The «Ark of the World» is a Charitable Nonprofit Organisation providing special care and protection to mothers and children.
It is first and foremost intended and addressed to young unprotected children, most of whom come from single-parent families, and to many children without parents, who experience difficult circumstances, neglect, abandonment, lack of medical care and uncertain future.
The Ark fully covers and takes care of unprotected children.. In collaboration with Prosecutors for Children, protection agencies and services for children’s rights, it undertakes to raise children in its four (at present) accommodation homes. They are children (infanthood to adulthood) who have been subjected to abuse, neglect and very bad living conditions. Children live in large homes with instructors and care givers for their everyday life, like a large family, without any reminders of institutional care.
A primary concern of the Ark is not to separate the family when there is parent interest in and capable of taking care of the child. Single-parent families with serious financial and social problems calling on our services can find support for their very basic needs, such as food, clothes, medical care and everything they need to live with dignity. At the same time, families receive counseling services, take part in parents’ groups led by family relations specialists and receive information on training programmes in order to be empowered to take responsibility of their children.
The Ark of the World was established in 1998 in Athens by 26-year-old Father Antonios Papanikolaou, who was armed with love for children, a selfless need to give and the desire to create a nest of affection and care for children, young people and parents in need, living in the crevices of society, in “another” Athens at the region of Akadimia Platonos.
The Ark of the World is a large family. Members of this family are children, parents, associates, volunteers, supporters. It is large embrace of love, care and affection thriving in Athens, Piraeus, Pogoniani at Epirus and the island of Chios.
Our children, 400 so far, most of them Greek, but also from other countries, experience affection and peace at the Ark of the World, away from past poverty, hunger, racism and other blights tormenting our society every day.
Christ’s Love being our only ally and with all our available means, we have undertaken to feed the children every day, tend to their needs for clothes, shoes, medical, pharmaceutical and dental care and education, as well as the continuous training of their parents.
The Ark of the World was born out of the great concern of Father Antonios who, as a young clergyman then, was worried about his congregation at risk, wandering, lost in their ignorance, away from Mother Church that is the only Ark of Salvation. Father Antonios and his wife Stamatia have literally devoted their life to the titanic struggle to improve the living conditions of their fellow people through the prism of God’s grace and word.
“We saw at the Saint George square children who should be at school wandering around without any purpose in life, in ignorance and danger lurking beside them. We felt inside the need to open up to these marginalized children and impart the message of hope and Life”.
“This is how the first group was created on the street, the square, and from there in the church. This project so far has been a great and continuous miracle of God’s Grace and a great proof that we can all contribute to improving our society without the need of money; we only have to step outside our ego and be eager to provide and open up to our neighbours”.
Having formed the first group of children, we wanted to give a name to this effort; therefore, we asked them to write various names on the blackboard.
“Even the name was chosen by the children themselves. We sat down and said that this should have a name. The children spoke the words nest, shelter… It seemed that they think of it as something that safeguards and protects them … so we thought of calling it the Ark”.
The words “of the world” was added by Father Antonios himself to underline that the Ark can accommodate everyone and everyone has merit, just like in Noah’s Ark: “from the humble worm to the powerful lion, everyone has their place in the Ark and everyone deserves to be protected and saved”.
Thus, the Ark of the World integrates people in need in a broader “family”, where solidarity and mutual provision is an everyday practice. Respect to diversity, equal relations and the concept of love without exchanges are the principles governing the course of the Ark.
Encouragement, support and a counseling approach to parents and children are some of the many ways to help the families in poverty. The Ark hopes to be the driving force and support for people tested by difficulties so that they can stand on their own two feet again and receive the help they need to integrate into society with new equipment.
Our Development – Milestones
1998: Antonios Papanikolaou, 26 years old, is ordained at the parish of Saint George, Akadimia Platonos, Kolonos. It is a difficult area, a ghetto in the centre of the city, with gangs, drugs and people with livelihood problems.
“I fell like a parachutist in the area; I did not know what the place was and, still, I loved it more than the place where I was born. This is where I was given the opportunity to work, this is the place that God entrusted me with”.
He soon realized that things were difficult. He cannot close his eyes to the problems of the area that are visible literally outside the church, as groups of children gathered outside the church and, instead of going to school, wander unprotected around the dangerous square until the early hours of the night.
“I saw that something had to be done and no one took over. There was a snake lurking and no one undertook to pull it out of the hole”.
Father Antonios approached a group of children playing basketball outside the Saint George church at Akadimia Platonos, with an aim to get to know them and listen to their needs.
“For some people, the parish consists of the faithful who come inside the church; for me, the parish comprises all the people of the area, whether they come in the church or not”. .
With clear signs of puzzlement in the eyes of the children, since they had not seen a priest approach them and seem genuinely interested in them before, Father Antonios encouraged them to play a basketball game together; very soon, the young priest and the children became a team.
“We saw a priest in his frock come to talk to us and then play basketball with us! We thought that someone was pulling a joke”, says young A., one of the first members of the Ark.
This is how a group of children was formed around Father Antonios, mainly coming from families in hardship as regards drugs, minor theft, school dropouts and domestic violence. Unfortunately, these situations are routine for these children who, seeing a priest different from the others, feel a light of hope and salvation for them and their families pouring.
“I knew that I would meet these children and they now expected of me a word, a piece of advice, the care that they might not have at home”.
The only thing they knew was delinquency, lack of respect, a life without any prospect of change and development. For the first time, a person “shed light” to their own needs, listened to their problems and told them that there is another life, better things can be done. Equipped with education, they could escape their predestined future and dream about it.
