Father Antonios Papanikolaou of Ark of the World was awarded on Tuesday the annual European Citizen’s Prize, along with Greek NGOs HOPEgenesis and Anemos Ananeosis (Wind of Renewal), at a ceremony in the European Parliament in Brussels.
This prize is awarded to citizens, groups, or organizations who have displayed exceptional
achievements in cooperation, philanthropy, human rights, and strengthening the European spirit and ideals and promoting the values of the EU.
Father Antonios Papanikolaou established the Ark of the World, an organization that mainly helps orphans and abandoned children. So far, Ark of the World has helped and educated hundreds of children, with most of them integrating in Greek society once they “graduate” from the organization.
Father Antonios started as a preacher in 1998 in Kolonos, one of the most downgraded Athens neighborhoods.
Antonios started observing the children of the neighborhood, especially those in high-risk groups, such as those whose families were in need. He was gradually approaching children through basketball games, trying to talk with them about their concerns, their daily routine, trying to speak to them as equal, without judging, and trying to help them with their needs.
Over time, the children accepted him and trusted him, as he was able to connect with them.
Seeing, however, that many children chose the way of delinquency or even petty crime, Father Antonios decided to establish the Ark of the World, a facility in Kolonos that hosts children in need.
Area residents started to come and volunteer to provide their services. Teachers started to come and teach, Kolonos housewives began to bring food and clothes from their homes, until the facility became a full-functioning center that catered to the needs of children.
The Ark of the World is trying to help as many children as possible rise out of poverty and abandonment and to offer them the opportunity to stand on their own two feet.
Father Antonios also established several support programs, including helping area children who have dropped out of school to return and complete their studies.
When the refugee crisis hit Greece, Ark of the World opened its doors and arms to unescorted refugee and migrant children, taking care of them and teaching them Greek.