24 Temmuz 2015 Cuma

Peace School of Servas, Antakya/Turkey

I heard a joyful voice of a small girl asking me; When is the Servas School starting? It was the 6-year-old child; Tuana. I remember attending the Servas Live with Us Share with Us Children Programme (LUSUP) last year. She looks bigger now. I notice the new teeth growing in her smiling mouth. So cute. What a lovely name she has found for the things we are doing with the kids every year; Servas School. What does the school look like? Well, it is not a typical school that everyone knows. This school is located in the green area of vegetables and fruit trees. The gardens, house yards, the stairs and the gardens are the classrooms of the school. The teachers of the school are the Servas (www.servas.org) volunteers coming from Turkey and different countries.
Different cultures, art, music, games, dance and peace experience of the world is carried to this school and then to the village called Ekinci in Antakya/Turkey by the volunteers. On the other hand, the volunteers are exposed to Antakya which has a vast multicultural, historical and natural richness and they share this experience with the rest of the world.
In this school, there is no formality, no curriculum, no registration and absolutely attendance is not compulsory. There is a direct mutual learning, experience share, language learning and cultural understanding at the school. What subjects are taught in this school?  Actually, the volunteers teach whatever they know. However, the basic subjects are peace and cultures. The philosophy of Servas is based on these
subjects. Live with Us Share with Us Children Program (LUSUP) is an unusual event which aims to introduce these values to the kids in their early ages. That means, the seeds of peace and idea of being a world citizen are planted in the heart of the kids in this important periods of their lives. Since different volunteers come to the village to work with kids every year the topics, experience and background they share with kids are also different. The children are always interested in the program activities, games and workshops as they are not the same every year.
That makes the Servas School quite different than normal schools.
We have had a variety of topics and activities in the program this year again. Not surprisingly the number of windows of the kids and local people which opens to the world has increased and
diversified. Once the volunteers live with the local families, they experience the life in its everyday routine with its smell, bilingual (Turkish-Arabic) conversations and good taste of music which is the combination of the Middle Eastern, Anatolian and European ways of life in Antakya.
Around 90 children (aged 06-14) attended the event activities during the seventh LUSUP this year. Every morning, the children left their houses and moved towards the Servas Campus like snails. They filled the Servas School classrooms; the large house yard, under the orange trees, the balcony of the house where they could watch the panorama of Antakya. Shortly,
every empty spot of the area was filled with the kids and volunteers. The children and the volunteers were usually in the vegetable and fruit gardens with the owner of the house; Aunt Huriye and neighbor farmers.  Coming from India, Ulhas and Sumon shared the Indian culture, yoga, vegetarian lifestyle and multilingual experience of India with the children and the volunteers. Also, Sumon woke up at 07.00 O’clock every day and did yoga with the local people in the neighborhood and made Yoga their unusual habit. One of the Yoga participants, Hayat says; “I didn’t know Yoga could be such a nice thing. I should go on practicing it even after the Indian friends leave.” Sumon cooked for the local people at nights and the street smelled India for some time. This kind lady had
nice time with local people singing and dancing for them. Sumon and Ulhas learnt about the local dances, the food, music, the languages, the economy and political situation of Turkey in return. 
Coming from the outskirts of Alp Mountains in France to a village of Turkey near Syria, Janine (65) sat on the ground under the fig tree with the kids every day and taught them French songs and words. She introduced the children (future culture travelers) the map of Europe. Janine helped these little travelers imagine their future trips by showing the pictures and videos of geography of France and the city life of Janine’s town-Annecy. Being energetic and good with
children, Janine experienced the ‘little-free with no loneliness life style’ in Ekinci Village of Antakya which is different from the typical European cities daily life; ‘much freedom with loneliness’. She learnt some Arabic and Turkish words from the kids who grow up bilingual. She sent photos of peaceful life of the area despite the fights in Syria to her friends who had tried to stop her travelling to this city near the border. By the way, this program also aims to keep feelings of peace live in the hearts of the children and local people despite the cruel violence and killings going on in Syria and other parts of the world. That’s why; we did Fly your Kite for Peace activity with a local association called SAGID on the second longest beach of the world (14 km) in Samandağ which is the neighboring town of Syria.
One of the kids, Ege, asked me while flying the kite very high in the sky joyfully; “Do you think the kids in Syria can see my kite now?” I could not give him an answer but only smiled.  
The local sacred places of Antakya such as mosques, Ziyareths (Allawi’s), churches (Ortodox, Catholic and Protestants) and a synagogue were visited. The artists; Zeynep&Naim held the hands of kids to teach them the art of drawing on wood with fire. The local artists focused on multicultural and local values of Antakya in their works. The artists Musa and Ediz coming from the local art faculty of the university painted peace, Servas and the world in the imagination of the children with the children in the center of the village. 
We went to visit the biggest library of Antakya to create the chance of discovering the rich collection of the library (60.000 books) and the tradition of reading in Antakya. We did joint activities with the library workers. Ümmü Hanım, the library director, was very curious and open-minded that she wanted to learn everything about the libraries of India and France. French and Indian volunteers told us about the library systems in their countries. She also shared her library activities with the guests. She said at the end; “What a big chance for me to have the people of the world (Janine, Sumon in this library. I am going to practice at least some of the ideas I got from the foreign guests soon.”
