Learning from the handicapped to have a positive onlook on life

07 Feb 2006

One of the 10 winning youth projects that benefit from "Life+" Youth Fund's first phase, implemented in Turkey jointly by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Coca-Cola and Habitat and Agenda 21 Youth Association is "Hand in Hand for a Life without Obstacles". Alternative Life Association (AYDER) from Istanbul supports and "Alternative Camp Volunteers" youth group executes the project, and it aims at organising three camps and enabling 36 handicapped young people aged 16-26 from Antalya, Bursa and Kocaeli learn various skills. The project also aims to bring handicapped youth together at a joint venue and help them to participate in life by boosting their self-esteem. The first camp in the context of the project was held in Kas, a coastal town in southern Turkey, from 23-29 December 2005 with the participation of nine handicapped young males. AYDER selected the young camp attendees among the handicapped nominated by NGOs that operate in the towns the youth resides. Two more camps will be organised within the framework of the project. The camp, held in the charming holiday resort Kas, displayed how the handicapped youth added a 'plus' to both themselves and their surroundings.

The handicapped youth enjoy sports and dancing the most
The handicapped youth received a wide range of training courses from emergency aid to painting and sports at the camp based at a hotel in Kas and greatly enjoyed themselves.

Alternative Camp Volunteers taught the young people what to do in case of an emergency, how to help someone who has had an accident, which number to dial for Emergency Health Aid (112 for Turkey) and how to tell the address of the site the easiest way.

Young people participated in sports activities at the playground of Kas Public Education Centre during the camp. The volunteers initially arranged two groups and distributed plastic bags to the handicapped youth for an environmental cleanup. At the end of the cleanup, which indirectly makes the youth comprehend the necessity of keeping the surroundings dirt-free and not to litter outdoors, the team that collected the most waste earned the right to start the game. The handicapped played basketball, volleyball and bowling at the playground under the supervision of the volunteers. It was worth seeing the young handicapped in a physical activity! Those who remained silent during the emergency aid training fully and enthusiastically participated in the sports games. Their joy of life, determination to learn and energy seemed unending.

One of the volunteers pretended to be injured intentionally and asked the handicapped to get emergency aid. Some of the young people secured the volunteer's "injured" leg and said 112 had to be dialled. Thus, what they had learned in the previous emergency aid course was reinforced in action.

Hearing the merry screams of the handicapped, schoolchildren from Kas came to the playground and watched their coevals with interest.

Another activity the handicapped youth participated with delight was painting. Firstly they all drew anything they pleased in their painting books. Later they painted the letters on a big banner which read "In Memory of Plus to Life 2005 Kas". The last activity of the day was dancing, which was held almost every evening during the camp. They first let themselves to the rhythm of the music and danced the way they felt like; later the volunteers showed them steps for couple-dancing. The evening ended following the locomotive dance to which all attended.

Her "grandchildren" visited Muazzez Hanim!
Municipality of Kas allotted a minibus and a driver to support the project. One of the sites the youth visited was the Patara antique city and also the Patara beach, which is the breeding ground of the endangered Loggerhead turtle and therefore being protected by NGOs active in environmental protection. The handicapped youth admired the amphitheatre and the sarcophagi and played merrily on the beach. They also had their first photography training in practice on the sandy beach of Patara, taking each other's and the volunteers' pictures with a digital camera.

Later when they were taking a walk in the village of Patara, the artisans invited them to their shops. One of them was the café-owner Muazzez Hanim. Saying, "It feels as if my grandchildren have come to visit me", she offered them hot lime-blossom tea, played music and danced with them.

"My biggest dream is to go to the university"
There were nine young handicapped males at the camp: Mehmet Ali (16), Aykut (16) and Sukru (26) from Bursa, Guclu (18), Serkan (24) and Feridun (16) from Antalya and Servet (25), Mustafa (18) and Recai (16) from Kocaeli. Two of them were physically handicapped, one was both physically and mentally handicapped and the rest were only mentally handicapped on various levels. This is what they have said:

Sukru (Physically handicapped. Senior student at Eskisehir Ataturk Open-University Faculty of Public Administration. Speaks English and is a competent swimmer. Member of Bursa Local Agenda 21 Association.): "When I regard my healthy coevals, I see that they don't know how to exhaust the advantages in hand. Whereas, one has to have a positive onlook on life. I use the computer, like the movies and theatre a lot. I read books on psychology and sociology. My biggest dream is to make friends just like we did here at the camp and be at peace with my surroundings."

Aykut (Physically handicapped. Last-grader at high school. Takes a great interest in foreign politics.): "If I was re-born, I would have liked to be a football player. I'm keen on computers and listen to foreign and classical music. I have two dreams. My biggest dream is to be able to attend the university and become a teacher; the other is to go to Dubai and the Maldives. When taking tests at schools, I tell the answers and a mate writes them down but I experience difficulties as I am given equal time with my classmates."

Servet (Physically and mentally handicapped. Third-grader at Kocaeli Kanuni Vocational School. He worked as a trainee at the Municipality of Yzmit Information Office.): "I love playing football. I also love dancing but I'm not good at it. I adore my elder brother's kids and I'd like to have children of my own too. My biggest dream is to be a clerk at the municipality and live in Antalya."

Guclu (Sixth-grader at Antalya New Horizons School and attends the Special Sportsmen Training Programme at the Akdeniz University Sports Club.): "I like painting and Turkish pop music. I'm a fan of Besiktas football team, and I have been to one of their matches. I love running and playing basketball and Atari games. I dream of getting married and becoming a referee."

Mehmet Ali (Seventh-grader at Bursa Education School. He plays basketball competently.): "I don't want to get married but wish to become a police officer in order to catch thieves. My biggest dream is to become a national basketball player."

Mustafa (Second-grader at Kocaeli Kanuni Vocational School.): "My biggest dream is to learn English."

Recai (He is the younger brother of Mustafa and is a student in the first grade of the same school.): "I would like to learn English really well."

Serkan (He has Down Syndrome. He attends the Special Sportsmen Training Programme at the Antalya Akdeniz University Sports Club. He is the loveable mascot of the camp in Kas. He speaks with gestures and one-word-only sentences. He dances perfectly well and loves taking photographs with passion. When his stomach got upset at one point during the camp, he lied down in front of his hotel room and told the volunteers "Call 112!")

Feridun (He attends the Special Sportsmen Training Programme at the Antalya Akdeniz University Sports Club. He is a perfect sportsman and plays on the basketball team of the Sports Club at nation-wide matches.): "I have a wide circle of friends. I think of nothing but playing sports and want to become a national basketball player."


Volunteers add a plus to life alongside the handicapped

We cannot leave out the volunteers when talking about the camp in Kas. AYDER and Alternative Camp Volunteers look after thehandicapped youth without tiring and complaining and make every possible effort so that they can gain an extra thing or two and develop into individuals who can stand on their own feet. Just like the name of the project, they are "Hand in Hand for a Life without Obstacles" and have devoted themselves to the training of the handicapped without expecting any material benefits in return whatsoever. They are young too and work tirelessly. They visit and hold talks with the Mayor, Provincial Administrator, Commander of the Gendarmerie Headquarters and the directors of the local high school and hotels in Kas and secure to get their support. Thus, the handicapped can go sightseeing, attend parties and sports activities and make use of the swimming pool with local help. Pelin, Alp, Golden, Zuhal, Duygu, Hatice, Devlet, Benan and Ozgur While they themselves add a Plus to Life, they help their handicapped friends to add a Plus to Life too! In short, not that they only give the fund its due, they also add invaluable assets to life itself.