“Sir – sir! We do in a different way in our village”!
Rafail Giannelis, Terra Graeca Project Officer in Lemnos, describes the development of the educational program “Let’s go to school!”, the relationships with the students and his newfound hopes, which were born during program’s implementation.
While we were preparing the educational program, I could not imagine how things would develop during the school year. I was feeling anxious, insecure maybe even a little scared. Not so much about the actual process of passing on ethnographic knowledge and information to the students, but mostly about how I would approach the children themselves, as they are the bearers of longstanding Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) uniquely positioned to keep it alive.
Beyond any educational approaches, talking about the past is fascinating. The topics we intended to cover were initially five, as many as we the elements of ICH we had thoroughly studied. However, it was almost impossible to stick to the original design, as the educational programme involved around 180 secondary school students, including experiential activities, interactive sessions and storytelling.
The Initial reluctance from both sides, was followed by enthusiasm and commitment to both our theoretical and practical work. The theoretical part, where we analysed folk culture, through discussion and a wealth of photographic and written material, was not so different from field trips and workshops.
During the seminars, I observed how students were discussing among themselves about the different manifestations of intangible cultural heritage in their villages and I sincerely felt immense joy. A joy that comes not only from the positive outcome of the whole effort, but above all from the fact that the children themselves now understand that intangible cultural heritage belongs to them. That they can and need to promote it so that it can be preserved and disseminated to a wider audience.We observed the uniqueness of the island, embedded in the words, the works, the songs, the lifestyle of the people of Lemnos, in its entirety during our on-site actions. A magical and unknown world, based on ecological consciousness of sustainability, on a logic full of respect and awe for all natural resources, on the environment that Lemnians loved and adored.
At this point, I can confidently assert that we have thought, discussed and understood what our world and our communities need to prosper in harmony with nature; love and respect. And I think as an organisation we have achieved that. To show another aspect of our everyday life, that of man walking side by side with the earth, in harmony, not because we have to, not because a legislative framework dictates it, but because, as far as we could, we unveiled the intangible to the students, and so they see better a world that is constantly changing, but changing without stepping firmly on the ground.
If we want to change the whole world, I think we need to light the way for our children. To tread on the land on which, for centuries, all this wealth that we call intangible cultural heritage has been gathered. And believe me, as much as we could, we really lit the way.
Rafael Giannelis, the last “tyrevanas” – continuator of the basket weaving tradition of Lemnos – with an academic background in Modern Greek and Medieval Philology as well as in Ethnography, has extensively researched the social and economic structures of traditional societies in Greece, with a focus on his birthplace, Lemnos, and the island of Tinos. Since 2020 he has been working with MedINA as a local project officer on Lemnos supporting the programme “Terra Graeca – sustainable food systems”.