The volunteers and kids learnt the Art of Marbling from an artist at the library. They could practice
art too. Hasan taught kids the Arabic alphabet, how to read and write their and their parents’ names. The aim was to create awareness towards the fading ancient language of the area. It was not only Arabic we focused on during the whole program. The Servas Multilingual Choir conducted by Zuleyha sang the songs of other ancient languages of Antakya such as Turkish, Armenian, Hebrew and Kurdish. The concert they gave to the local people at the Servas Party at the end attracted lots of attention. The practitioners of the program believe that the children growing up with more than one language do not discriminate people. That’s the reason why creating language awareness is one of the
main goals of the program. Just like peace. Integrating peace into all program activities such as songs, words, art workshops, stories, poetry, games and different languages and creating the possibility of being exposed to these activities helped children develop their minds. The books that Ferdus used in the reading workshops made big difference in the conscious of the children. The books were; Little Prince, Martı, Momo, the Children of Pal Street and the children books of Aziz Nesin. Many other books were displayed under the tree during the program and children were always travelling through the world of the books. They barrowed the books at the end of each day and took them home. They read them and brought them back to place them under the tree again. We can say that kids had a Travelling Library for 12 days.
Some of the young people who started to attend this program 7 years ago have learnt at least one
language. So, now they volunteer at the activities as translators and assistants. They have met so many different people with different opinions and perspectives during the seven years that they are able to discuss topics about world citizenship, the stupid existence of the borders, vegetarianism, different religions, philosophies and gender preferences in the village. Every day conversations with the volunteers after the activities among the trees and under the stars prove that this program deserves to be called a School. The first graduates of the school are ready to become Servas members now.
Let me tell you more about this school. Combining the traditional values with the contemporary
knowledge and background of the world, the school provides the topics they will certainly need in their future lives such as languages, different cultures, art, writing, oral expression skills, and awareness towards environment, peace, human and animal rights. These are the vital topics that the normal schools usually do not focus on. This a school with no walls. A school of Life. For example, the children have the opportunity to observe the farmers working in the gardens during the program activities. Children sometimes help them. They can see the big boiling sauce pans making tomato paste while playing, drawing pictures or passing by. Or they can notice how to make local alcohol drink (Arak) or traditional bread making.
What else did the children do within LUSUP this year? The curious kids went out into the nature to
discover and collect plants around. They walked bare feet in the banks of the river and watched the small fish, frogs and cancers. When they came back in the evening we displayed the leaves of the plants on big papers and wrote their names in three languages (Arabic, Turkish, English). They used technology (Google translation) to learn some of the names. It was a task based on traditional and modern learning combination art. The children with different ages watched and watered the growing beans they planted in the recycled flower pots made out of bottles. The naughty and sweet kids played the traditional games rolling on the dusty roads and smelling their sweating bodies and the dust. They made traditional toys out of the natural resources around and recyclable bins. Children realized that
they could make many things without buying anything. They kept away from the computers and sat in the laps of the nature every day. On the ground. Side by side. Putting their feet or hands in the running water and picking up apples, pear, fig and grapes made their days interesting. The neighbors brought water, coffee and sometimes food to the volunteers and kids. They were too quick to bring cotton and ice for the bleeding knees of the kids.  People living near and around the Servas School Campus could watch the activities, the way we organize them and the products at the end. The tolerance level of the parents has increased after hosting a lot of volunteers with different lifestyles, ideas, religions, ethnicities and clothes. As a result, parents started to think more liberal and became more open to new demands of their children. It is clear that peace starts at this moment. Isn’t it? What would happen if Servas Schools were opened in every neighborhood of the village and other villages of Turkey and the world? It is not hard to imagine.
We don’t need money for the Servas School. No need to a headmaster. There is no standard program for each day. The topics, classes, games or workshops are planned every night and instant changes can be done. For example, a local man passing by can become an educator all of a sudden and teach kids how to make
and play his childhood toys.
This year we have received international support to the program just like every year. Some good friends who are from Korea, Belgium, İstanbul, İskenderun, İzmir and Diyarbakır and who believe in this program and dream of the desired changes in children have sponsored the T-shirts books, paints and stationary of the local children. The Servas School would not have functioned well enough without this support.
We use technology as little as possible in this program. Videos related to peace, environment, children rights, songs and good examples of the world are displayed on the walls for the kids. All activities of the program are recorded and shared with the world through the social media and blogs. Day by day. It was because we believe in
dissemination. We want to share what we have experienced, learnt and produced during the whole day with the rest of the world. It is because we want to open new schools. Everywhere in the world. It is possible, isn’t it?

Mehmet Ateş
3aydiy (Ekinci) Antakya/Turkey 
July 18, 2015

P.S.: Volunteers welcome. Every year same time. July 6-16th. 

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