Zathay Social Cooperative was the first social enterprise on the island of Samothraki in Northern Greece. What started with two little shops and continued to be a place of exchange had to be closed in 2017 – but some of the members took it as chance to switch the focus to non-formal education and the topics Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection. Project manager Maria Pitiakoudi tells agorayouth more about the story of the organization and the islands‘ connection to the south of Germany.
Agorayouth: Tell us a little bit about Zathay Social Cooperative in Samothraki: What is your work about?
Maria Pitiakoudi: Zathay Social Cooperative was founded in 2015 – initially by five close friends, then two more friends were added. We founded the first social enterprise of the island in order to create our own business based on solidarity, cooperation, fun and sharing. The opportunities to find a job here are limited so we needed to create our own opportunities. The first three years we made a contract with the municipality and we started to run a coffee shop and a mini market where we promoted local products in the Camping of Platia. The business was successful, we had a job, an income and we managed to give a job to eleven other unemployed young locals.
The shops were transformed in a hot spot for alternative tourism, a place of meeting and exchanging, an open space of expression of every kind of art, a working desk for professional nomads and a scientific and educational meeting point. We organised and hosted for example wellness seminars, art festivals or music events. Also, we supported summer universities, educational seminars and discussions for various social and environmental local pressure. We promoted solutions for recycling, waste and water management. Unfortunately the municipality never renewed our contract even though our business was a great success and it could thrive further due to political local pressure. So it was a bitter end for our creativity. But we never stop to dream and create, so we transformed the obstacles into new adventures.
Agorayouth: How did it start to become a youth work oriented and European project?
Maria Pitiakoudi: Our involvement with the youthwork networks started a few years before the founding of Zathay through the participation of members in a Grundtvig-exchange project ran by the Municipality of Samothraki. This was actually the inspiration for the creation of the social enterprise. During this program we met Seba Maass from Interkulturelles Nezwerk e.V. – Neuruppin and Jean Luc from Decodanse-Sète in France.
When our legal form was complete, we started our collaboration and a proposition to enter to the Ewoca3 (+) for Everyone came across. We immediately jumped in and proposed to a friend with experience in the EVS, studies on non formal education and education for Sustainable Development to be the coordinator of the project. And this is how we added the 6th member of our enterprise, Maria Pitiakoudi who became project manager and teamer for six years. During the first three years we participated in the Ewoca project and then we continued our partnership funded by the Franco-German Youth Office (OFAJ/DFJW).
Agorayouth: And how do you run the organisation since the shops closed in 2017?
Maria Pitiakoudi: When the shops closed, we lost our first base. Now we are only working with youth projects and our new base is the Cultural Art Center “Ergostasio Samothrakis” in partnership with the Cultural Non Profit Company “Dia Somatos”. We are a small team, the last three years only three of us stayed active, but last year three young women joined the team who participated in an OFAJ/DFJW-Teamer training. Two of them had participated in our first three year Ewoca-project as teenagers and were inspired and wanted to start their own creative journey in Europe. Now we have formed a team and we named it “Zathay Youth” and we are ready to expand our projects when life returns to a normal state.
Agorayouth: What kind of projects and activities are you doing?
Maria Pitiakoudi: We are running trinational projects that promote communication, cooperation, connection and free expression. We always have a handcraft project to bring all together during our exchange project beyond our non formal educational tools and games. We have built paths in forests as an interactive game, barefoot paths, we have worked with upcycling projects like mosaics, expressed through clay pottery, social circus, acrobatics, graffiti, video and photography, blog writing, dance and forum theatre. We worked with topics like local environmental pressures, biodiversity, language diversity, forest protection wetlands, marine litter, water protection and waste management, refugees and war, European principles and as well on breaking stereotypes.
Until now we have completed one phase that lasted three years with the same participants from Samothraki, Neuruppin and Sete of two weeks duration and teenagers as a target group in each country so they have a complete picture of exchanges in all countries. Then we started a new phase with new participants in the same context but for one week duration and we hope to complete the phase in 2021 since last year we had to cancel everything last minute due to the pandemic. In both phases we worked with a combination of the above topics.
Agorayouth: Besides this you are involved in local projects too, right?
Maria Pitiakoudi: Yes, we support and assist universities in research projects, create small educational local events in collaboration with the association Sustainable Samothraki, the Municipality. We started garden projects and hosting workaway volunteers, promoting local products and crafts. We participate in local actions for the environment, run a cinema club with independent films in collaboration with „Dia Somatos“. But all these are all ceased the last year. We are looking forward to continue our work when this crisis ends.
Agorayouth: You already mentioned th pandemic – how exactly does the situation affect your work?
Maria Pitiakoudi: The Coronavirus affected us all in a huge extend, but we do not believe that we were affected significantly. But we can feel the anguish, the difficulty and how this situation affected all the people who work in youth projects. Even if our loss is small we can feel the worry and unrest. It is a time where plans don’t fit and yet we need to keep on going, be positive, hope that this will end soon and we can take action again. We have plans for this summer, but the unpredictability is huge and it makes it hard to fulfill simple planning steps.
Zathay Youth has not yet participated in German-Greek youth and/or youth workers exchange. In which fields or kind of projects are you interested?
Maria Pitiakoudi: We are interested to continue work with our topics on sustainability and prosperity, raising awareness of environmental protection, on health and well being. As well we are interested in any kind of artistic expression, upcycling crafts and social pressure of our times. We want to bring one more aspect to the Greek-German network: Our population on the island is about 3.000 inhabitants. During the 60’s and 70’s a huge wave of immigrants left the island and landed in Germany. There is a whole village in Stuttgart almost the size of Samothraki’s population with relatives who made their lives there. They have children and grandchildren who don’t even speak Greek any more. There is a deep connection of the island with Germany and it would be great, if we could develop an idea to bring closer these two young communities with common roots and uncommon lives.
interview: Lisa Brüßler