It hit them hard in Greece; the economic downturn.
You had probably seen it in the news. Student protests. Occupations. A revolution of sorts. Well, it's been a while since then, and you may be curious to know what the fallout is. I know I certainly was when I was planning my trip to this country.
Let me tell you a little bit about what I learned on the ground. Today, Greece is still feeling the after effects of the economic downturn. Unemployment is high, jumping 8.4 percent in 2007 to 27.5 percent in 2013 and public resources are scarce. Graffiti is an unwanted branding on many public and private buildings showcasing that unrest is still common. I witnessed two major protests in my two weeks there, one which shut down most of Athens' public transportation routes because of its sheer size. Some might think it could be a grim reality for young people. But, from what I've seen... it certainly doesn't seem so.
Now, that's not to say that young Greeks don't face challenges. But, the way they face them is admirable.
Many of the young people I have met have turned tragedy into opportunity, seeing the silver lining on a dark cloud. Every opportunity of loss is an opportunity for growth. Through initiatives like YouRule, Dimokratia Ideon, and the Cultural Innovators Network they are innovating and collaborating their ways to the communities they want knowing well that what's been happening up until now simply isn't working.
And believe the people here when they say that collaboration has not always been the norm in this region of the world. In fact, far from it. These lands have been fought over for centuries by people hoping to carve out a spot for their particular culture and language. Wars were fought over this as recently as 15 years ago.
So what changed?
If I were to guess, I would say... attitudes. In places that were once divided, stereotyping other nationalities and ethnicities, being ultra-independent, protecting your own ideas and not sharing is simply not an option if the area wants to not just survive, but thrive. And many of the young people realize this.
They are changing the game by innovating and I was fortunate enough to witness these efforts live. In Thessaloniki, in the North of Greece, the Cultural Innovators Network held their Cultural Innovation Days. I was invited as a speaker, but as usual, I preferred listening and interacting with the other speakers and participants: a truly inspiring bunch. Mr. Peter Panes, Regional Head of the Goethe Institute even attended the event, sharing with me that it is these kinds of young people give him hope for the future.
(Photo: From left, Ioanna Fotopoulou founder of YouRule, Mr. Peter Panes Regional Head of the Goethe Institute, and I )
They give me hope too. You see, the fact is, no matter which society we live in -- there are challenges. Whether it's the economy, unemployment, social or environmental issues, there is always something we are up against. What we choose to do in the face of that adversity, however, I believe, is what will define us as a generation.
Will we finish the work previous generations have started? Will be grow our own wings and start our work of our own?
From what I've seen -- we're doing both, and that gives me a hell of a lot of hope for what's to come.