2000: History is made by a group of friends.

A group of teachers, writers, artists and journalists – all friends – seeking to intervene in an incident of abuse of a minor, comes across the UN International Convention for the Rights of the Child for the first time. The group soon realises that although the International Convention has been signed and ratified by Greece in 1992, it is unknown to the interested parties, namely parents, children and teachers, and furthermore is frequently flouted at home, at school and in society.

More people join the group, which takes the name. Its initial aims are:

– To disseminate the 42 articles of the Convention and to inform as many parents and teachers as possible about them.
– To identify the most vulnerable areas of violation.
– To demand that the government create the office of Children’s Ombudsman, in line with other European countries.

The idea for a Network for Children’s Rights is born…

2001: The first “Declaration” to the President of the Republic

The Network for Children’s Rights initiates campaigns to inform and sensitise the public on matters of children’s rights violations, through meetings with various bodies, one-day conferences and open discussions.

The Group writes and signs its first “Declaration”, in which it stresses the need to create the office of Children’s Ombudsman. A large delegation of children presents it to the President of the Republic at the time, Kostis Stefanopoulos.

2002: From the Zappeio Conference and Exhibition Centre in Athens to New York

The Network for Children’s Rights widens its contacts and reaches out to foreign organisations that promote the rights of children. At the same time, it intensifies its discussions in and beyond schools to include MPs, Euro MPs, the Greek Ombudsman, the Committee for Educational Affairs of the Greek Parliament, the Athens Bar Association, the Offices of the European Parliament, European Commission in Athens and more.

Together with some of Europe’s Children’s Ombudsmen, the Group organises a public consultation at the Zappeio entitled “A Children’s Ombudsman: a major step towards safeguarding the rights of children and developing a policy for minors”. A similar event is organised in Thessaloniki.

A member of the Network for Children’s Rights is invited to New York to take part in a United Nations Special Session on Children and to the European Parliamentary Forum “Euro MPs in action for children”.

2003: Greece acquires a Children’s Ombudsman

The aim of the Network is realised just 2½ years after its founding, and proves that even small groups of citizens can sensitise the public, initiate broad social dialogue, unite and ultimately mobilise the state. All it takes is vision, method and commitment to overcome the usual apathy and bureaucracy.

2004: “Network for Children’s Rights” is founded

The Network becomes an official organisation called “Network for Children’s Rights”, with 80 founder members. Its activities are to have an educational and cultural focus and its initial initiatives have to do with diversity. One of its first actions is to establish a competition with awards for “Double Effort”. The aim of these prizes is to reward the intense effort made by immigrant pupils in order to be integrated into and make progress in Greek schools. The children express not only the difficulties they encounter but also their dreams and hopes for the future with such sensitivity that their compositions are published collectively in a book entitled “Hey, buddy” (Kedros Publishing House)

2005: Understanding the meaning of Rights

The Network is growing and the number of members, collaborating teachers and volunteers is increasing. Together they analyse and debate at length the meaning of children’s rights in order to identify and deal with them correctly. To this end, the Network organises a series of seminars, and takes part in open discussions in towns all over Greece, as well as in Europe, for the exchange of ideas and experiences.

2007: Collaboration with the Bernard van Leer Foundation

Established at the end of the Second World War, the Van Leer Foundation, now focusing on early childhood and with an interest in diversity, agrees to fund a proposal by the Network that is based on the concept that children’s books can be used as an effective tool for informing children about diversity.

2008: Demanding yet productive work

The Network organises teams of volunteers to read and select children’s books that relate to diversity. It promotes constructive dialogue with authors, illustrators, university lecturers, teachers and children. The Network records their experiences and reactions and the Catalogue of Books on diversity begins to take shape.

2009: Unaccompanied under-age asylum seekers and child-refugees

The Network prepares an open letter to the leaders of all the Greek political parties, MPs and the Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament defining the treatment that child-refugees and unaccompanied under-age asylum seekers should expect from the State. At the same time, it begins collaborating with the Child Care Association of Athens and promotes the socialisation of children living in the Shelter for Unaccompanied Under-Age Asylum Seekers.

The Network also gathers 3000 signatures in support of its campaign to give Greek citizenship to children of immigrants who have been born in Greece and gone to school here.

2010: The Catalogue of Books on Diversity

The catalogue is published to very favourable reviews and is distributed to schools, parents and associations. It lists 170 books and also becomes available in electronic form in order to facilitate its use by teachers. Demand is very high and the first edition quickly sells out. Schools all over Greece request it and teachers use it to create educational programmes about diversity.

The publication of the catalogue is accompanied by a one-day conference entitled “Seeing the World Through Different Eyes: Children’s Books and Diversity”, which is organised in conjunction with the Faculty of Primary Education, Department of Humanitarian Studies, University of Athens. More than 500 teachers attend.

