Firstly we would like to thank you for the opportunity given to us to participate and discuss mountain issues, especially those concerning the welfare and well being of children.
Mountains are a complex ecosystem for which any correct developmental planning should therefore include the human factor and the social aspects of mountain living.
The island of Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with about one million inhabitants, with the steep narrow Kyrenia Range along the northern coast, and an extensive mountain system in the south, the Troodos Mountain range (Mount Olympus at 1,952 meters) that covers most of the southern and western part of the island. At the center of the island, between the mountains, is Mesaoria plain, and the capital of Nicosia.
The mountains account for almost half of the island’s area, with many famous mountain resorts, with villages nestling along Byzantine monasteries, 9 Unesco's World Heritage Sites and churches on mountain peaks .
As you can see the mountains in Cyprus play inevitably an important role. Distances from main cities are not as long as in another parts of the world but nevertheless, the problems under consideration are universal in their nature such natural hazards, poverty, the great distance from the European markets and the additional geographical problem of being an island and thus not accesible from land, meaning among other things, additional costs on productions.
Therefore a proper study regarding the welfare of their inhabitants and especially the target group of children and youth, was considered. The Cypriot study and development could be in many ways be taken as a good example or workshop if you wish in examining many aspects of mountain life welfare of children especially.
Through the experience of the PANORMOS group and continuous work with the children and in general with the people living in mountainous and rural areas, we have conducted a large scale study of some 2250 students, regarding their psychosocial status as well their development potentials from an anthropocentric point of view. This study was conducted in cooperation with the Ministries of Education, Justice and Law departments,academics from the University of Athens, local Parents Associations and other local administrations involved.
We studied various parameters such as the development and the daily habits of the children for 4 consecutive months, including numerous interviews. This is as noted of outmost importance for the correct planning and organization of rural and mountainous services to these people and also in recognizing their true necessities and abilities as well.
Children in mountainous areas exhibit in comparison with urban children, contrary to common beliefs a higher rate of violent behaviour, less peer connectivity, a slightly lower rate of substance abuse (2.7% to 2.9%) and more school asbsences.
The majority of the parents of children living on mountainous areas have a comparatively lower educational standard and are employed in agricultural or touristical posts. Most of these children follow later the technical schools which show an even lower academic record, increased juvenile delinquency and substance abuse 14.4%.Self-esteem in this group is lower by 10% .
As a result the children that later-on do not move to the cities, are employed in the agricultural field or under-paid and seasonal jobs. The families that actually want a better future for their children move in the city were academic success, although not guarrantied, is more probable. Following a vicious cricle, well-educated children though, can find no work in the mountainous areas.This has lately been changing due to ecotourism and ecofarming.
We also examined the nutritional habits, leisure time spending, effects of advertising, adolescence, mobile-use, children with special needs as well as the effect of armed conflict and the experiences of their parents regarding their present situation after the Turkish invasion of 1974.
Some of the usual problems identified were distance-related problems, meaning difficult access to public health facilities, schools or other learning institutions. Furthermore dental problems related to poor hygiene and/or dietary factors were present.
Another factor that should be taken into consideration is that as well as in Cyprus and all around the world, public services are usually manned by seasonal or temporary staff that is obliged to stay only for a short period of time at these areas. Consequently there is little if any chance of pushing forward changes that would help the locals, since nobody stays long enough to implement them correctly. Additionally most of them don’t really connect with the locals and do not participate in any problem-solving thinking prcedures.
Furthermore contact was established with the local population in the form of seminars and proposals for interventions as well as with the local authorities. The ministries involved are being duly informed of the progress and the results of the study and take it into consideration (hopefully) in the planning of their strategies regarding the development of the areas in question.
It is vital to identify the parameters necessary for the children to stay at the mountainous areas and reduce urbanization in the procedure of developing such areas, by evolving and not destructing the social connectivity, patterns and traditions. If the children and their parents live in good conditions, they have all the chances for psychosocial progress and possibilities in the future. If the parents feel that their children have a secure future then they are more efficient and more resourceful in developing their environs.
In order to unlock the potential of the mountainous people inter-departmental coordination is needed. Appropriate govermental planning, and activities by NGO’s and international organizations such the UNESCO World heritage sites and FAO provide local people with great opportunities and are most welcome.
Reciprocal interaction is required between choosing a place to live and raising a family with work and development possibilities for the future adults in order to increase their working capacities.
We believe that developing public services at a local community level will help overcome the geographical problems. Decentralisation of power means giving local authorities the flexibility and initiatives to evolve naturally. When supporting growth we should always bear in mind that the social and health consequences can be very damaging if the development is not correctly implemented. It means identifying the needs of the people living there and what will keep them there…
The diversification of sources of income in mountain areas could start from the long-term planning of children’s education. The human factor must not be left out of any developmental planning.
Our goal was to identify parameters that could be included in any program and maybe promote a Child policy for mountain children. This is if you wish a call for attention. Children are the forgotten-neglected economical power of the future…