The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation was established in 2005 to continue the philanthropic work started by the late John S. Latsis. His wife, Henrietta, and three children (Margarita Latsis, Marianna Latsis, and influential businessman Spiro Latsis) form the Supervisory board of the Foundation. Since 2005, the Foundation has provided grants and supported initiatives targeted at meeting the social, educational and development needs of the society.
A single foundation’s efforts alone cannot solve all of society’s problems, which is why the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation works alongside other organisations in planning, managing and funding programmes. On its part, the Foundation has come up with a framework that facilitates easier evaluation of grant requests and points out the need for sustainable and relevant solutions.
Among the target areas the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation has focused on is child welfare. Efforts in this area are targeted at improving the provision of social and educational services. From funding pediatric clinics to establishing shelters for minors, the Foundation is keen on providing children with positive experiences as they grow up. One of the key success stories of the child welfare efforts has been the Learning Together programme.
Learning Together was established with a view to enhancing the creative learning process early childhood and primary education. The programme takes proposals from teachers and students who wish to implement participatory activities that make the learning process exciting and innovative. Numerous kindergartens and primary schools across Greece have benefited from the program, including the 8th Kindergarten of Kilkis.
At the 8th Kindergarten of Kilkis, students created a Speleological Society that helped teach awareness on sustainability and preservation of natural ecosystems and sites such as caves. The Speleological Society facilitated more than 100 students from the 8th Kindergarten and 5 other schools to explore the Cave of Kilkis.
During the tour, teachers ensured the students collaborated on various tasks, including research and observation of the environment. The students were also sensitized on issues to do with protection and preservation of natural monuments, not to mention provided a chance to work with computers.
Caves and speleologists
Caves have fascinated man for a long time. As the product of naturally-occurring erosional processes, caves are integral to the evolution of man. In prehistoric times, they provided shelter to man. In modern times, archaeologists have used artifacts found in caves (sculptures, drawings) to make inferences about early civilisations. Religious traditions regard caves as hallowed, thus using them for ceremonies and rituals.
The term speleologist came was introduced as man adopted scientific cave exploration techniques. Early speleologists weren’t professionals, but rather individuals interested in taking a scientific approach to studying caves. A speleologist is not only interested in the visual aspect of exploration, but is interested in producing scientific data. Whether it’s a map, drawing, report, or photos, the speleologist makes sure to capture as much data during their incursions.
From their trips, young children can understand how caves are formed, alongside other interesting facts regarding the depth, types of caves, the common features found, and the kind of animals that can survive underground conditions. At an early age, this knowledge can form the foundation for further interest in topics such as geology, chemistry, biology and survey techniques. At the very least, the young minds can become more attuned to the need for environmental conservation.
Innovative ways of learning
Traditionally, educators are expected to teach about caves in a classroom setting, perhaps with visual material (photos, maps) to aid the discussion. It might be effective, but what a class trip to the actual site brings is a personal, visual experience that no literature can truly capture. For many children, seeing is believing, and a trip to a cave reinforces all that has been taught in the classroom. Seeing the rock patterns, feeling a cave’s features, and generally exploring the site allows students to appreciate the natural processes that lead to cave formation.
The underground world holds a lot of lessons of discovery and adventure to young minds. As self-contained underground habitats, caves hide precious minerals and make an ideal medium for learning about science and nature in general.
For the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, such initiatives ensure that students have a richer educational experience. It’s in line with the Foundation’s desire to enhance creativity in the learning process. Students and teachers “learning together” ensures improvement in education.
The keys to success are based on the planning and evaluation of the requests. Calls for participation are made at the end of each school year, with the resulting applications carefully vetted for priority, relevance and impact towards improving learning process. Successful applications are those found to address the learning needs and develop new experiences for students.