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Programs of UNESCO with Transformative Power in Modern Societies : Giving Attention to the Invisible – Education, Culture, and Potential for Sustainability

12 Jul 2022

UNESCO’s Global Geopark network as an example of finding a harmonious blend of culture, education and sustainable development

In each moment of crisis or turning point, it is just as important to look into the past as it is to look into the future. It is just as important to recognize the material and tangible resources and heritages as well as acknowledge what is not physically there: intangible resources and heritages, such as culture as well as the belief that there is something to strive for, namely potential for finding the ideal- harmony. It is important to recognize not just physical space but conceptual space, the space where we place our potential, belief, and hope for betterment of society. 

On July 13, a symposium took place as an effort to highlight the transformative power of specific programs of UNESCO. What is particular and special about those programs is their belief in the power of integrating the potentials we can find in our environment, in our culture, as well as in our mindset on the topic of sustainable development and innovation. The call to find harmony could also be seen from the effort to bring together specialists, scholars, and students to share thoughts, concerns, hopes, and visions.

During the symposium, emphasis was given on UNESCO’s Global Geoparks Network. This was because the network was seen as an example of seeking harmony- finding a thread that connects our environment, our culture, and our visions on developing without harming our planet. The network stood as a symbol of hope, something that one can point to when he starts doubting the effort in trying to find harmony.

The event commenced with warm welcomes from Ms. Aikaterini Tzitzikosta, President of the Hellenic National Commission of UNESCO, and Mr.Nectarios Farmakis, Regional Governor of Western Greece and Professor Christos Mpouras, Rector at the University of Patras. Mr. Andreas Katsaniotis, who works for the Greek ministry Public Affairs department, welcomed the first speakers to start.

The first section of the symposium aimed to promote interinstitutional collaboration and support as a means for sustainable development becoming commonplace and part of our lives.  Professor Nikolaos Zouros is the head of the UNESCO Base for geoparks and sustainable development on the insular and coastal regions of Greece. This is the only base of UNESCO which is collaborating with the University of the Aegean. It has taken an active role in organizing and supporting educational programs and research initiatives for scholars and graduate students. Research projects mainly focus on ways of protecting and drawing attention to geological treasures. Professor Panagiotis Dimopoulos, Vice Rector for Research and Development at the University of Patras, mentioned that a new base of UNESCO has been established at the University of Patras.

In the second part of the discussion, participants turned their attention to the UNESCO program that focuses on the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. Ms.Eleni Bazini, archaeologist and social anthropologist working in the Ministry of Culture and Sports, Dr. Maria Argiropoulou, from the department of Tourism Management at the University of Patras, and Ms. Sofia Chrisopoulou, a head organizer for the annual festival in Patra, spoke at the event offering their insights on the importance of our invisible treasures, our cultural heritage.

Their discussion was followed by Dr. Ilias Valiakos, professor of the Geography department at the University of the Aegean and research specialist on geoparks and sustainable development of insular and coastal regions of Greece for UNESCO, Ms. Eleni Koumoutsou, coordinator of the management unit for the Chelmos-Vouraikos National Park and the protected areas in the northern Peloponnese at the Natural Environment and Climate Change Agency (NECCA), and Dr. George Iliopoulos, Geology professor at the University of the Aegean and research specialist for the Chelmos-Vouraikos Park in UNESCO’s Global Geopark Network shared their insights.

The fourth segment of the event was devoted to the presentation of the educational initiatives taken on by the Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet). Vera Dilari, who works at the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs as the national coordinator for ASPnet, made a speech which was followed by the research practicums completed by the ASPnet scools in Attica and Achaea. Ms. Evangelia Georgaki, Ms. Eleni Kanna, Ms.Chrstina Diplari, Ms. Ioanna Chardaloupa, Ms. Katerina Georgiou, Ms. Maria Touliatou, and Ms. Chariklia Mamona, all handling coordinating positions in the ASPnet schools, spoke at the event. Their speeches were followed by the presentations of stellar research practicums by the Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) which emphasized the importance in considering learning as an endless process that extends beyond the classroom setting and continues on for a living. In that way, they also made a case about the “invisible.” Ms. Polina Bithara, director of UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) in Greece, spoke and was followed by practicums supervised by Ms. Sofia Adam and Mr. Michael Christakis.