OLYMPIA, Greece, April 26.04.2018
At the Greek town of Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, the first Annual World Cultural Heritage Youth Symposium was held under the auspices of the Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO. The event, organized from April 19 to April 23, brought together 184 middle school and high school students and teachers from across the globe, who joined forces to promote intercultural dialogue and protect world cultural heritage.
The participants, who flew in from 12 different countries, also immersed themselves in Greece’s ancient history and modern way of life, learning about other cultures and making new friends.
The students had a lot of homework to do in order to prepare for the symposium.
The main goal of the symposium was no other than to turn cultural diversity into a force for peace, security, and development for all.
“We must invest in children’s education, an education founded upon the values of democracy. We must all take at heart the resolution that democracy is not a privilege for the few, but a right for all,” Vasilis Papalyberis, Head of the Organizing Committee.
The five-day program included a variety of constructive activities, which kept students and teachers alike busy and encouraged team working and learning in a relaxing environment.
Numerous presentations and interactive workshops focused on various perspectives of the cultural heritage, such as sustainability, universal human values, the Mediterranean diet, and Olympism.
Stories Untold, art work produced during the war by artists who live in Syria was presented by Manas Ghanem, United Nations Expert Diplomatic and Organizational Relations, to the lively audience. The intensity and beauty of the paintings and the stories they carry were warmly received with applause and tears. The moved lively audience concluded we can always chose life, love, hope and peace even in times of despair. At the same time, the students took the chance to present one of their country’s UNESCO-listed world heritage monuments or traditions.
The students had the unique opportunity to race at the stadium of Ancient Olympia, where the Olympic Games were originally held, and to be crowned with a wreath of bay leaves, the humble trophy of Olympic athletes in ancient times.
The guided tour that followed at the Archaeological Museum and Ancient Olympia, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most impressive in Greece, and at the museum dedicated to Archimedes, the famous ancient Greek inventor, thrilled the young students. “We learned more about other cultures, we learned more about Greece, we learned more about the Olympic Games. This is what we wanted, and we are very glad for,” 14-year-old said Khalid Al Kassabi from Oman exclaimed.
“It’s meeting everybody and getting to know Greece, seeing all the beautiful places, and seeing the Olympia Stadium is really impressive, something that you won’t forget,” Vicky Mikkalsen, World Heritage coordinator from Norway, said.
All participants signed the “World Cultural Heritage Youth Declaration”, which reflects their vision of the preservation of world heritage, respect towards cultural diversity and the engagement of young people in this cause.
The next day the declaration was handed over to the representative of the Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO, to be officially submitted to the organization.
The closing ceremony, hosted at the nearby open-air theater of Ancient Floka, featured traditional Greek songs and dances and ended with all the children dancing together to the music of Zorba, the Greek classic. As they all said, the symposium only marked the beginning of friendships and future cooperation.
The Symposium is supported by the United Nations Regional Information Center, the International Olympic Academy, the European Parliament Information Office in Greece and the Hellenic Association of Political Scientists.