In the summer of 2017, Gaziantep was the destination of a group of 7 young Moroccan volunteers (Nourddine, Mustapha, Larbi, Abdelbasset, Mina, Fouzia, Najwa). On their journey, they held a strong sense of voluntary work in their hearts hoping that it would be a beneficial and worth experience since it is their first experience abroad.
Gaziantep is a city located in the far south of Turkey, 60 km away from the borders with Syria and only 2 hours driving from Aleppo. It is the sixth biggest city in Turkey and is considered as the capital city of southern Turkey. Gaziantep as a distinct city is very popular for its wide range of delicious food and sweets including doner, lahmacun, kebap, Syrian food, baklava… Gaziantep now is a melting pot and has a diverse culture as a consequence of Syrian revolution that broke out in 2011, ever since, thousands of Syrian refugees have been seeking shelters in Gaziantep and up to now, there are more than 300.000 Syrian refugees living among the Turkish community in Gaziantep, the factor that pushed Turkish government alongside local and international NGOs to open various centers where the refugees’ kids can have education.
In the case of the volunteers, they were sent to participate in an EVS (European Voluntary Service) project in Gaziantep on behalf of MasterPeace Morocco organization, which has collaboration with Gaziantep Training and Youth Association, a local receiving organization in Gaziantep. Most of the volunteers are graduates and all of them are engaged in social and extracurricular activities for those who are still studying. This kind of activities and work that they contribute to their society makes them more ambitious and passionate about what they do. Therefore, they were given the opportunity to participate in the EVS project and they seized it so that they can load their capacity of knowledge regarding social and voluntary work and in return to give free teachings and education to the subject people.
The target group that the volunteers work with varies in terms of age, gender and nationality. Most of the time, they work with Syrian refugees’ kids aged between 5 and 14 years old and sometimes they work with adults who are above 35 years old mainly as English tutors. Regularly, twice a week they work with Afghan kids and nearly every day during weekdays, they organize conversation clubs for Turkish youth to discuss topics in circles for the sake of improving their communication skills in English. The activities that the volunteers were engaged in took different types and forms in different places. The dominant and most repeatedly done activity was English lessons and they were delivered by all the volunteers to all categories including Syrian refugees’ kids, adult Syrian refugees, Afghan kids and Turkish orphans. Concerning English lessons, Moroccan volunteers in particular played a key role in facilitating lessons among other non-Arabic speaking volunteers because the latter can only use English and body language as a means of communication with Syrian kids, which is difficult because the English level of the kids’ is beginner. Consequently, with the arrival of Moroccan volunteers, their assistance in delivering English lessons had a positive effect even in the cases when they were not in the leading role, they somehow facilitate learning for the kids because they translate and explain in Arabic when necessary. Other activities involve yoga class, guitar class, recycle workshop, kite workshop, hand-craft, conversation club…
The activities were organized in different centers because the kids or learners in general were distributed in different organizations and these organizations make collaboration with Gaziantep Training and Youth Association (GEGED). Therefore, GEGED receives volunteers from different EVS eligible countries and are sent everyday to the centers to do the activities. Among these centers are, Peace & Art and Asam Yesilu that mainly host Syrian refugees’ kids, Moduem for music, orphanage for Turkish orphans and youth center for conversation club. All these centers are located in the same district where the volunteers accommodation is.
As it is known in this kind of project that volunteers exchange their languages, Moroccan volunteers took the initiative as well and organized lessons of Arabic language to the other non-Arabic speaking volunteers. Every twice a week, there were two classes, one is for beginners and the other one is for advanced learners. In each class, the leading tutor is assisted by one or two Arabic speakers. The outcome of these lessons is very crucial because it influenced some of the European volunteers to proceed in learning Arabic later on.
The experience that the volunteers gained is very rich and beneficial in every aspect; all of them had a very close relationship with the kids and also participants in English conversation club. Apart from teaching and activities routine, there is another great experience, which is Geged’s life inside accommodations and also the relationship between volunteers. The vast majority of Moroccan volunteers are fully satisfied with the atmosphere and friendships they had inside GEGED. Through the 2 months they spent there, they enjoyed a lot of cultural nights in which volunteers from specific countries prepare their special and traditional food with music as well. Moroccans on their turn organized Moroccan night and through that night, they prepared Harira (special soup) and Baghrir (type of bread) and it was served with Moroccan green tea.
At the end of the journey, all the volunteers claimed that their experience in Gaziantep cannot be described only by words and that they learned more than they had expected. Of course, the experience would not have been that amazing if they had not carried much love for voluntary work and a strong spirit for discovery and living among a community that is very different from their actual one.