Last Wednesday 12-year-old Denise re-created a sweatshop environment to educate the Istanbul International Community School, or IICS, community about the poor conditions in which some children are forced to work.
While Denise and her classmates connected their personal passions to helping larger communities, more than 30 teenagers set up booths to share personal projects downstairs. Between presentations, six groups of high school students met with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review to discuss the volunteer or fundraising initiatives they had started as part of the school’s community and service program.
Service is something that’s really coming along in Turkey and it’s only going to get bigger, said Kirsty Shepherd, secondary humanities teacher and coordinator of the community and service program among older students at IICS. Shepherd told the Daily News that she wanted the program to help students "get involved in our host culture in a way they might not have a chance to otherwise."
The curriculum at IICS requires every student to engage in community service, explained Giles Montier, secondary biology teacher, coordinator of the middle grade students’ community and service projects. Montier talked about the importance of kids seeing realities that other people face. "Our students get to see what life is like outside our little bubble."
The Grade 10 project hones students’ fundraising skills as well as their sense of others’ struggles in the world. The money 10th graders raised in 2007-2008 purchased land in Zambia for a local project that will build a village school where there is none. The students in Lusaka are poor and many of them have lost parents to the HIV-AIDS epidemic. In December this year’s class raised enough money to construct the school’s buildings. In groups of three to five, the kids hosted fundraisers that included bake sales, a basketball 3-point shot contest and a hotdog-eating competition. Several young people expressed their hope that they can take part in the actual building process this year.
Through the community and service program several groups of students have become deeply connected to people in need in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey. This month IICS eighth graders delivered bags of clothes to the Interparish Migrant Program in the Istanbul neighborhood of Tünel. The program supports immigrants with little means from Iraq, Africa and Central Asia. In the weeks leading up to each year’s Şeker Bayram holiday, Grade 9 students collect non-perishable food items that they deliver to students in need in a local Istanbul community.
Mina had an idea to build a library for a school in Çeşme after she and a few classmates shared lessons and songs in English with students there. Noticing a severe shortage of books in English, they soon began collecting donated books from every source they could find. "In their English classes they had only five books and the students were all using photocopies from them," Hale said. They reached their goal of providing 1,000 books for a school of some 600 students. A round of donations and a few clothing and bake sales later, they were able to fund the construction of a library that was finished this week. They plan to visit in May. "Then we’re going to furnish it with Ikea," Mina said.
In the lunchroom last Wednesday, IICS 10th graders had set up their personal projects, from the blaring beats of an aspiring sound technician to a demonstration of balanced nutrition. Waiting for dozens of adults to arrive seeking explanations of the six-month projects, Emily, described her glossy report exploring the lives of street children, including the public’s underestimation of their plight and misconceptions about them.
Ned presented a model for a student newspaper because he said the students he surveyed wanted a newspaper produced especially for them. Sophia presented a slideshow of her photos to inspire individuals to help clean up the Bosphorus. "Just pay attention to, like, how you live," she was overheard saying.
Middle Years Program Coordinator Robert Thorn said IICS had recently begun integrating service learning in the middle grades. "If it were up to me," he said, "kids would have two hours of homework and eight hours a week of a constructive activity that engages their personal interests outside of school." discos For the past six years IICS has been helping the Don Bosco Refugee School through donations and student volunteer work. Currently five IICS students volunteer at the school where they lead some of the school’s 400 Iraqi refugee children in weekend activities that include English, drawing and sports. Through the initiative of one student’s participation two years ago, IICS has provided the school with computers, sports equipment and 100 math and English books.
Iris, who teaches Don Bosco’s Iraqi kids karate, said at first the students said they couldn’t learn karate from a girl. "When I showed them some moves they started saying, ’Okay, teacher, what’s next?’"
"So many people misread teenagers", Shepherd said. "When you ask them what they care about, the passion comes through. They’re the people who are going to change the world."
Another of Ms. Shepherd’s groups began fundraising to support the fight against child labor. After five months they have earned 2,000 TL and are well on the way to their goal of $8,500 that they will donate their money to the Free the Children organization that builds schools around the world. To do this, Ipek, Rebecca and Courtney Anne have hosted a series of fundraising activities including 6th grade discos during lunch break. One such dance party took place this Thursday, where 60 kids were expected to generate as much as 550 TL, the girls said.
In the course of her own anti-child labor project, 6th grader Denise selected the older girls’ Free the Children campaign as the recipient of the money earned from her T-shirt making enterprise. Perhaps her project will be part of a lesson in the trickle-down economics of giving.