1999: Without any specific plans, the young priest asks to be granted premises at Pylou Street, which the church was using for its own events (memorial services etc.). The premises were finally rented using his own money and funds from people who supported him in his early steps. Thus, at a ground-floor place, a former café at Pylou Street, the children of the area come every day until late at night to find what they cannot be offered at their own homes.
Hot meals (prepared by Father Antonios’ wife and the first volunteers-residents of the area), a group of peers with the same problems and joys and – above all – a kind word and a man who believed in them for the first time. “We had a base now and we timidly house the first activities there”.
For Father Antonios himself, threats and attacks were a daily phenomenon. He was not welcome in the area, neither him or his venture. Nevertheless, he does not give up:
“I did not think for a moment to quit. There was always the choice to live as a priest and do only what was necessary, but things had already been on track”.
The 26-year-old priest draws strength from his Faith and the momentum of his youth, remaining firm and strong at the service of the children.
“God says that when you decide to do something, not for yourself but for others, it is like you do something for me”. I learned most of it from the children.
2008: The momentum of the project is now unstoppable. The Ark’s allies come from all sectors and all ages and each one tries to help from their own position and their own strengths.
People working on Greek television propose to create a tele marathon to gather money for the needs of the project. For the first time, Father Antonios is able to address a broad audience and make his vision known.
An amount was gathered that enabled the Ark to take a leap: To create its own place, a place especially made for children, to “embrace” them and make them feel that there is a hospitable house for them.
This is how the “Mother and Child Care and Protection Centre” of the Ark of the World was created at 3 Zinodorou Street, Kolonos. This place accommodates the services of the Ark and is open daily to all who want to offer their services and get to know the project.
With Christ’s love as its only ally, the Ark of the World has embraced 500 children in the centre of Athens, supporting families with whatever they need to raise their children with dignity.
At the same time, the protection of children provided by the Ark of the World comprises since 2007 the safe raising of children who come to us at the request of the prosecuting authorities because they were removed from the unsuitable environment of their family.
2007: The first home for 30 children at Kolonos is now a reality. To date, the home has been embracing children who come to the Ark of the World to find a safe shelter of love and affection.
Thus, the first home for children was created at Kolonos. The Ark of the World is expanding its activities and is no longer confined to the daytime care of children, but also to their overall care and protection. These are children subjected to neglect, abuse, abandonment and many other social problems, most of which originate in their family.
The Ark cooperates with prosecuting authorities for children and now acts as a recognised body providing integral child care. The home at Kolonos now accommodates 30 children.
2012: The next project of the Ark becomes a reality as a response to the ever-increasing needs for child accommodation. Our new home at Piraeus, with a capacity of 40 beds, is able to make the appropriate provisions for children to grow up safely. A beautiful four-story building was donated to the Ark by the Kontopoulos family in loving memory of their daughter Despoina who lost the battle to cancer. Her wish was to donate the home for the children of the Ark.
The home could not be named otherwise …
It is called “Despoina” and now accommodates 32 young girls.
2013: Another challenge for Father Antonios and his team comes from the local authorities of Epirus, which invited us to receive a place where the Agricultural School’s house of the area used to operate, with an aim to implement a project relating to an unproductive part of the country. The Ark travelled to the border village of Pogoniani and settled in a building, which was properly transformed to house unprotected children and services that give a breath of life to the area. Seeing this new project in its entirety, Father Antonios utilizes the place both to accommodate children and train the young members of the Ark.
This is how a different “school” was created, the “Agricultural School” for farmers and stock breeders, where children are trained in raising and taking care of animals, cultivating the land the assume responsibility for what they do, conquering at the same time knowledge and a lesson in life.
The Pogoniani home now accommodates 55 children who experience the miracle of nature every day, in a beautiful landscape of our country, 800 metres from the Greek-Albanian borders, with a capacity of 100 beds.
2014: Chios, the island where Father Antonios comes from, calls for help. He does not hesitate and undertakes to reform and utilize large premises, a children’s village with sports facilities which, apart from fully caring for the children, enables high-level educational and sports activities.
The Ark of the Aegean is located at the birthplace of Father Antonios and his wife, as called for by the Municipality of Omiroupoli. Thus, the children’s village of Aipos now houses 35 children and our family keeps growing.
At the same time, we could not turn a blind eye to the issue of refugees that has stricken our country. The Ark of the Aegean has therefore undertaken to care for all unaccompanied children who arrive in Chios, offering them whatever they need for a decent stay with respect to their personal diversity.
The Ark of the World won an award in November 2003, in a moving ceremony at the Old Parliament building by the President of the Republic Konstantinos Stefanopoulos, as one of the best child care organisations in Greece.
Moreover, the European Monitoring Centre against racism and xenophobia has chosen the Ark of the World as the “brightest example against racism and xenophobia in Greece for 2003”. In December 2004 the Ark received an award for its operations from UNESCO. On 5 December 2005, in a ceremony at the Presidential Palace, the Ark of the World received an award from the President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias as one of the best child care organisations in Greece.
Moreover, on 30 December 2008, Father Antonios Papanikolaou, priest and founder of the non-governmental organisation the Ark of the World received an award from the Academy of Athens as a Greek standing out for acts of humanism and social virtue, for his excellent volunteer work for destitute and abandoned children.
The Ark of the World has currently set sail for many destinations and its passengers are ever increasing. Others asked for help and others had a love surplus to give; they all travel and work together, just like the crew of a ship that must deal with difficult conditions but is so strong that it always resists and does not sheer. Father Antonios, the skillful captain, is always at the wheel, eager to do all the hard work required to give shelter to people in need.
Everything has been done with hard and ceaseless struggle, sacrifices and offers from all of us, with deep respect to the help provided by volunteers and the money donated by our fellow people.
Please embrace and support our effort.
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