It started in the summer of 2015, after the members of the Mobile Medical Units (MMU) observed high rates of childhood obesity during their missions in Greece’s remote islands. The Mobile Medical Units is an initiative undertaken by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation in collaboration with the Olympic Village Polyclinic with the purpose of providing healthcare programs to residents of islands and remote areas in Greece.
The Sport Paths program was created in accordance to the principle upheld by the World Health Organization (WHO), according which “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” During the past two years, pioneering activities were developed on 26 different islands, with the participation of 3,093 children, in total. A multitude of specialized collaborators, from a range of disciplines, worked together for the successful implementation of the program.
The Sport Paths – Summer 2017 (SP2017) program lasted for 3 weeks, from June 26 until July 14, and took place on ten (10) remote islands: Agathonisi, Agios Efstratios, Astypalaia, Donousa, Kasos, Kastelorizo, Kimolos, Lipsi, Tilos and Psara.
The main goal of the program was to teach swimming and water safety, as swimming is vital to island residents and the percentage of children who know how to swim well is very low (3%).
388 children, aged 5-12, participated in the program. It is worth mentioning that the rate of participation was as high as 83.47% for all kindergarten and primary school children.
The program was carried out on pre-selected beaches, which met the safety criteria, in appropriately designated spaces, in schools and other public buildings. All of the program’s equipment was donated to the islands’ municipalities, for their own use.
Instrumental in the program’s successful implementation was the contribution of 19 physical education teachers, trained in the latest and most innovative methods of improving physical skills.
Apart from daily swimming lessons, the program included a range of activities, including innovative and modern sports activities, aimed at acquainting participants with a variety of sports, as well as educating them about balanced nutrition. Specifically, the program included lessons and practice in basketball, volleyball, handball, fencing, tennis, track and field, table tennis and a wide range of kinesthetic games, involving collaboration, trust, balance, goals, movement coordination, and teamwork. Some islands also hosted lessons in traditional dances and chess.
The organizers received appreciation letters from teachers and parents, in which a special reference is made to the variety of activities, the importance of swimming lessons for the islands’ younger residents, the rich material, but also the professionalism and dedication of physical education teachers who managed to attract the interest of children and gain the trust of parents. Furthermore, the children who participated in the program obtained learning stimuli and gained multiple benefits from the sports activities, the cultivation of healthy exercise and nutrition habits, as well as the development of team spirit, socialization, sportsmanship and co-operation skills, adherence to rules, discipline and dealing with winning and losing. Sport Paths are mentioned as an experience of major importance that will directly or indirectly affect children’s lives.
The cycle of the Sport Paths program, in its present form, has been completed. Moving forward, the goal is the program’s organic integration in the everyday life of each region, aspiring to become a long-term program, whose success is based on the involvement and active participation of the remote islands’ residents, as well as local authorities.