Refugees recapture childhood fun during a week-long program on campus.
When I first told people that I was going to do a CIP with Syrian kids, a common reaction was “But there are many Turkish children who need help, why not do a project with them?” What those people disregarded was that these kids didn’t come to Turkey willingly; they were here because of the war in their country.
This same attitude was also the reason why these kids felt unwelcome. I wanted to lead such a CIP because I wanted to show people that these children were equally capable as any other children when the right environment was provided.
Azem Yıldırım L12
As Azem notes, this CIP was characterized by a certain amount of spontaneity from its organization phase to the last day. The original idea was to work at a school that had both Syrian and Turkish students and help them bond through shared activities. Unfortunately we did not get permission to do this with the school in Fatih, but two days before the project was to start, our partner Small Projects Istanbul, chose 40 Syrian students to participate.
We always had a plan A but often had to trade it for plan B or C due to some challenges specific to this project. Many of the children came with their younger brothers and sisters from whom they did not want to be separated. We tried to respect this. An even bigger challenge was that only a few students knew Turkish and only one or two knew English. Luckily our translator Ahmet Bey came every day, but he could not be in all places at once. It was difficult to do involved activities.
We had help from drama teacher Jake Becker who gave tips on how to use physical drama, Eda Yurdakul who helped with the drama group and Janelle Bondor who taught the kids how to hula hoop. They loved it! Ferhat Dal RC 13 spent the afternoon showing them the basics of computer programming and an RC Summer volunteer showed them break dancing.
The children seemed happy. They were stunned by the unlimited food in the cafeteria. They were energized. But what was their reality?
There was one boy, Hussein, who was about the same age as our students. He was always smiling, trying to be helpful and positive. It was a bit hard to communicate with him as he knew no Turkish but was trying earnestly to learn English. After the project was over, by chance, I happened to see Hussein’s face on a crowdfunding website. I was shocked to learn that, in order to help support his family, he works at a factory at least 12 hours a day, six days a week. He spends his day off learning English, and dreams of becoming an engineer or veterinarian if he can go back to school.
We did not have an end product such as a show or an exhibition in this CIP but we did create joy for children who have been traumatized and dealt a harsh hand by forces outside their control. We created a week where they could simply be children having fun.
RC students continue to work with Syrian children during the school year. In a project organized together with Small Projects Istanbul and the World Bank, they are being a big brother/sister with a refugee child, and meet with them one Saturday per month.
For more details about Small Projects Istanbul, visit www.smallprojectsistanbul.org
We are also doing a project involving online Turkish lessons with Syrian refugees in a camp in the southeast. Working with English Ninjas, an organization that has online tutoring in English, our students are helping them to set up and run something similar in Turkish.
By Jennifer Sertel, Community Involvement Program (CIP) Advisor