What's Happening in Hakkâri?

At the beginning of November, we have shared with you a powerful story from Turkey about the project in Hakkâri who won the 2015 ChangeMaker Award for Organizational Innovation. This is how the story continues.


It is almost the end of the year. Unlike the rest of the country and much of Europe that still enjoys spring like weather, winter has come hard on Hakkâri. There's snow everywhere and the night time temperatures can hit well below -20C. The mood in Hakkâri Atatürk Anatolian Highschool (HAAL) though is quite warm.


Our first visit to Hakkari was to perform the first stage of the student assessment for 2016-2017 AFS year. On the first weekend of December, our volunteers were once again on the road to Hakkari, this time for the second stage of the student assessment.


And what an international volunteers day we had!!! As our volunteers were performing the student assessment, we learned that our previous project, the Hakkari - Izmir Local Exchange had won the AFS Changemakers Award for organisational innovation. As we were celebrating the good news, we learned that 4 students from HAAL were found eligible for an AFS year.


What's so special about Hakkari?


Geographically, Hakkari is on the very southeast corner of Turkey. The province is bordering Iraq in the south and Iran in the east. 88% of the province is mountainous, including Mt. Cilo, the second highest in the country (after Mt. Ararat) with the Resko peak at 4135m. The province is also the poorest in the country, with a 3,800 USD GDP per capita.


The province is also at the epicentre of unrest since the 1980's. Its geographic location makes it a stronghold for the rebel Kurdish group PKK. Since the end of ceasefire between the Turkish state and PKK in July, fighting has restarted in most of the province. At the moment, there's a curfew in some of the towns in the province, and some areas are declared no-go zones for civilians. The military presence is observed throughout the Hakkari city and the province.


The name 'Hakkari' is often associated with bad news for the rest of the country. Therefore, service is limited, with most civil servants unwilling to work in the area. Most of the students in HAAL has never left the province, even to visit the neighbouring city of Van, some 4-hours drive away. The feeling of isolation and lack of hope is the norm. This is why the AFS Volunteers of Turkey has chosen Hakkari as their focus for 2016.


What have we done, what's to come?


Our first project was to start a local exchange for HAAL students to come and visit Izmir, the third metropolis of Turkey at the very west of the country. 11 students, accompanied by one teacher enjoyed a week of intercultural interaction organised by AFS Volunteers' Izmir Branch. This exchange week will continue in 2016.


It was the effect of this exchange week that lead to an unprecedented amount of application from the province. As a result, four students will be having an AFS year on full scholarship. All secondary costs of the students (passport fees, allowances, etc.) will also be covered by AFS Volunteers Association in partnership with TKV/AFS Turkey.


We are also organising a one-week classroom exchange with another AFS country (we'll keep the country name to ourselves for the time being as the details are yet to be confirmed). This exchange is likely to take place in the first half of 2016.


We are also in preparation for our volunteers to go to Hakkari in numbers. Provided that we can overcome the security concerns, we will be holding a youth camp in June 2016 and a women's gathering lead by our EVA returnees again in summer 2016. We will give details in later days for any international volunteers who would like to come and join us.


We are also working on strengthening our connection with the local teachers in the area. A number of teaches will be attending our volunteer trainings and teacher conferences throughout the year.


And local campaigns through our AFS network is spreading as well. Our volunteers to date has organised donations from winter clothes to school books. A movie club is being established right now in the school (there are no cinemas in Hakkari) and one of the teachers is now starting free guitar lessons - beginners' guitars will be shipped soon :)


We are not alone


We are all very excited on what we have so far achieved in Hakkari. What makes us even happier is to see that we are not alone. A heartfelt thank you to AFS Volunteer Voices who have published our previous blog. This has led to many AFS'er worldwide to support us in our efforts. Another big thank you goes to the board of Intercultura - AFS Portugal, who have contacted us and declared their interest in hosting one of the students from Hakkari in Portugal. The AFS solidarity makes us feel stronger.


The other day, we were on the phone again with our AFS volunteer and HAAL teacher Ilkay Guven. 'We are going through some dark days in the region' she said, 'but the mood in HAAL has been nothing but festive since the start of the school year. All the talk of the school is AFS'. News like these is what keeps us going. Sure it is disheartening to hear the fighting getting intense and people dying every day; but we will continue to do what we know best.  We are not in the gun-shooting business, but in wound-healing.


Wishing all the AFS Family a merry Christmas and a peaceful 2016.



This update has been shared with us by AFS Volunteers from Turkey. You can follow them on www.facebook.com/afsgd , contact them at atinfo@afsgonulluleri.org or do even better, become an active volunteer and join them in their fight to change the world.