The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs &“The Smile of the Child” held the online event “For 25 Years a Child has been inspiring All Children to change the world”
On Friday 13 November 2020, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Organization “The Smile of the Child” held an online event under the Greek Presidency of the Council of Europe and on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of “The Smile of the Child”, established by and in loving memory of its 10-year-old founder, Andreas Yannopoulos.
The event highlighted the need to concentrate our efforts on a better future for the younger generations, by strengthening the role of young people and creating the conditions for their active participation in decision making.
The speakers advanced proposals to enhance the engagement of children in civic issues throughout Europe;
● Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs & Chair of the CoE Committee of Ministers
● Costas Yannopoulos, President of the BoD of “The Smile of the Child”
● Iraklis Moskof, National Rapporteur for the Combatting of Trafficking
● Ugrinoska Andrea, President of the CoE Youth Advisory Council
● Students, members of the Child Rights Group of “The Smile of the Child
● Anna Rurka, President INGOs Conference of the CoE
The Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the CoE Committee of Ministers, Mr. Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, referred to the important work of the Organization “The Smile of the Child”, noting that”25 years ago young Andreas decided to change the world through his smile”.
In particular, Mr. Varvitsiotis congratulated “The Smile of the Child” for its work that “fully embodies the vision of the young Andreas Yannopoulos”. Referring to the Greek Presidency in the Council of Europe, he stressed that the issue of child safety was high on the agenda, especially during the pandemic, something that was also reflected in the Athens Declaration. He also spoke about the Greek government initiatives for the protection of unaccompanied minors. Special mention was also made about of the Prime Minister’s announcements for the strengthening of e-learning through the distribution of 90,000 laptops for students all over Greece. Finally, he sent the message that “All together, if we join forces we can make the world a better place, with a bigger smile”.
The President of the Board “The Smile of the Child” Mr. Costas Yannopoulos thanked Mr. Varvitsiotis and all the participants and praised the 10-year-old founder of the Organization, Andreas, who inspired other children to become volunteers and take action to defend themselves.
Mr. Yannopoulos emphasized:“Andreas, 25 years ago, through the last page of his diary spoke with a child’s purity about the essence of the International Charter of the Rights of the Child. Today, 25 years later, he still leads the example, a vivid remembrance of the power that children hold to change our world, inspiring other children, adults and society as a whole. His vision for a world with justice was followed through spontaneous initiatives by the first child volunteers of our Organization. Now tens of thousands of children, students from all over Greece, actively participate through structured actions in the promotion of the rights of all children, exclusively on their own initiative and without the intervention of the Organization, which is limited exclusively to the provision of organizational assistance. Since its founding, “The Smile of the Child” has been fighting, both in Greece and abroad, to make it clear that it is the duty of all of us to give children a step to be heard and express freely what they believe, to let them act in their own unique way, without as adults imposing our views on them. It is necessary to create a safe space for young people, where they will not be considered as people in need of protection, but as equal members of society holding the power to change our world for the better, without serving expediencies or political agendas. We are striving towards this direction. We are really very proud that the children and young volunteers in the Organization today, 25 years later, are active members of all European decision-making bodies and most recently two of them got elected in the UN DGC Youth Steering Committee”.
Finally, On behalf of 10-year-old Andreas, Mr. Yannopoulos further appealed to the Council of Europe to organize information actions to help in raising awareness on the the work of the Organization in inspiring children to claim their active role in defending their rights and demanding their best interest.
The National Rapporteur on Combating Trafficking, Mr. Iraklis Moskof, noted the long-standing relationship and cooperation with “The Smile of the Child”, stressing the importance of the broader support for the Organization, saying that “the extroversion, patriotism and genuine intention of the Organization to bring to the ends of the world various messages, such as self-efficacy and the best interests of the children”
As he stated “We hold the power to plan together the next day”.
The INGOs Conference President, Ms. Anna Rurka, noted the need to create an appropriate supportive environment for children to participate, without restrictions and commitments. She also stressed the importance of giving children more opportunities, access to information and securing equal participation, without discrimination. “Children need to be involved right from the stage of drafting legislation.”
Speaking on behalf of young people, the CoE Youth Advisory Council President, Mrs. Ugrinoska Andrea, emphasized the need for young people to be at the forefront of decision-making processes, and stressed the importance of educating people about their rights.
The event was coordinated by Ms. Rania Papadopoulou, Coordinator of the European Voluntary Student Network “YouSmile” and member of the Steering Committee of the Department of Global Communications (DGC) Youth Representatives of the United Nations.
The Child Rights Group of the “Smile of the Child” closed the meeting with important proposals for the European Life in the context of the #302010 Campaign and its members elaborated on the reasons why adults need to listen to children. The Group proposed the establishment of:
● National Councils for Children,
● a European Council for Children,
● a European Conference for Children organized and implemented by Children,
● a European Agency with main duty to ensure the implementation of child participation actions
The children stated; “We have to start preparing because we will soon be called to make the reigns of Europe. In a few years we will step in your shoes and be the ones to make the decisions. We will have to learn how to make the right choices, to ensure a better future for all, but also to improve the present of many people. The voice of a 10-year-old child was taken into serious consideration by his father 25 years ago and was expressed through the work of the Organization “The Smile of the Child”. This voice had a miraculous impact on the lives of 1.7 million children. Imagine what we can achieve in Europe, if hundreds, thousands of children’s voices unite to make a difference.”
A new chapter is being written in Greece and Europe for the protection and participation of children and young people, being enabled to participate in decision-making on issues that concern them and to their best interest. As our founder once said “If we all unite, we will succeed.”
About the Child Rights Group:
The “Child Rights Group” comprises student volunteers of the Organization “The Smile of the Child” in an initiative called “YouSmile”. Children get educated about their Rights and then carry out actions to promote them. In addition, they represent the Organization internationally with the mission of promoting and implementing child participation in decision-making.
YouSmile is the European student voluntary network of the Organization “The Smile of the Child”. YouSmile is the only Greek active volunteer Group for young people and it consists of students who volunteer to actively defend children’s rights. In its 8 years of operation, more than 15,000 young people have participated in volunteer activities offering relief to children in need. The Group also organizes events to raise awareness on issues that include: school bullying, child abuse, missing adolescents and children, addiction to gaming and social media, safe internet use.