The Atenea Institute in Panama, which is the only Greek school in Latin America, has within a few short years become the focal point for academic excellence in the country.
Greek is taught from the elementary school up to high school level, to each and every student, whose varied backgrounds constitute the school’s multinational mosaic.
The school was founded in 2002 by a group of Greeks led by Haralambos Tzanetatos, a businessman who came to Panama from the Greek island of Kefalonia.
Tzanetatos is the president of Tzanetatos Inc., one of the largest distributors of consumer goods in Panama. The company boasts two in-house brands and distributes other highly recognized imported brands as well.
All are welcome Panama’s Atenea Institute
The Atenea Institute does not distinguish between students on the basis of race, nationality, religion or political creed.
All are welcome to the school to learn the Greek language, the ancient and modern history of the nation, and its philosophy and science.
“I am really proud to be teaching Greek here in Panama,” says Ludmila Melaki, speaking to the Greek Reporter.
“Teaching Greek will always be in the curriculum, as it is the foundation stone of the history of Atenea Institute,” she added.
Students sing the Greek national anthem at the Institute every morning, even before they enter their classroom. Apart from being taught Greek, students also learn Greek dances.
Most students are Panamanians, but there are also pupils from other countries in Latin America. Some are also members of Panama’s Greek community, which according to estimates, is almost eight-hundred strong.
Greek presence in Panama
Greeks first arrived in the Central American country to work in the construction of the Panama Canal in 1885. French engineers chose them because of the skills they had demonstrated in the construction of the Isthmus of Corinth canal back in Greece.
The Greek presence in Panama has been strengthened over the intervening decades as Greek shipping gradually conquered the world, and many shipowners chose to sail their vessels under the Panamanian flag.
The Greek community there is small, but active and vibrant. The community has already made its mark on the economy, politics, gastronomy and culture of this beautiful, verdant country.
“A Greek is always a Greek wherever he goes,” taxi driver Costa Gianareas who has lived in Panama for fifty-five years, told Greek Reporter.
A former president of Panama, Demetrio Basilio Lakas Bahas, was Greek. The son of Greek immigrants, Bahas served as the 27th President of Panama from December 19, 1969 to October 11, 1978.
Unsurprisingly, Greek food has also become an integral part of Panamian life. Greek specialties such as souvlaki and gyros are very popular as well as pies and sweets. Greek restaurants are thriving.