By Tulay Guler
Syrian volunteer teachers – men and women, old and young – participate in a teacher training session to learn how to work best with their pupils in Turkey’s camps for Syrian refugees.
ISKENDERUN, Turkey, 11 July 2013 – In a large training room, an instructor asks a group of 200 people to hold a chickpea in their palms and to imagine that it is a tree.
She then asks them to draw their imaginary trees on black sheets of paper. All of the participants – Syrian volunteer teachers, men and women, old and young – set about this task with great enthusiasm using the colored pens on their tables.
As the many drawings are posted on the walls, a colorful forest emerges, made up of trees of all shapes and sizes – a hopeful forest created in the imagination of a group of teachers who have been living in very difficult conditions for a very long time.
The scene is from a recent training session for Syrian teachers held in Iskenderun, a district of Hatay province, as part of a UNICEF–European Union project to support Syrian children living in Turkey.
Participants, who come from the region’s camps for Syrian refugees, took a break from their daily routines to learn how to work better with children who have gone through the multiple traumas of conflict, violence and displacement.
“We are happy to be perceived as partners to the solution, rather than as just needy people,” said Belkis, 28, a volunteer preschool teacher who lives with her family in Yayladagi 1 camp.
“Quite honestly, our motivation had almost run out,” she said. “This training has lifted our spirits, and we are motivated again.”
Zeynep Turkmen Sandavuc, a social worker and the facilitator of the training session, offers a striking description of the importance of teacher training. “When we board an aircraft, we are told that, in case of loss of cabin pressure, we need to put our own oxygen masks on first before helping children with theirs. This is because you can only help others if you survive, yourself. The situation which our teachers are in now is similar to this. Their motivation must be kept high in this crisis environment, so that they can help the children who are in need.”
Saving the future
There are approximately 1,500 Syrian teachers working in Turkey’s camps for Syrian refugees. Some left their country two years ago; others have been here for just a few months. All of them say the same thing: No matter how difficult the situation we are in, teaching and helping children keeps us on our feet.
Addressing participants, UNICEF Turkey Representative Ayman Abu-Laban highlighted the importance of their work. “When you are teaching these children, you are not only providing them with something as important as food and shelter, you are also helping to save the future of your country.”