In April 2016, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Turkish Red Crescent, launched a Voices of Youth Digital Mapping project in Turkey. The project aims at empowering young Syrian refugees by giving them an opportunity to highlight on a digital map learning, leisure and protection services available in their communities. In a first step, youth workers from the Turkish Red Crescent were trained on how to put together digital mapping workshops across Turkey. In a second step, selected young Syrian refugees were invited to participate in the workshops so that they can start to populate the digital map. In the following post, one of the trainers writes about his experience.
When a child enters the world, I think they carry a piece of paper and a pencil to write their own stories and share them with others. No erasers are handed out. As people write their stories, they cannot omit details: everything falls into place and stays there, whether it’s important or not.
Some parts of this story you write pressing the pencil firmly – these stand out boldly – and you will continue to be affected by them, every time you read them.
As I travelled back to Urfa, in southern Turkey, from the UNICEF Voices of Youth Digital Mapping Training in Ankara, I had no idea that I was starting a chapter of my story pressing down so hard on the pencil I nearly broke it. I was thinking about the Syrian children I was going to meet and what they had been through, where they came from, the traumatic things that had happened to them. I didn’t think I would be able to teach them anything exciting. The opposite – that they would inspire me – well, it never crossed my mind.
I embarked on my role as a Turkish Red Crescent Youth Worker at the UNICEF supported Mobile Child Friendly Space working with a group of young refugees who had been in Turkey for an average of about three years. Though they had been there for years, this was the first time they had been to school. Throughout one of the most fruitful times of their lives, they had been compelled to live lives of monotony, drained of their energy, with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no chance of being able to solve the problems that affected them or the people around them.
Some of them were 15 but still in first grade. Most of them were studying alongside children younger than themselves. One or two of them were even in the same classes as their younger sisters or brothers.
When I started working with them at the Child Friendly Space, it didn’t take long before the children started to speak of the things they had been bottling up for years. Perhaps, after all they had lived through, they had become like grown-ups and kept their concerns to themselves. Or perhaps they had remained silent because they had no place of their own. But now there was something new: a digital map where they could express their thoughts and share their dreams. All they had been thinking about was how to be a voice for those around them, and all they had dreamt of was to shine a light for change.
These children have not given up hope – they believe that they can change their lives and the lives of others. They are open to all kinds of beliefs and are ready to treat them as sacred. What can be more beautiful than to work with such young people and support them? In every face you see the determination to cling to life, and you too feel stronger and ready to struggle.
What they taught me was this: You live insofar as you change; you exist insofar as you try to bring change about. I have started to believe it just as much as they do.
Let me ask you something: Could you live without the most basic of your rights? Have you ever thought about it? What would you do? In those conditions, would you fight for a better world? Would you use your energies to solve the problems of others your age? For most of us I am sure that the answer is “No.” To the refugee children who can say “Yes” to all of these questions, we owe a bit more than “thank-you.”
We are writing a letter now, all of us together. We are going to send it to the skies and the clouds are going to carry it to its destination. They will bring back the reply. They may give us sunshine or they may bring storms and rain.
Let it rain and let it snow; the sun is ours, and we are going to have a piece of it. That’s what 13 year-old Helin said.
Have you ever been so brave in your whole life?
Adnan Turan is a Turkish Red Crescent Youth Worker at the UNICEF supported Mobile Child Friendly Space.
UNICEF’s Youth Led Digital Mapping in Turkey is financed by the EU Syria Regional Trust Fund (Madad) and has been implemented in partnership with Turkish Red Crescent.