global community actions. This year the focus will be on the educational needs of young underprivileged Greeks and refugees, with an initiative called the LearnBag project that will help provide refugee children with school supplies.