After graduating from ACS Athens in 1994, Harris Gazi set off for the United States where she studied at Boston University, and later, at New York University. While she worked in the field of communications, humanitarian work is what spoke to her soul. From helping in soup kitchens and picking up trash to packing boxes for the fire department in New York after 9-11 and cleaning tents at refugee camps, she found herself supplementing her career with aid-related efforts.
Only after she started working in fundraising for a large medical humanitarian organization did it click - she could transform her passion for helping people into a career.
Seeing the impact of the financial crisis on families, she and two of her colleagues founded Πρώτα το Παιδί – Children First by pooling their collective knowledge and expertise to empower children living at risk of poverty or below the poverty line in Greece by working with their families to improve their lives in three key areas: nutrition, education and medical care.
In her own words, Harris shares how the organization is helping children, as well as the powerful impact of her ACS Athens experience.
Giving Children the Means to Break the Cycle of Poverty
Becoming a mom in 2010, when the news cycle was inundated with stories of people struggling, was life-changing. It was unbearable for me to think that other new moms were having trouble feeding their babies. We all often think “what kind of a world do we live in” but I think that was the time when I knew I wanted to do something about it.
My co-founders Anestis Bozoglanian and Amalia Zovoili and I worked in the non-profit sector for years. We had often taken part in local food or toy donation drives for families in need and we knew that despite the outpouring of solidarity movements during the harshest years of the financial crisis in Greece, thousands of people were still falling through the cracks, most often families with small children who were most affected by high unemployment and austerity measures. We began researching the various state, municipal and community groups and services available, interviewed those providing goods and services (food, medical and mental health services, medicines, shelter etc) and realized that, years after the beginning of the crisis and at a time when most perceive the “Greek crisis” to be over, the most vulnerable were still in grave need. It is virtually impossible for them to break the circle of poverty. And thus, Πρώτα το Παιδί – Children First was born: as a means to help give children the means to break the circle of poverty and thrive.
We started helping our first family in July 2020; currently, we are assisting 28 beneficiaries and growing every month. We plan to start supporting at least three new families in the next few months and are launching a special “Girls Empowering Girls” initiative – through which women can support and empower our moms and their daughters - in October.
The best part of my work is knowing that you’re making a difference in people’s lives. Even on the most mundane, admin-heavy day, I know that a child is eating a healthy meal or going to a dance class or a swim meet or getting to go to the dentist for the first time because of what we’ve created. On the other hand, the most difficult part is coming to terms with the fact that no matter how much we grow as an organization, there will always be countless needs that won’t be met. Balancing the feeling that you’re just a drop in the ocean with the fact that you are truly making a difference is a challenge.
The Lasting Impact of ACS Athens
The values we learn at home and school ultimately shape our decisions and actions in life. Kindness and empathy can be taught! I think that being exposed to moral values and activities that foster conscious citizenship can help children become productive members of society down the line. And it might just be these members of society that will be the ones that fight future inequalities and bring about change. (I’m so proud that ACS has always been a beacon of respecting and celebrating diversity.)
Many of my ACS teachers inspired me while in school and still inspire me to this day. Educators like Mr. Medeiros, who I think about often, leave a lasting imprint not only on your mind but on your soul. I definitely feel that my teachers inspired a sense of civic duty in me. It’s important to inspire kids and show them that a better world is not only possible, but it is in fact a responsibility for each and every one of us.
I feel that one of the magical things about ACS was that the school helped you create your own path. It gave you an incredible variety of educational experiences and supported you as much as you needed it, but ultimately it helped empower you. I had a hard time in science classes in school (my son will attest to the fact that I am still science-challenged) and I will never forget how my high school Chemistry teacher helped empower me to do better – and I did. She helped guide me from a feeling of helplessness that stemmed from not understanding the material, to actually getting a good grade. It wasn’t only about the actual learning, but about believing in myself and figuring out how to succeed.
A Community of Inspiration Among Alumni
I love the sense of community that the school inspires in alumni. Many of us keep in touch and support each other’s professional and personal endeavors; it’s been so moving when old ACS friends support the work we do at Πρώτα το Παιδί.
Recently, my fellow ACS alum, Boston University roommate, and wonderful friend, artist Vivian Zotali, donated 39 of her original artworks in support of our work. The exhibition, entitled “for (we are all) children” was generously hosted at ACS Athens during the Reunion in June. Not only was the reunion an amazing opportunity to see our old stomping grounds, friends and teachers, but the proceeds from the sale of the artwork will help support one of our children (food deliveries, English lessons, sports activities, pediatrician and dentist appointments) for seven months. An amazing experience!
ACS Athens Alum Joins Retired Art Teacher to Host Powerful Art Exhibit at ACS Athens
Harris currently resides in Athens with her family. When she’s not advocating for children and families, Harris enjoys art shows, tennis matches and exploring and enjoying Greece.
She is an active member of the ACS Athens Global Alumni community and looks forward to connecting/reconnecting with other ACS Athens alums. You can learn more about all the great work Harris and her organization are doing at https://www.protatopaidi.org/ or by contacting her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One Art Exhibit - Two Artists - Three Causes Worth Supporting More...