May 2016 - Turkey
At RET International we have been working in Southeastern Turkey for over two years, with a strong focus on the needs of youth, women and girls made vulnerable by the Syrian Crisis. Given this involvement, which has by now grown into sincere attachment to the local communities, our team was highly motivated to celebrate Children’s Day. It represented a great opportunity to honour the importance of children and organise a day of celebration for all to enjoy. However, also being a profoundly results-based organisation, we see such celebrations as important opportunities to provide the protection services that are at the core of our mandate. Fun and enjoyment can be conducive to positive social change.
In Turkey, Children’s Day is celebrated on the 23 April, but as so many children and parents wanted to take part, we could not resist extending the celebrations to 3 days. The Language & Skills Training Centres for Girls of Süleymaniye and Büyükyol, as well as, the Viranşehir and Kızıltepe Youth Centres therefore held multiple events over the 22, 23 and 24 April. Our work in these different centres, and therefore these 3 days of celebration, are made possible through the generous support of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund.
In total over 1’300 children took part in the activities, sometimes preparing for weeks beforehand. In addition, their mothers and families were also involved and present. Three days of celebrations were clearly not too much.
Activities were different in each centre, but all had in common fun, colours and laughter. In Süleymaniye and Büyükyol children had worked hard to perform in choirs and dance shows. Colouring t-shirts and finger painting were immensely successful. Viranşehir had choirs as well, but also organised theatre groups and all together they decorated the Centre. Clowns, music and games also played their part to make the day unforgettable. In Kızıltepe a 3-day kite festival was organised during which 500 kites were built and 60 rooftops were cleared to fly. Children could go from one to another to test them all and markers were placed on the labyrinth-like streets of the historical town of Mardin, to turn the rooftop finding into a quest. On the last day it was the university which became a kite-flying zone with the presence of local kite celebrities.
Of course, we also work through local partnerships, such as the Mardin Museum for example, which has been supporting local children over the past years with kite building and design. This year, the RET Team in Kızıltepe has decided to join efforts with the Museum to organise an even bigger Kite-Flying Festival.
The complete set of activities of these 3 days is simply too long to list; our team and the community have invested an impressive amount of time and energy to ensure the events ran smoothly. The logistics themselves were challenging, as all activities have to take into consideration safe transportation of the children and their families, as well as, good food and safe well organised environments. It is impossible to imagine such events if some are left behind for not having the means to travel or if others have to come with an empty stomach. Also, everyone received little gifts, simply because we all should receive one from time to time.
As mentioned above, fun and laughter, though essential, are not the only benefits and purpose of organising these events. Celebrations such as Children’s Day are also crucial opportunities to create stronger social cohesion, as children and parents congregate around positive emotions in safe spaces. When crises affect entire communities, opportunities to come together function as strong resilience mechanisms, for both the local Turkish population and those who have been displaced.
Having children and parents gather in our centres also creates possibilities to offer specific protective services. The activities our teams chose to organise were conceived to lead to the development of specific skills.
For example, colouring t-shirts with finger-paint ensures that every child expresses him or herself freely, reflecting their choices, ideas and identities. The goal is to let children feel like their ideal selves, without any criticism. Performance activities requiring preparation, such as the choirs, dance shows or drama, serve as efficient self-esteem boosters, which is a fundamental element of building resilience.
Such events are also opportunities for the children who do not yet have regular access to the language or psychosocial services we propose, to join their friends. Having the parents come as well allows them to learn about these existing services and register their children. Celebrations are therefore opportunities to broaden the reach of our programmes.
Finally, mothers, whom we always work closely with, received training on children’s rights and child protection during the events. They also had the opportunities get to know each other in safe spaces, which strengthens the social fabric.
In the middle of fragile environments there is room for celebration, there is space for fun and there are opportunities to work with communities. Developing the resilience of vulnerable populations can be done in many ways; celebrating Children’s Day may simply be one of the most delightful.