In a New World of Cultural Reality

My name is Hovhannes and very recently I have participated in a short term European Voluntary Service project, funded by the Erasmus + program in Gaziantep Turkey for one month. The theme was social work and volunteering for the environment. We were 12 volunteers from 6 countries in the project organized by Gaziantep Training and Youth Association.

Our EVS aimed at providing education to adults and young people, organize learning activities and workshops, planting trees, gardening, making campaigns etc. We realized that kids and youth have got many disadvantages in the field of social life, they had less information about human rights, gender equality and many other topics… So, we used to assist this target group to develop their personal and social skills.

We used to stay at the association’s building in the city centre of Gaziantep. Gaziantep is the province in south-central Turkey, it’s is not like Istanbul or Ankara, here is an original Anatolian city with unique culture and traditions. We had a well mixture dynamic group of volunteers from different cultures and countries.

Usually we had a schedule to meet on each Monday to decide who is going to do each of the activity of the week. My average day used to start at 10. I was supposed to meet the other volunteers and start preparing the activities. Usually my weekly activities were related to Syrian kids. Kids were quite lovely, welcoming, willing to learn and they used to bring me little drawings as gifts. I really enjoyed the time with them and I got so many positive vibes from them.

Aside of our formal activities we also had an opportunity to face a national festival or a holiday – “Bairam” which in Turkey is known as the sacrifice holiday and is a major event in the Islamic calendar.  The significance relates to the occasion in the Quran when Abraham was ready to sacrifice his own son to the command of God. God interrupted the act and Abraham used a sheep instead, however, the celebration occurs to show the dedication of Abraham and his acknowledgement that God is everything.

Basically that’s a great holiday which falls on the first day of Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic year, and falls on the tenth day of Thul-Hijjah and coincides with the Yauman-Nahr, “Day of the Sacrifices” in the Hajj Pilgrimage. Like other religious holidays, Bayram is a time when families and friends gather and spend time with one another, enjoying, eating and also feeding people in need are a large part of the festival’s traditions.

I had a great time enjoying classic Turkish cuisine, regional cooking and traditional family recipes with full course meal including a traditional Turkish soup to start, followed by the main course of meat and side dishes made with rice or bulghur.

Well, back to the experience, living and working abroad with cross-cultural team, outside of my comfort zone, I felt no great differences or culture shock.

It was an experience where I’ve received as a real pledge of emotions, loaded my mind and consciousness with tones of humanity and devotion, gratefulness and peace of mind, harmony and will-power to move on. One of the most precious moments for me was the activities with Syrian kids and that was the one I wanted to live. I wondered how happy, satisfied I am, how everything is crazy and unique in a new world of cultural reality.

Written by Hovhannes Sughyan, EVS volunteer in Turkey