Rush times, began in May, is over at last. We directed the children to sit their proper places down; and the bus moved.
As the bus moved, all our efforts came to our minds: First of all, the studies in the apprenticeship school that we carried out with Jale Şengül; then, our struggles for having the required permissions, Yes, I permit; s/he may go, from the fathers who always make the final decision; just after happily celebrating the permissions and saying All Right! We got the permissions now!, our dealings with the employers, saying No, impossible”; and so, going to the workplaces of the apprentices in order to talk with the employers; required petitions for the governorships and the Ministry of Education… They all came to our minds one by one. Yes, finally everything is over. Now, one week adventure of 20 apprentice children -the children, who started working at early ages, who could not enjoy their childhood, many of whom did not even take a holiday or do not know what to do even given a permission for a holiday- began during which they meet with and enjoy their childhood again. We are at the roads again like the previous year. The children, asking to each other which sector they are working in:
- I am a turner, and you?
- I am working in ready-made clothing.
- And, I am working at a hairdresser.
- I have been working in textile for three years.
- I am a tooth prosthesis apprentice.
- Our work is making furniture, such as chair.
- I am a mechanic of machinery; our work is dirty.
Some of them started working at the age of 8, and some 11. They are wriggling lively throughout the travel; it is as if the bus becomes altogether empty, when we get off the bus at each break. We are altogether 25 people, including us. Arzu Uyar, Turkish champion of 400 meter hurdle race, our volunteer Tülin Koca, and our President Oya Fişek are responsible for the girls. On the other side, Yasin Gündoğan, cross-country runner, side parachutist, ornithologist, photographer, gymnast, and our General Director Gürhan Fişek (and also, Onur Kovancı, our young volunteer and research assistant, joining us in after the fourth day of the holiday) are responsible for the boys. Our attentions are carefully paid to the children. We are counting each of them one by one, as soon as we get on the bus after each break. We are in Burhaniye at 6 a.m.; the service busses shuttling us to the holiday village are ready to depart. “Busses”, since one bus is not sufficient enough to transport us; thus, Kamil Koç, the bus company, arranged this organisation in advance. I wish to give my thanks to the authorities of the bus company, Kamil Koç. Because, Kamil Koç has both made a discount for the ticket prices and provided two free tickets. We appreciate their sensitivity and applaud their attitude on the basis of their being a “children-friendly” company.
Yes, it was clamorous and noisy; but, in the end, we arrived at Efem Holiday Village. From that time on, the holiday started both for us and the children in order to utilise and enjoy each and every minute without a break.
Children learned swimming in two days just like last year. Our volunteer Tülin Koca is saying that You were telling about your experiences of the last year; how children learned swimming in two days, the way they did not stop during the activities even a minute without getting tired, their happiness… But, no one can understand these experiences without sharing, living with them.
This is the entertainment marathon… The day starting at 10 a.m. with gymnastic continuos with swimming, fireball, volleyball, table-tennis, leapfrog, playing lotto and silent movie; just then, the day ends at 11 p.m. as the evening entertainment is over. Of course, what is over is just the entertainment part; afterwards, we gather with the girls each night in a different room. And then, we keep talking, particularly about the new civil code and what it has brought about for women, birth control, women and children rights, hygiene, rights of working children, violence against women, about their body, and etc. This was also what happened last year. They listen extremely carefully what it has been talked about. They ask questions, discuss about these… They are all smart and comprehending everything; they are all broad-minded in terms of transformations and developments; they are all beautiful. Almost all of them couldnt attend their schools due to financial stress. There is one among them who became a tailors apprentice at the age of 8 in order to bring home a daily bread, the other who works as a street vendor with his father… One says: I run so speedily so that no police could catch me ever. And the other: I used to go to school part-time; for the other half of the day, used to collect empty coke boxes and sell handkerchief on the streets. Such tired I got, couldnt study anyhow. I hardly finished the primary school. Apprenticeship is ok; at least weve an occupation. It might happen that I would open my own shop in one day…
We talk in great detail about how important it is for women to get their economic independence. All the girls have promised about that they will get their mastery certificate, wont get married at an early age, wont get married with their relatives, and that they will share what they have learned in this holiday with the other girls. I have a faith in them…
One day, we all went to a boat trip. The excitement both happiness and a slight fear- of children as to getting on a boat for the first time was able to be read from their eyes. As you know, tour boats stop by at splendid small bays; people go swimming there. Yet, we couldnt venture this. Yes, the children learned how to swim, but the depth of the sea in that region was too much for us to venture. We were 5, they were 20. They fear nothing, but we dont. When we stopped by at the first bay, they entreated earnestly: Please! May we swim?. However, we said no. But then, when we arrived at the Rabbit Island and when the children came across with hundreds of rabbits, they became frenzy. They were right though. The captain came and said: If you please, we may dress the children in life jacket. Consequently, we dressed each of the 20 children in life jackets with joyful screams and applause. They swam through the island. It was worth to witness how they followed the rabbits around. It seems their happiness was real and genuine.