2011: The alternative report of NGOs on Children’s Rights in Greece; The Samaria Community

The Network is one of the NGOs that present the Alternative Report on Children’s Rights in Greece (2002-2009) to the relevant UN Committee in Geneva.

It also supports Samaria, the community of Afghan refugees in the deprived Athens neighbourhood of Metaxourgeio, through an integrated intervention strategy that includes language lessons, recreational programmes, cultural activities and a playgroup. Books DVDs and toys are donated, cooking classes and meals offered, and basic necessities, medical care and social support provided. The Network works with schools and other NGOs to further aid the Samaria Community.

During the same year, the Network helps Sarif, a twelve-year old refugee, who is going through the process of family reunification in order to travel to Germany to join his family. It offers him a place to stay, arranges English lessons at Hill Primary School and German lessons by a volunteer. In addition, the Network offers scholarships to two young people to go onto higher education, one to Art College and the other to a Cookery School, thanks to two very generous donors.

2012: From research to practical application: The Culture Lab

The Network shifts its focus and decides to concentrate on children living in the deprived central areas of Athens. It proposes to create a cultural centre through which it will be able to influence living conditions, education and cultural development. In order to investigate the matter thoroughly and to find out what families living in the centre think of the recession, how they deal with it, what fears and hopes they have, the Network devises a socio-cultural questionnaire.

The survey is carried out by researchers from the Panteio University of Athens, assisted by volunteers. The results, entitled “Beyond ‘Urban Deprivation’: Looking for creative solutions and methods of assimilation for children and their parents” together with the report “The Situation of Children in Greece: 2012” by the Department of Primary Education, University of Athens, confirm the Network’s working hypothesis for the need to create a cultural centre in a deprived area of central Athens. The reports also allow the Network to be clearer about its own goals.

The space is found in Alkamenous Street, close to Larissa Railway Station and thanks to a generous donation by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation is soon ready to start operating. Before the official opening, neighbouring schools make daily visits to the school and the pupils make suggestions as to how they would like the interior to be arranged and what the centre should offer.

With their ideas in mind, the Network’s “Culture Lab” begins operating with creative groups, learning support groups, educational programmes and a children’s lending library (which has since expanded to contain 4000 titles, Greek, foreign and bilingual).

2013: Campaigns and Further Action.

The Culture Lab now provides children with their own space, while volunteers offer them an abundance of regular daily educational and recreational activities and events. The Network too has found a base, allowing it to better plan its actions and interventions. These include the establishment of two annual campaigns to draw awareness to and promote the rights of the child. One is carried out in November to accompany International Children’s Rights Day (November 20th) and the other in April to coincide with International Children’s Book Day (April 1st). Apart from drawing awareness, the campaigns lead to closer cooperation between various authorities. Furthermore, now that the Network has a permanent home it is more dynamic and continues to organise seminars, one-day conferences, classes for parents, and so on. The aim is always the same: to raise concerns and mobilise the public to safeguard children’s rights.

2014: Active citizens of the future; elections.

The Culture Lab has become an institution and point of reference in the neighbourhood of Larissa Station. Young and old embrace it, while numerous artists and professionals offer their services eagerly. Its daily programme is innovative and varied and includes creative activities, educational programmes and assorted events that aim to help children understand their own unique identity and to recognise and respect diversity in their peers.

The mobile library is now well-established. It is part of the Network’s educational programme, visiting schools, squares, parks, public and private spaces, where it not only spreads the joys of reading but also carries out numerous activities relating to books and children’s rights.

In 2014, the Network joins Eurochild, an umbrella association of European organisations that safeguard children’s rights. It sends a representative to Moss in Norway with funding by the “We are all Citizens” programme of the Bodossaki Foundatin and EEA Grants, in order to work with OMEP-USNC and the University of Iceland for the dissemination and better implementation of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

To accompany the Euro elections of the same year, the Network’s children create a video entitled “Mind the Eurogap!” in cooperation with the General Secretariat for Youth, in which they describe their concerns about their relationship with Europe. Together with the NGO Roots Research Center, the Network also promotes a Eurochild campaign entitled “Become a Child’s Rights Champion” and persuades all MEP candidates to adopt a manifesto which commits to making children’s rights a priority in the next European parliament.

Meanwhile in Greece, there are local elections. The Network arranges meetings between candidates for the Municipality of Athens and children who lay out their concerns, dreams and suggestions for making the neighbourhood around Larissa Railway Station friendlier and more respectful of their rights.

Two of the children are Pyrros Papadiamantis and Isidoros Isidoridis, both 12 years old, who make the Network particularly proud. They organise a party and instead of gifts, they request donations in order to help a young boy, David, overcome his health problems after a car accident. They raise 700 euros.

