RET International has been active in Turkey since early 2013, where we have been concentrating on two main courses of action: Turkish language training for Syrian children and youth and the empowerment of vulnerable young women.
Protection is the overarching goal of our projects and it is done through educational approaches, which provide adolescents, youth and young women with the tools to fend for themselves during this crisis. Keeping an eye on the longer term, RET also understands that for this protection to be durable, enabling displaced Syrian communities and Turkish host populations to create strong social cohesion has to be built into what we offer.
This specific article will focus on the first of these two courses of action, the Turkish language courses. It is a holistic process that helps not only the youth and women we teach but also their families at home. Learning Turkish makes life easier for all family members as they are able to communicate with Turkish people, meet their everyday needs and access existing services.
The way we envision language training is two-fold.
In one component, we provide Turkish language courses for children, adolescent and youth so that they may enter the formal Turkish educational system. In a few words, we give them the basics they need to join local schools and be part of society.
Turkey has a strong educational system, and where good formal educational systems exist in crises they are a beacons of hope for young people. Schools are safe spaces where displaced youth can meet their local peers, prepare their future and have engaging activities which prevent them from being idle. It is difficult to understate the protection a good school offers to young people in fragile contexts. Without it criminality, violence, xenophobia, drugs, armed groups, prostitution, early marriages are dreadfully close by.
RET’s second use of language training is applied in local Women’s Cultural Centres and CATOMs and aims at providing young women with survival Turkish. What we mean by survival Turkish is rapidly mastering the rudiments of the language so as to be able to access local services such as healthcare or women’s protection services. This basic capacity to communicate also allows them to carryout their responsibilities within their families. These are very often heavy and nearly impossible when one cannot even speak with her neighbours.
As mentioned in the introduction, social cohesion has to be built into projects in order to make the protection they provide durable.
In the Turkish language schools for youth, this takes the form of side activities conducted to promote self-reliance and resilience with the youth of the local and displaced populations. Our staff uses seemingly simple games, actually designed to spark interaction and trust. An example of these types of games is the “Confidence Chain.” The aim being to hold each other’s hand and feel the confidence and trust flow throughout the group, offering an opportunity to connect. Also, many of our students who attend our language training courses in the morning go to the official Turkish schools in the afternoon making the transition happen gradually.
In the Women’s Cultural Centres and CATOMs where we provide vulnerable women with survival Turkish courses, Turkish women are also present. These safe spaces are actually totally mixed between displaced Syrian women and local Turkish women and managed by Turkish women.
Other activities belonging to our second course of action (vulnerable women’s empowerment) that we hope to describe in a next article, take place in these centres and create these conditions where both communities can interact and understand one another. These are the very fundamental building blocks of social cohesion and durable solutions.
All these activities take place in the southern region of Turkey, near the Syrian border, in and around the cities of Mardin, Sanliurfa and Gaziantep. In total, RET International runs 6 Turkish language schools and partners with 24 local Women’s Centres and CATOMs. This is changing the lives of over 1500 individuals in 2015 alone.
Behind this success lie our donors: UNHCR, UNICEF, UNFPA and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg as well as the local and national Turkish authorities. Without them it is very clear that these adolescents, youth and young women would not benefit from any of what we have just described. We cannot thank them enough.
Having been in the region for almost 3 years and having taken the time to understand all the actors, we were capable of establishing these concrete projects with the full support of the Turkish authorities as well as the International Community. Our added value resides clearly in our educational expertise, but also in bringing actors together. The role RET plays is one of a catalyst. In contexts such as Southern Turkey this dialogue is a cornerstone of our strategy and it works.