Meet Nefeli-Sofia Stefopoulou: Greek winner of the YouthSpark Challenge for Change

Microsoft recently announced ten global winners of the YouthSpark Challenge for Change, and one of them is Nefeli-Sofia Stefopoulou, a student from Greece and the only winner from Europe. We sat down this week with Nefeli-Sofia to find out more about her winning idea and future plans.

Tell us about your project and how it came about.

“Well, I would not call it my project as it is a global collaborative project on which around 1000 kids worked, but I feel really lucky to be a part of it and the ambassador of the whole project. This project is a great example of how the power of one united voice and collaboration can thrive.

Project LINC is a collaborative project between 5 schools on 3 continents that started as a small idea back in January to help bring clean drinking water to students in Nairobi’s biggest slum, Kibera. After learning about a busted water pipe that had led to contamination in the school’s water supply, several Skype Master Teachers and their students including me, got together and started brainstorming ways to help. Students from all 3 countries worked together in order to make a positive change in the world. Students and teachers from the Schoolmaster (Trikala, Greece), which is my school, and from Andover Middle School (Kansas, USA) collaborated to find solutions. We participated in many learning activities as documented on the Project LINC website. We also improved our language skills, and the Kansas school integrated the project into many of its subjects. We used Skype to collaborate between schools and to connect with Vestergaard, a company that manufactures LifeStraw®, a community water purifier.

ChallengeForChangeWinner44“I felt that I should seize this opportunity and participate more actively in this cause by trying to become an ambassador of the project, and help all the kids and families who lack something as simple as a glass of clean water.”

As a result of this innovative project, the work, the initiative and the passion demonstrated by all, Vestergaard donated water filters which will provide clean water for two schools in Kenya serving 525 children. Vestergaard will also train the school teachers and will help maintain the filters.

Microsoft’s Skype in the Classroom supported the project by introducing the teachers to each other through the Skype Master Teacher program, and they filmed parts of the project as it developed. In addition, another school from Pennsylvania (Hawley-Wallenpaupack Area School) partnered with us and helped in the fundraising which was initiated by Andover Middle school.

The economic situation in Greece is really difficult and is limiting our fundraising ability locally. Therefore, my school decided to create and publish a fairytale children’s book. The proceeds of the book will go towards the purchase of even more water filters. The book will be sold through Amazon in the coming weeks, but for now, if someone is interested in buying the book to support the project, they can contact one of the project coordinators via the Project LINC website. In addition, our teacher discovered Microsoft’s YouthSpark Challenge for Change competition and urged us to participate. When I heard about it, I felt that I should seize this opportunity and participate more actively in this cause by trying to become an ambassador of the project and help all the kids and families who lack something as simple as a glass of clean water.”

What role did Microsoft technology play in developing your project?

“It was Microsoft technology which made the difference and connected us all. The whole project could not have started if not for Skype. Skype in the Classroom was the platform we used to connect with our classmates and teachers. Moreover, I used Windows Movie Maker and created advertisements for younger students of my school which can be found here. I also used Microsoft Word and OneNote to keep notes and Sway and PowerPoint to make presentations. The whole project was developed with the use of Microsoft technology, so one could say that Microsoft was our partner in the development of this global project. Microsoft technology can really spark change in the world.”

Project LINC_2

As a winner, you’ll receive funding to support your project. What are the next steps you’ll be taking with the project and how will you be using the funds?

“Project LINC had 3 goals. One was to provide clean water to the Havilla Children’s Center in the Kibera slum in Nairobi. The second goal was to provide clean water to the Cheery Education Centre which is also in Kibera. The first two goals were accomplished with the LifeStraw community water filters donated by Vestergaard.

The third goal of the project is to provide clean water for the families of the schools’ students. Together with the other two schools, we have already raised enough money for filters for 194 families that were delivered to the students of the two Nairobi schools in May. The money I am receiving from YouthSpark, along with a few other donations (one from Microsoft and the other from a Kansas teacher, Dyane Smokorowski, who was awarded $1,000 by Dolly Parton’s Chasing Rainbows initiative) will allow us to increase that number to 317 and more after the sale of the Greek fairytale children’s book. I will use part of the YouthSpark money to begin publishing and therefore multiplying the money and impact for our Skype friends in the Kibera slum.”

What has been the biggest surprise in working on this project?

“The biggest surprise was our partnership with Vestergaard because they really impacted the total number of water filters. In the beginning they offered four LifeStraw community water filters, but a few days before the delivery and installation, they announced that they increased their donation to seven community water filters! Each LifeStraw Community filter can provide clean water for approximately 75 people per day. It was a great surprise. It is touching to see how people with a common goal can work together to achieve unexpected results.”

What message do you have for youth here in Europe who have ideas like yours but may not know how to make them a reality?

“Dare to believe in yourselves and follow your dreams. Even if you encounter hurdles in your life there will always be someone next to you to support and encourage you – so never give up! If you dream big, big things can happen! Share your ideas and try to realize them, because they can actually change the world!”

The Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change is a global contest that encourages young people who are passionate about social causes to submit their ideas for how they can spark social good in their communities, schools, or throughout the world, using Microsoft technologies. The ten grand prize winners receive a volunteer travel experience in Nicaragua, $2,500 cash to kick-start their projects, and a Windows Phone. All 30 finalists have already won a Surface Pro 3 (or equivalent device) with Office 365.

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