I have shared the photo above on this platform once before. I wrote a series of reflections on the village where that photo was taken, and today I share a riff on all that. That photo was enlarged to take up an entire wall of our office in India, as a reminder to me each day of the purpose behind what I was doing. Our company’s mission includes education. It is mostly about conservation. That building, which I photographed 10+ years ago, after it had recently been abandoned, has been a reminder for me that one of these days I am determined to share whatever I can from our work in that village.
Thanks to an online publication I follow for news from Greece I found this story that helps explain why I thought of the photo above just now. It gives me both hope and tangible ideas of what might be done. It starts with a group of immigrants in Bangor, Maine whose life trajectory was like that of so many others from the Lakonia region of Greece, including my mother. And the story leads back to a foundation that has been referenced once before in our pages, but this time the foundation’s work hits closer to home:
The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a young person. But sometimes it takes young people to raise up a village, and this is exactly what’s happening in the Laconian village of Vamvakou.
Vamvakou is a short drive from Vourthonia, my mother’s village. So this video below strikes a chord.
Some of the images from Mamvakou could as easily have been taken in Vourthonia.
But it is the story of what is happening in that village that captures my imagination:
Can a once-thriving mountain village, today home to only nine inhabitants, come to life again?
Can it fill with visitors, permanent inhabitants, and model businesses while retaining its traditional character? This is the wager laid by a group of five young people who want to revitalize the village of Vamvakou, 900 meters up the slopes of Mount Parnon in the southeastern Peloponnese.
To realize this ambitious project, the five friends, Haris Vasilakos, Anargyros Verdilos, Eleni Mami, Tasos Markos, and Panagiotis Soulimiotis established the “Vamvakou Revival” Social Cooperative Enterprise and decided to move to the village. From the beginning the group has had the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) at its side providing guidance and financial support to its effort. The village is also the ancestral homeplace of Stavros Niarchos, the founder of the SNF, and as such holds both special symbolic and emotional significance for the organization.
The Vamvakou Revival group is working systematically to draw up and implement a five-year plan for sustainable development of the village and the return of inhabitants. Key intermediate stages will be to create jobs and ensure comfortable living conditions, with the ultimate goal that in a few years Vamvakou will be inhabited by young people, families, and children and that the village school,which closed in 2008, will open again.
The first stage of the Revival of Vamvakou is using the natural advantages that Mount Parnon offers. In the summer, the group will be ready to welcome the first visitors to the village, organizing outdoor activities including hiking, cycling, guided tours, and free creative activities for kids and providing a comprehensive sporting and recreational experience for pros and amateurs alike. At the same time, the necessary planning is underway for the operation of a restaurant-café and a traditional guesthouse.
The Vamvakou Revival group is ready to take this step forward, both for themselves and for the generations to come:“Life in the village is in and of itself a challenge. We would call it a social experiment. Of course it takes strength to create the right conditions, but we have a vision to keep moving forward and to believe in a new Greece with improved rural life. When children’s voices are heard, when the first bell is heard in the village school, then we can talk about a new Vamvakou and a revival plan with a measurable result! The village has been tested by history, has been hit by emigration and the financial crisis, and is now asking for our participation to begin a new chapter. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation gives us the paper and pen.”
Read the whole story here.