By Maria Paravantes in Agios Nikolaos, Crete
Environmental “brainwash”, that, in two words, would best describe what Ecoweek is all about. The founder of the initiative, a very busy Elias Messinas, spoke to the Greek Travel Pages (GTP) about his pride and joy on the sidelines of workshops and events held here in Agios Nikolaos this week.
An architect by study, the Yale graduate launched Ecoweek a decade ago from the Greek island of Aegina as an attempt to give students, locals and experts from Greece and abroad the chance (and channel) to exchange thoughts and generate ideas which will have a positive impact on the environment and on the lives of local communities.
“We know change is in the hands of the people, and the idea behind Ecoweek is to give them tips on how to go about it, to empower them with this knowledge, to make them part of this change and ultimately to promote cooperation through exchange,” Dr Messinas, also an environmental planner and consultant, tells the GTP.
“The process involves first raising awareness, educating, enacting and through influencing others with our actions be part of the change. It’s about generating ideas and empowering people.”
Active in 15 countries across Europe and the Middle East, the non-profit non-governmental organization aims to promote the principles of sustainability through design. Ecoweek has an international network in 54 countries. This summer the event came to Agios Nikolaos, Crete, on the initiative of the G&A Mamidakis Foundation.
“We came to Agios Nikolaos this year on invitation Mrs Mamidakis and we believe it is both timely and appropriate because environmental conditions and issues affect the city and particularly in this time of crisis, it is vital that we empower people with the knowledge that there are solutions, there are ways to achieve sustainability without huge budgets, and in short periods of time make changes that will positively affect their daily lives,” the Greek-born architect explains.
Thirsty for knowledge, the fertile young minds attending the event have come to Crete from all the world. After attending lectures and workshops offered by experts in various related fields, they work together on projects at various locations across Agios Nikolaos that will be presented at the end of the week. Once the projects are in place, the plans and designs will be handed over to local and municipal authorities, university urban planning and design departments and relevant bodies in hopes that some of the projects may at some point either be implemented or ignite further research.
“It really comes down to this… We do not have the luxury to be on opposite sides. We need each other and it can only be a win-win situation for all parties involved,” Dr Messinas says when asked about public-private partnerships (PPPs).
“Agios Nikolaos is a great example of this; where private and public and NGOs have joined forces providing the resources for the experts to offer insight into one cause,” he adds.
What would Dr Messinas tell the dozens of Greek and international students who have come to Greece to participate in Ecoweek Crete 2016?
“I am very optimistic,” he says with a smile. “It’s not a easy trip for these kids to come all the way to Agios Nikolaos. And I think this very fact carries a message for the people of the city… they have traveled here to add, to do something for the city that will benefit its residents, and this in my view paves the way for the residents to care for their city themselves. If others care, then you too will care.”
Ecoweek’s next stops include Kosovo and Israel in September, Romania in October and Thessaloniki in November.
Running through to July 10, the conference and workshops are made possible with the support of the G & A Mamidakis Foundation – bluegr Hotels & Resorts in collaboration with the Agios Nikolaos Municipality, the Ecoweek Network, the Lasithi Region and LoveGreece.com.