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ESG’s Young Leaders Strike Chords of Empowerment
Fenia Biniari, Communications Manager, El Sistema Greece
On Saturday, November 25, following the International Day for Children’s Rights, El Sistema Greece’s Young Leaders Program welcomed Anna Mertzani, Manager of the Intercultural Center “PYXIDA” of the Greek Council for Refugees. Inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, the Young Leaders Program is not just about hitting the right notes or mastering instruments; it is a platform for empowerment and social responsibility. Participants represent the rich cultural fabric of Greece, a wide spectrum that includes Greek citizens, migrant groups, refugees, and asylum-seekers. Together, they contribute a breadth of worldviews and experiences that build a collaborative environment where trust can flourish.
At this point, the Young Leaders team had been collaborating since the beginning of the season. Upon joining their group, Anna played a pivotal role initiating a discussion with the cohort, establishing a genuine connection with the group and creating a secure space where participants felt empowered to express themselves.
Once conversation was flowing, Anna steered the discussion toward the critical need to defend children’s rights. Sharing her own experiences, she underscored the significance of acknowledging and safeguarding the rights of every child. For the Young Leaders, this exchange of perspectives was a transformative experience. Through interactive activities and group discussions, the young participants realized the crucial significance of establishing inclusive spaces that amplify all voices, especially those that are not being heard as loudly.
One remarkable aspect of the meeting was the way it blossomed; each word exchanged became a building block for constructive dialogue. Older children gracefully gave way to their younger, less-talkative peers, creating an atmosphere where every voice could be expressed. In this space of mutual respect and freedom, existential questions about the meaning of life surfaced, with Young Leader Katerina, age 14, expressing the view that “children’s rights don’t only help them grow up happy and healthy, but also help them create a better world for everyone.”
“What struck me was the maturity, the concentration, the genuine interest, and the depth of the Young Leaders’ thoughts as they elaborated on the fundamental articles and ideas of the Convention of Children’s Rights, 1989,” said Anna. “They were even willing to go through the hard process of sharing diverse worldviews. It is so important that children, who usually remained silent and withdrawn, felt safe to express both their personal experiences and their ideas on how to interpret and push back on behaviors that violate their rights.”
This was a small breakthrough for some young people. Said Katerina, “I realized that children have the right to be safe, loved, and treated fairly. They deserve good healthcare education and a voice that is heard. Every child should be protected from harm and have a chance to play and learn.”
Hasan, 19, said, “Participating in discussions and listening to diverse perspectives transformed my understanding… The experience deepened my commitment to supporting the well-being of children and reinforced the importance of ongoing dialogue and awareness to promote positive change.”
“I had the chance to look at [children’s rights] from a different perspective,” said Iro, 17. “It made me think more critically about the world we live in and about all the things that need to change in order for everyone to live happily. I was very moved.”
The intersection of music education, human rights, and youth empowerment within ESG’s Young Leaders Program offers a useful perspective on the potential of artistic endeavors to shape a more inclusive and equitable world and of a future where everyone’s voice matters.
Toward the end of the meeting, a final question was raised about the meaning of life. The question was put toward the entire group. Though students responded individually, a common refrain emerged in the discussion circle: “Each of us must do our best to leave a nice mark on this world before we leave it.”