A lighthouse of hope
by Steven Tagle, Content Creator, New Agriculture for a New Generation

Meet Father Athenagoras

Father Athinagoras Loukataris, 41, was born in Eptapyrgio, Thessaloniki. He studied at the University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki and the theology department of the Aristotle University. In 2004, he was ordained Αrchimandrite by the Honorable Metropolitan of Neapolis and Stavropoleos Dionysios. A year later, with the encouragement and blessing of the Honorable Metropolitan of Neapolis and Stavropoleos Varnavas, he established the “Faros tou Kosmou” ("Lighthouse of the World") Youth Center in the neighborhood of Dendropotamos, Thessaloniki.

Located in the western part of the city, Dendropotamos is the biggest ghetto in northern Greece, home to many Roma families. Faros tou Kosmou serves as a day center for children in the neighborhood, dedicated to the protection and creative employment of minors. The center offers a lot of different activities: robotics, music, creative writing, basketball, swimming, painting, gardening, photography, dance. It also serves as a frontistiria, offering foreign language lessons, helping children with their classes, and providing warm meals and some medical services. Faros tou Kosmou stands beside all those in need and illuminates the road to growth and development.

For the past decade, Faros tou Kosmou has also prepared its children to attend schools in other neighborhoods. Children from the center have attended elementary and middle schools in Evosmos, then gone on to Anatolia or New York College. Over the past five years, Faros tou Kosmou has sent over 450 Roma children to school and has received recognition from the Council of Europe and the U.S. State Department.

Meet Vasilis

Vasilis Ismailoglou, 22, is Roma Muslim. He was born in Xanthi and moved to Thessaloniki when he was 12 years old. He did his nine-month army service first in Athens, then in Cypress. He was 19 when he finished his service and met Father Athenagoras. Athenagoras is a close friend of Vasilis’s godmother and took him under his wing, and that’s how Vasilis came to live at Faros tou Kosmou along with 16 other children who make up the Lighthouse family. “I have learned a lot from him,” Vasilis said. “I can’t say in words.” Vasilis helps out at the center. He is in his second year of high school, studying mechanical engineering: automobiles, motorcycles, anything related to machinery. He has two years left in school, and after that, he plans to take the Panhellenic Exams. 

Participating in the Alternative Tourism Program

Vasilis is currently participating in the second class of the Alternative Tourism program at the American Farm School, a part of the “New Agriculture for a New Generation” program. Father Athenagoras encouraged him to apply. And while he may be one of the oldest at Faros tou Kosmou, he’s one of the youngest in the Alternative Tourism program. “There are so many interesting people in the program: foresters, lawyers,” Vasilis said. I’ve made many new friends from the program, and I’m learning a ton from them.”

“Since the beginning of the program, he has consistently attended his classes and has made great efforts with his duties and assignments,” said his instructor Christina Archonti. “He won from the beginning the sympathy, trust, and friendship of several of his classmates, and his integration into the program’s social and learning environment has been seamless.” 

This year, the trainees, have decided to adopt the city of Xanthi for their rebranding efforts. In concert with highly trained experts and young people from Xanthi, they will design a holistic touristic product which will combine the multicultural mosaic of Xanthi with its unique natural beauty and fusion cuisine based on the city’s rare breed of shorthorn cattle. Vasilis is a part of the gastronomy group, and he is researching the food of Xanthi, the city’s history, and what the people like to eat there in order to recommend different recipes, including recipes with cows. “At first it was difficult for me to return to Xanthi because I left when I was so little,” Vasilis said. “But now it’s a little easier, and I feel grateful.”