Standing in the middle of a meadow blooming with poppies, Schoinousa resident Manolis Kovaios shares his thoughts on this island in the Lesser Cyclades group with visitors – both actual and virtual. “I love the contours of Schoinousa’s landscape. Nature is all around you here. When you wake up in the morning well rested and watch the sun rise, there’s no way you won’t have a beautiful day. You’re filled with hope and appreciation for being alive. After all, life is short.”
The 360islands.gr website is a new project organized by Agoni Grammi Gonimi (Fertile Remote Areas) through which Kovaios and other island residents introduce Schoinousa to viewers by recounting its history and talking about what makes it special in personal narratives and interactive content that allows web users to do a bit of exploring.
“An island’s character comes from its people,” says Stefanos Nollas, the head of Agoni Grammi Gonimi. “If you don’t meet them, you miss out on a huge part of its identity, and it is through them that we wanted to promote lesser-known parts of Greece, such as Schoinousa, which is our first destination.”
Oliwia Twardowska, a Polish intermedia artist and film director, spent six months on the island getting to know the protagonists of the project who would each add his or her piece to the mosaic that now forms a fascinating and original portrait of Schoinousa.
“I met a lot of very open-minded and open-hearted people. On winter weekends, people from the surrounding islands come to Schoinousa and dance at its main kafenio until the early hours,” says Twardowska, who directed and edited the videos and still photography for the project.
Thanks to the initiative, visitors to the website can meet Kovaios and hear about his love for the island, about the split peas he grows to make fava, as well as Schoinousa’s traditional dances and the boat that serves locals in winter and takes visitors on tours in the summer months.
“There is no such word as tourist on Schoinousa – everyone from somewhere else is regarded as a visitor and guest,” says Twardowska. “Manolis, for example, is one of those young people who love their native land and decided to stay.”
Visitors to the website click on a scene to activate the narrative – which is in Greek only, for the time being. One of the photographs is of Margarita, seen holding a bouquet of flowers like the ones she gave Twardowska and gives every visitor who comes to the village of Panaghia, Schoinousa’s main community.
“She’s a stoic character who can often be seen sitting at the entrance to the village. She grows flowers that she gives to passers-by, and every once in a while, she’ll also treat them to a glass of raki,” says Twardowska.
The 360islands website takes us into the 80-year-old woman’s traditional home, shows us the photographs on her walls and her heavy wooden furniture, and allows us to listen to her stories of the old days.
Site visitors can also meet Sofia, a Greek-Swiss woman who fell in love with a local on her first visit to Schoinousa 13 years ago and settled there permanently, as well as Yiannis, seasoned captain of the Skopelitis, a small ferry boat that connects the island to the rest of the Cyclades.
The islanders’ narratives have also inspired the idea for a board game called “In Schoinousa,” which was created and handcrafted by the island’s schoolchildren – 11 in total, from elementary to high school – and project chief Dafni Kouri. “The elements that comprise the game are the past, present and future, meaning the island’s history, its adults and the children,” says Kouri, explaining that the action is centered around the kafeneio, which is very much the heart of Schoinousa’s social life.
The 360islands team are now busy translating the site into English, while next year they will be heading to the mountain village of Apeiranthos on the island of Naxos, with plans to make the site available in four languages.
In its 10 years of operation, Agoni Grammi Gonimi has designed and implemented all sorts of recreational and educational activities for remote parts of the country. It also organizes donation drives for the purchase of medicines and medical equipment, as well as heating oil for cash-strapped schools. It is currently active on 40 islands.
“The website is aimed at diaspora Greeks who want a taste of Greece, and now they can hear the sounds of nature and people’s stories thanks to technology,” says Nollas, explaining that the organization is now looking for funding to expand the 360islands initiative.