Saturday, July 16, 2011

CAS Trip to Kuytuca Village School

Every year, our CAS coordinator, my friend Kivanc, organizes a trip for the 11th graders to travel to a remote village school in Turkey and engage in service projects. CAS is an acronym for Community, Action, and Service, and is a component of the IB Diploma program, requiring students to obtain a certain number of hours of each of these with the goal of becoming well-rounded global citizens. Every year, a major tractor company in Turkey picks a village school to donate money towards building them new bathrooms. Then they contact Kivanc to follow up this restoration by building a library for the school and engaging in creative activities with the students. This year, the tractor company picked a village near Ardahan, so far away in eastern Turkey, that for the first time, our students and staff had to fly to the location. This year was also different in that the school we were going to had many more students than our team is used to, so I was fortunate enough to be asked to join the chaperones. It was a special end of the year opportunity for me to spend time with my 11th graders that I am leaving behind.

We stayed in a high school dormitory in the town of Gole. Most villages do not have high schools; the high school we stayed in was a boarding school for the nearby villagers opting to send their children to continue their education. Many village boys do not continue past 8th grade because they need to help their families tend the livestock, and girls who do not attend high school stay in the village for early marriage.

We took over the local restaurant in Gole for dinner each night.

When we arrived at the village school on Monday morning, the children were waiting for us at the gates. They were so excited to meet these "big kids" from Ankara who were going to spend time with them for the next two days, but terribly shy at the same time, a marked contrast between the sugary hugs and "I love you's" that came at our departure.

Our 11th graders' time was split between leading a classroom activity with a grade level, and doing a more physical project like building shelves, or painting the library wall.

My job was to just circle around the classrooms and help out when I could.

In order to establish a library, we begin a bookdrive at our school months before the trip, and carted the books across the country. In between activities, the village children kept visiting their new library to pull out books and look at them. A group of young girls pulled out elementary level picture books to teach me Turkish. They put on their best "teacher voices" for this process.

One of our school's signature trademarks is the tree we paint in the library we leave behind. Our art students paint the tree, and then the handprint of every person involved, teachers and students from our school and theirs, is added to the wall.

Another group of our artsy students designed and painted a mural in the kindergarten.

This year, the tractor company donated 11,000 Turkish Lira towards the new bathroom facilities. Here's a pic of the cute elephant sinks they put in the kindergarten building.

Here's the chaperone crew:

I was so impressed by our students, every single one of which stepped up into a leadership position in the classroom with these village children. The village children were thirsty for this attention, and completed every craft activity with concentration and smiles. Despite conditions our students weren't used to (no heat in the school, no hot water the first night in the dorm), they all donned the attitude that they were there to make a difference in others' lives, and they stepped up to these challenges. The village children adored the big kids, and goodbyes were extensive and involved tears.

After our last afternoon at the school, we drove to a nearby walking area to acquire some "action" hours. A very similar landscape to the Kackar Mountains, which are not too far away to the north. It was the perfect way to decompress before beginning our journey back to Ankara.

On the morning before our return home, we packed in some sightseeing. We drove towards the Armenian border to the site of Ani, once the capital of Armenia. The name "Ani" comes from "Anahit," a Persian water-goddess who was a chief deity of the early pagan Armenians. Ani flourished starting in the 5th century as a Christian community, and enjoyed a golden age trumphing that of Constantinople an Baghdad at the time. In the middle of the 11th century, battles with the Byzantines took their toll and the city was annexed in 1045.

The Armenians were known for their stoneworking, so the remaining fortifications and churches were stunning, a blend of sandstone and harder volcanic rock. The Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator is the best preserved church on the site. St. Gregory is the saint who brought Christianity to Armenia at the start of the 4th century.

This is the Ahurya River Gorge that separates Turkey from Armenia:

Each night after we returned from the village school, or students wrote reflections and then shared some of their thoughts out loud. It was clear that this was a very meaningful experience for our upper class students, who will be the future leaders of Turkey. Some said they didn't know prior to this trip that they could make other people so happy, that this experience was sacred, and they felt honored to be a part of our group. When we returned to school the next day for the last day of school and their award ceremony, Kivanc the CAS coordinator was bestowed with this thoughtful gift from our students:

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