NEW YORK – Konstantinos Papachristou, age 17, created Teens4greece, an online forum for young people to express their ideas to help Greece. Originally from Thessaloniki, Papachristou is now a student at the University of Warwick in the UK. He spoke with The National Herald about his efforts to give children a voice and inspire them to be politically active.
TNH: When did you first become interested in creating a forum for young people?
Konstantinos Papachristou: Growing up in Greece that was largely affected by the economic crisis was one of the decisive factors that led me to create Teens4greece. During the crisis, the majority of Greek children were brought into a very toxic political environment of hate speech and populism. For years, we were listening to adults trying to find who to blame instead of finding actual solutions for the problems that we were facing. The idea of creating Teens4greece came to me once I realized there were children out there with unique and innovative solutions, we were lacking the platform to express their views. Usually when young people tried to express their views on social media, they always faced criticism and often were attacked “for being too young to have an opinion.” I was feeling that the future was being formulated for us, with us being actually left out. This is why I created Teens4greece, the first think tank for teenagers, which in reality is an online forum that children can express their views and ideas freely.
TNH: What has been the most challenging aspect and also the most rewarding aspect of creating teens4greece?
KP: Surely creating Teens4greece had many challenges with one of the main ones actually being convincing children to understand their potential and the power of their voice. Because of the situation in Greece, young people felt trapped in a political reality with little hope for the future. Trying to change this attitude was certainly challenging. In order to challenge these misconceptions and fundamentally alter society, it will not be enough if children just raise their voice; adults need to learn to listen to children and respect their opinion. For me, trying to persuade adults to truly listen to children has been one of my main aims since creating Teens4greece and is a challenge that we, the children, still face. Looking at the past two years since the creation of Teens4greece, even though I faced many drawbacks, I think the rewards far outweigh the challenges of creating a similar platform. If you visit the website, you can clearly see that young people truly deliver lessons of political discussion. And to me that is the most rewarding aspect of Teens4greece, seeing a generation that is respectful, has a voice, and is politically active. In addition to that, seeing children who have evolved from forum members to ambassadors with a more active role now in Teens4greece is also another rewarding aspect.
TNH: What has been the response so far to teens4greece?
KP: When I created Teens4greece I certainly did not expect to have all these members and a great number of young people applying to become ambassadors. It is an understatement to say that I am very happy with the response that Teens4greece has had. I am sure that there are definitely more Greek teenagers out there who would be interested in participating in Teens4greece and this is in fact one of the main reasons Teens4greece ambassadors now exist. One of the main responsibilities of the ambassadors is to spread the idea of Teens4greece in their communities. However, to me Teens4greece would have been successful even if it had just one member, one child that was inspired to step out of his or her comfort zone and decided to raise their voice using Teens4greece.
TNH: How have your family and friends responded to your efforts?
KP: I was very lucky to come from a family that allowed me to choose my interests instead of forcing me into them, thus it is fair to say that they have been very supportive in the whole process. There were quite a few people who supported me and believed in the idea from the beginning which helped me to build my confidence and my perseverance. Every idea that turns into a project has a lot of challenges and sometimes it takes a lot of effort to convince others of your vision.
Some of my friends were supportive and others even inspired by the idea of Teens4greece. A friend of mine from Zambia, Maxwell was looking into creating Teens4zambia for the children of his own country. So, my experience taught me that the only thing you need is to believe in something and do everything to achieve it. It doesn’t matter what other people tell you. You just need to keep going.
TNH: How did you become involved with the UN?
KP: Two years ago, I was awarded by Yousmile- Smile of the Child for my Teens4greece initiative. Through Smile of the Child, I became a member of the first Eurochild Children’s Council (ECC), and later I became United Nations Child Advisor, representing ECC at Child Rights Connect. Initially, I participated in the Day of General Discussion at the United Nations in which all workshops and committees were 50% children led. There, I was also asked to present my Teens4greece initiative and share my experience as a human rights defender. Later, I was invited as a keynote speaker by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights hosting the official event for the 70 years since the human rights declaration. I have also participated in a panel discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and I took part in several bilateral meetings with Human Rights Officers regarding child participation. In November, I will be going to the United Nations again for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
TNH: What are your plans for the future?
KP: My plans for the future are to communicate with the political parties in order to set up a type of partnership that would involve political parties consulting Teens4greece and the young people for certain decisions. I hope that Teens4greece will be the first step for Greek parties to involve children in the decision making process.
I am also looking to expand Teens4greece further inspiring more young people through mentors, who are Greek people from all over the world who have excelled in their field by organizing online Q&As, workshops or even a Teens4greece conference. Too many plans, too much work, however I am convinced that the ambassadors will be actively involved.
Another future plan I have in mind is transforming the idea of Teens4greece into a global project that would involve young people from all over the world.
I have also just started my bachelor’s degree in Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. Time is always an issue, especially for university students but I think that when somebody finds something they are passionate about, they will always find time for it.