YUVA is a Turkish NGO founded in 2010, with the aim of fostering a life that respects the rights of all living beings and future generations. For this purpose, their activities seek to reach sustainable lifestyles, poverty reduction and democratization through adult learning and participatory teaching methods. YUVA supports personal development through non-formal education and lifelong learning, increasing the ecological awareness and contributing to eliminating the poverty. With a strong advocacy and authorities’ involvement strategy, the organisation develops and implements education programmes for Turkish citizens, immigrants and Syrians under temporary protection.
Aslı Çavuşoğlu is programme manager at the organisation’s headquarters in Istanbul, and Nurgül Elcik is the Kırıkhan Field Office Manager in the Hatay province, located in the Turkish border with Syria.
Which activities have already begun to take place within the FIER project at YUVA?
Aslı: Our activities in the framework of FIER are conducting a market research to assess job market needs and skills demands for refugees, and developing language and vocational courses accordingly, as well as providing career counselling for participants in them.
Nurgül: We have already started to implement the market research results, and we have developed two vocational courses, for hairdressing and stitching. These programmes are open to both Turkish and Syrian participants, fostering cultural exchange and building social cohesion. As for Turkish language courses, we have also implemented them (already 60 beneficiaries have finished the course as of summer 2018), offering official certificates valid at national level upon completion. We are one of the few NGOs in Turkey able to do this thanks to our cooperation with the government, and this is one of the main attractive points of our courses, since beneficiaries can apply to university using our certifications or apply to jobs presenting them as supporting documents. In Turkey, an A1 level is required to join vocational courses at NGOs, and the path we want to build for FIER is precisely from language courses to the vocational training; nevertheless, we are already experiencing a big success rate for language students who are deciding to continue their studies at universities, with whom we have also started a dialogue.
We are currently searching a highly specialised counsellor to implement the third part of the project and provide adequate guidance to our participants.
How do you evaluate the implementation of FIER in Kırıkhan so far?
Nurgül: We are facing two main challenges. The first one has to do with our cooperation with the government’s institutions at every step, which makes the process slower; for example, we need the approval of the government if we want to invite trainers to our internal trainings. The second one is related to the duration of the courses, that can take between one and two years to implement, making it difficult to open them even if we are working on the basis of a market research.
Nevertheless, we are receiving very positive feedback, especially from beneficiaries of the vocational courses. It was very surprising that Turkish and Syrian participants were getting along so fast (even visiting each other at their houses, and gathering together monthly), and this is already a success in terms of social cohesion, fostering learning from each other’s experiences as well.
Aslı: Furthermore, participants are feeling very encouraged because they have started selling the products they make in the classes, even if the courses are not completed. This is improving self-confidence and entrepreneurial spirit among beneficiaries, encouraging them to keep up with the course and providing them a means for raising financial support for themselves. And, of course, interaction between newcomers and the host society is key in this sense.
What are YUVA’s highlights in the field of integration of third-country nationals?
Nurgül: Language courses are one of the most important activity at our community centres, but we also develop different education activities in general education, vocational education, and vocational formation development. One of our main strong points is the organisation of social cohesion activities, taking place several times per month. All participants in our activities are also offered trainings about other society‑related topics, such as gender mainstreaming and LGTBI+ rights, in which they also practice skills that go beyond language. Although these activities do not fall under the FIER project umbrella, FIER participants are also offered to freely join the courses, of course.
Aslı: Indeed these complementary trainings are an expression of the main principles of YUVA Association and, therefore, are offered to anyone who wants to join, both Turkish citizens and refugees.
Nurgül: In this sense, topics are very diverse, and we are aiming to cooperate with the government to boost them; for example, we try to meet with ministries when it comes to schooling, or with research and rehabilitation centres when it comes to bullying. As mentioned before, we have a strong focus on gender equality and mainstreaming, as well as on discrimination against youth, but also organise activities with the sole goal of recreation, like picnics, to open spaces for dialogue and exchange.
The overall goal of these courses and events is to reach social cohesion and interconnection, and also people who are not direct beneficiaries of our courses can join. In fact, we encourage our participants to bring friends, and foster the connection between children and families.
On another note, we also have committees, formed by our participants, focusing on youth and women. They organise two activities per month (called “tea-days”) and this allows them to practice every-day-life Turkish while being responsible of organising recreational activities and raising awareness. Our role here is just to facilitate.
What are your plans for FIER in a long-term perspective?
Nurgül: My main aim is to build a communication system or forum for women groups who finish the vocational courses in Hatay and, more generally, in Turkey, to allow them share, talk and sell their products together. Also, I expect that at least half of the beneficiaries from the language courses will continue with vocational training, and that our vocational training graduates find a job.
To this last aim, once we have found the right counsellor, we will develop our work plan and visit companies to introduce them to our activities, and we are planning to elaborate a service mapping chart with contacts and possible job opportunities for our participants. Also, we will be providing trainings to our beneficiaries about CV writing and how to behave at job interviews, and introduce them to alternative job searching ways. Furthermore, we will be organising meetings and interviews with business in the trade neighbourhoods so beneficiaries can ask their questions to the companies’ staff to prepare their search.
Aslı: On another note, we are currently also carrying out a project to improve the self-resilience of Syrian refugees that will be completed in April 2019. It is funded by GIZ, and upon completion, we have reached an agreement with the Finnish Refugee Council to count on their support in Kırıkhan until the end of 2020.
What do you feel most fier (‘proud’) of regarding your organisation’s activities?
Nurgül: When I see all NGOs in the field, they really care to bring together all the factors, but I always try to involve the government and keep them aware about our activities. We are having very positive results regarding our internal recruitment system, meaning that the satisfaction of our participants makes them stay to follow further courses, passing from language to vocational, etc. Generally, a person stays in YUVA for at least two years, which we consider a major success, taking into account issues such as relocation and living conditions.
We provide an institutionalised programme, with a structure that is easy to understand, beginning with guidance and continuing with other activities. Beneficiaries are aware of the whole process, and contents are made clear to them from the beginning. Also, we conduct surveys and organise meetings to monitor the learning path and to assess the success of the courses; in this sense, we do not only focus on direct feedback about quality issues, but also about attitudes, feelings, etc., especially regarding women.
Aslı: What makes me feel proud is having the possibility of providing support to people to live a honourable existence, and improving their lives in many different areas, and not only economically speaking, but also regarding society, family, self-reliance, etc.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any official body or the FIER project itself.