Parents organize for the sake of their children

All parents worry when they hear that the school canteens are selling inappropriate food or that most serious accidents involving children occur on school premises. Yet few of them do anything about it, mainly because they don’t think they are in any position to act. One group of parents from the village of Ovrya, on the outskirts of Patras, did decide to take action. Investing some of their own time and money, they have succeeded in getting a model health and safety plan implemented at the local primary school. They hope their achievement will inspire all Greek schools. Yiannis Mylonas, a chemist at the Athinaiki Brewery, is president of the Parents and Guardians’ Association at Ovrya’s Second Primary School. «All parents are concerned about their children,» he told Kathimerini. «We’re afraid of accidents and we worry about their diet. Our association wanted to go beyond wishing and we didn’t want to restrict ourselves to organizing events. We wanted to take it a step further and, in then end, we took it much further.» Their first concern was to take control of the canteen. «Luckily, we started the association just when the canteen management was changing hands. So we informed the person in charge about the law on what the canteen should sell, how it should be made and that staff must always wear gloves and aprons,» said Mylonas. The association followed up with an internal supervisory system to make sure hygiene standards were applied and to make sure only permitted items were on sale. Their next step was to document any safety hazards at the school and work with the school administration to remedy them. «As in most schools, there were construction problems,» he explained. «For instance, there were no banisters on the stairs, so we installed some. We also put non-slip strips on the stairs, protective film on window panes so they wouldn’t shatter when they break and covers on the heaters.» At the initiative of the association, the school also holds regular evacuation drills, and teachers attend seminars on first aid, hygiene and safety. School excursions are another major worry for parents. «We set strict criteria for the selection of travel agencies and a traffic policeman accompanies coaches to the highway,» said Mylonas, who presented the program at a conference run by FAOS, a non-profit organization. FAOS President Christos Xadzitheodorou, who is the rector of Patras University, offered his congratulations: «I only wish more schools would implement it so that problems are not simply dealt with but prevented.» Another school, in Athens this time, has nipped the canteen problem in the bud by not having a canteen at all. «It was the parents’ decision,» Marilena Maragou told Kathimerini. Maragou is president of the Parents and Guardians’ Association at the Second Primary School in Aghia Paraksevi. They didn’t trust the quality of the goods on sale, so they abolished it. «The children eat only homemade food that they bring with them. It’s a bit tiring, especially for mothers who have to cook every day, given that most of them work, but at least they feel much more sure [about what their children are eating].»