I dont know which one should I tell you among all these different experiences.
I went to Tülays workplace with the list of apprentices to be taken out to the holiday in my hand. I introduced myself to her boss, and requested him to give a one week permission for Tülay. As I got the permission, I asked: Could I meet Tülay? A child came in timidly and reluctantly, since her boss called for to come. When she heard about the holiday, she could not figure it out what to say excitingly and gladly. She could only said: Do you know, the second day of the holiday is my birthday. This is the most wonderful present I have ever had. Having come back to the foundation, I related to my friends what happened there. We bought a present right away and wrapped the present up so nicely. For the second day of the holiday, I requested the functionaries of the holiday village to bring a big birthday cake and candles. Tülay blew out the candles, when we are singing Happy birthday to you. She kept on hugging us and said continuously: I am grateful to all the members of the foundation. I have never experienced anything like this. I wont forget this birthday ever. Throughout the night, we sang and danced. The children were all happy, since they shared the beauties and friendships. They were happy, so were we. There was one more thing which made us happy at that night. The female apprentices that we took out to a holiday last year called us, and said: We know you are in a holiday now. Concurrently, now we are here, and talking about the days we experienced last year. We wish our lucky friends a happy holiday. We wont forget you ever.
I related what they said to the children; and they joyfully called out: Next year, we will call you, too. My, how lovely! We are increasing in number year by year.
Selçuk is an apprentice at a turner. He has problems in comprehending and learning things. Everyone loves him at the holiday village. When his friends say, What a lot of friends youve got, he replies, One needs to be good-hearted.
One day, when the male apprentices playing lotto, I saw Seljuk wandering around alone. I asked: Why dont you playing lotto? He waved his hand as if he was saying Forget it!; then he said: The big present has gone. As I asked what this big present was, he replied: A furry bird, warbling when one wags. And then, he walked off.
This time, I felt deeply sorry. We rummaged through the present bag and found another furry bird, warbling when one wags. Warbling the present in my hand, I went alongside him, then asked: Is this what you want? He said yes with his eyes shining with joy and excitement.
- Open up your present; maybe, it is not really what you want.
- No, I dont. You were very considered to me; you looked for and brought it to me. Even it is not that bird, this is the big present now.
The days passed one by one. The separation was sad again. Nevertheless, this time, the children were lucky. Last year, all the children came from Denizli. This time, almost all of them were from Ankara. When we called their attention to this fact, they smiled a little. We were locked in close embrace again like a love ball.
Afterwards, each of them set off towards the various quarters of Ankara the names of which are unknown for most of us. They looked little exhausted emotionally, since they were starting work a day after. 20 days passed after this. They phoned us from time to time.
One day, I was at the foundation and running an eye over the newspapers.
- A father committed a suicide, since he couldnt afford to buy the necessary apron, pencils and notebooks for his child…
- Children are paying back the bill of the crisis. The number of children who have been left in the care of nursing homes and orphanages reached to 18.000. 1305 families, on the other hand, are awaiting their turn in order to leave their children in the care of the state.
- 40 % of the children in Turkey are living without health assurance.
- In Turkey, in a country where the total of foreign and internal loans amount to 217 billion dollars, every single baby is born by incurring debt, that is 1650 $.
- The number of working children at the ages between 6-18 went beyond 6 million. The 30 % of them are not attending schools.
- The number of children at the ages between 6-14 and who have never gone to school is 768.000.
I felt deeply sorry again. I closed the newspaper. They entered suddenly, and called out joyfully: We came to see you!. We missed you, didnt you miss your daughters?, they said. Is it possible that we dont miss them? Now, once again we were locked in close embrace, our love ball became bigger and bigger. As soon as she heard the voices of the girls on the phone, our volunteer, Tülin Koca, came fast enough to join us from the other end of Ankara. The girls were talking without a break, particularly about their future plans:
- How nice that we met each other. Approximately in one or two years time, we are going to get our craftsmanship certificates. We, as partners, would set up our business, our own hairdresser, at most after four years.
- I take charge of the face care section.
- Then I do manicure, pedicure and epilating.
- We both take the hair dressing.
The other three hope to set up a ready-made clothing workshop.
- Why not? Our boss has started working as an apprentice, too. Among us, we always talked about what you stated. We wont depend on our husbands for our living, unlike our mothers. Our mothers suffered a lot due to that reason.
- One of our customers is an English teacher. I asked whether she could teach me English. She accepted. As I heard, if you know English, you would earn a lot in the hairdresser shops located in big hotels.
Such happy and faithfully they were… I have no doubt that they will make their thoughts come true. At the end of this month, we will meet again. We will go to a theatre. We said good-bye to each other with the excitement of their going to a theatre for the first time. But this time, there was no sadness. Because they knew that the door of the foundation and the hearts of the volunteers will always be open for them. Because they knew that we, altogether, will achieve many firsts.
President of Fisek Institute
Science and Action Foundation for Child Labour