“I’ll never forget the moment I reached the top of Gibrena after a 2-and-a-half hour hike,” says 17-year-old Haris, expressing the awe everyone in his group felt when they’d completed one of the most picturesque trails of the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park in Thrace, northen Greece. “Below us was the cliff, above us birds of prey on the wing, and in front of us, small villages on the Turkish side of the border. It was the first time I’d been near the border,” he added.
The participants in the five-day excursion organized by Happy Village (the youth camp of the Urban Rail Transport company, STASY) were young people aged 16 to 25 undergoing training for their role as team leaders. Being a team leader entails being a good role model and helping youngsters during camp activities, and in doing so, preparing them for the responsibilities of adult life.
“When you’re hiking, you can’t forget about the person next to you,” said Haris. “This is the quintessential role of the team leader,” he added. “When you’re in the woods, you’re responsible for yourself first and foremost, then the others,” said 16-year-old Anastasia, who was recently awarded the role of team leader for the first time. “When I was team leader, I realized that I wanted to train others to do the same thing,” said Myrto, 17, who told us that hiking in the countryside helps her to better understand herself and her own capabilities.
“My trip to the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park was the only one I took this year as I’m studying for my university entrance exams,” said Haris, who wants to study theater. “While hiking, my attention was drawn to the predators, which we tend to think of as something negative, but they are essential to the balance of nature: They essentially clean the forest,” he explained. “We found rocks where eagles drop turtles to break their shells and eat them.”
The Silk Museum
A tour of the Silk Museum in the town of Soufli, near the Turkish border, gave the group plenty of food for thought. “My generation tends to underestimate the industrial history of Greece because it didn’t end very well,” says 20-year-old Stefanos Koufakis, who is a third-year student at the University of Piraeus.
The museum, which presents the history and significance of sericulture and silk manufacturing in the region, as well as the impact of globalization on the industry. “Hopefully the silk industry will be rediscovered,” said Stefanos, who is also from Thrace. Stefanos grew up hearing stories from his grandmother, who worked in silk manufacturing in the 1950s and 60s, when the local economy was still powered by the industry. For him, the excursion was also an opportunity to take a break from the rigors of daily life, as he has to work to support himself through school.