2015: Centre for the Child; Awards.

2015 proves to be another year of both innovation and new concerns, with the Network organising numerous activities that focus as ever on children’s rights. These include a variety of events, one-day seminars to inform and debate issues, vaccination campaigns, a survey of living conditions of children in central Athens and pilot creative groups for teenagers.

The year sees the beginning of the humanitarian crisis with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees using Greece either as a transit country or a final destination. Amongst them are thousands of children. The Network swings into action by initiating volunteer work in reception centres and other places where refugees congregate. To begin with, it collaborates with the Swedish organisation “Clowns without Borders” to offer entertainment and recreation to the children.

Meanwhile the recession continues in Greece and the Network undertakes to support children and families in need through the programme “Each Child Unique – Children in Danger” which undertakes to fill gaps created by the economic crisis.

The Network broadens its scope and collaborates with the NGOs Solidarity Now, Praksis, Arsis and Together for Children. The aim is to ensure that even the most vulnerable citizens of Athens have access to all the health and welfare services that they are entitled to, by establishing a central hub for donations and aid. The hub is financed by EEA Grants, takes the name Athens Solidarity Center and is housed in the old garrison headquarters of the Municipality of Athens. The Network is responsible for running the “Centre for the Child” there, which offers daily psychosocial services as well as educational, experiential and interactive activities to adults and children.

Another initiative of the Network is launched in the same year. Together with volunteers from the Greek YWCA, it runs a “Sunday Lunch” programme, for the benefit of vulnerable single-parent families. The idea is to offer them the chance to take part in a traditional family lunch, which is accompanied by recreational and educational activities.

The Network wins a couple of awards in 2015. Its librarian, Foteini Avdelli wins one from the Circle of the Greek Children’s Book (the Greek Section of the IBBY) for being “… a librarian who promotes children’s and young people’s literature steadily and effectively and cultivates a love for reading in the Children’s Lending Library of the Network for Children’s Rights’ Culture Lab”.

The other award is one of the “Models of Excellence” prizes set up by the “Citizens’ Movement” and handed out by the President of the Republic, and is a recognition of the Network’s efforts and achievements to date.

2016: New partners and a new space.

The Network firmly establishes its presence in the Refugee Reception Centres and consolidates its work for the children who live there. It collaborates with Save the Children to present a wide-ranging programme, which includes support services for pregnant women and mothers with infants, cultural and educational activities for children and legal and psychosocial services for children and their parents.

In the same year, it opens its newest space in Traiber Square, in the Metaxourgeio district. There is a lending library and a morning programme of creative pastimes for pre-school and primary school children. With funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation the Network launches its programme for adolescents which offers 13 year-olds and above a full range of cultural and psychosocial supportive activities. Mentoring-befriending is the guiding principle, paving the way for the youths themselves to take more and more control.

The Network takes its photographic exhibition “The Children who Crossed the Sea and the Game of Masks” around Greece. The exhibition has been inspired by masks made by refugee children in the reception centres as part of the educational and creative programmes carried out jointly with Save the Children.

During the summer, while refugees living in the reception centres are still denied a formal education, the Network sets up the “No Borders School” on the premises of the No.51 Primary School of Athens, as part of the “Open Schools” programme run by the Municipality of Athens. 194 children from Schisto and Elliniko refugee reception centres as well as the centre of Athens, are taught Greek, English, their mother tongue and sports by 45 volunteer teachers from the Network.

2017: More new partnerships

The Network continues and further develops all of its activities.

Its involvement in the Athens Solidarity Center grows with a second Centre for the Child at the Urban Health Centre in Sarantoporou Street. This is funded by the EASI programme of the European Commission and now involves the Municipality of Athens.

Meanwhile, prompted by and based on the work it has been doing at the Schisto Refugee Reception Centre, the Network produces a report about living conditions there. Entitled “Conditions in Refugee Camps: the Case of Schisto”, the report is sent to various relevant authorities in Greece and Europe, is published in the press and parts of it are referred to in a study by the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University.

The first issue of the newspaper “Migratory Birds” is published and the first web-radio show “Radio Dandelion” broadcast, with more issues and broadcasts following. They form part of the Network’s “Contact Points”, an initiative that involves active participation by teenage Greeks, refugees and immigrants. The programme is originally funded by Save the Children and the UN High Commission for Refugees, and later by UNICEF.

The collaboration with the UN High Commission for Refugees continues with a programme of psychosocial and legal assistance to child-refugees and their families in the reception centres at Schisto, Malakasa, Skaramaga, Ritsona and Oinofyta. The High Commission also supports the Network’s mobile library in squares, reception centres and other accommodation for refugees, schools and children’s hospitals.

And so, with your help, we carry on!