Turkish way to hospitality

Foreign languages are never an obstacle when people do really want to share part of their daily life, experiences and cultures, especially in front of a smoking Ҫay and a rich variety of traditional dishes. Hospitality, in its widest sense, has been the key word of an itinerant trip to Turkey, which took place from the 21th to the 27th of May 2011.
Organised by Neighbors of Anıttepe Youth Initiative Group and the Turkish NGO System & Generation, in cooperation with other local partners, Citizens of Europe from Berlin and Anatoly from Athens, a group of 10 participants from Germany and Greece visited Ankara, Ereğli and Istanbul as part of the project“Neighbours together – the good thing of living side by side”, within the frame of a trans-national Youth Initiative (Action 1.2) financed by the Youth in Action Programme.

By joining the worldwide celebrations for the Neighbours’ Day, main aim of this 7 days project was to rise awareness of neighbourship both on a local and on a European level, allowing a close and mutual exchange among participants and residents. Indeed, as participants have been hosted by Turkish families, they directly experienced the living environment of the local community in Ankara. Besides the project itself, which scheduled the participation to the Ankara University Festival, workshops, guided tours in the most significant places in the Turkish capital city, common activities and visits to socially engaged local NGOs, participants had a taste of normal daily life, leaving aside the tourist attitude.

Since 1990 the Neighbours’ Day is an event which takes place every year on the last Tuesday of May, following the example of Atanase Périfan, who together with a group of friends created the association “Paris d’Amis” in the 17th district of Paris to enforce the links of proximity and to mobilise people in order to act against isolation. In 2005 this celebration became an initiative of the European Federation of Local Solidarity, a non-profit organisation based in Paris.

On the first day, once got acquainted with habits and spaces in the hosting families, the project activities started in the Youth Caravan “headquarters”: a real caravan with which European volunteers at System & Generation travel around the country with the mission to inform youth about the Youth in Action programme and other programmes tailored for them. For two days participants had the chance to get to know these volunteers, also by visiting their shared flat close to the Ataturk´s mausoleum, and by wandering around the stalls at the Ankara University Festival discovered the activities of other Turkish organisations, enjoying at the same time the celebrations.
Instead of showing professional profiles or stressing national belongings, the first workshop “How we become better neighbours?” was introduced by a personal presentation, which focussed more on the human beings behind participants and their attitudes towards family, life and the world. From this round discussion many interesting points have been raised. “You don’t choose your neighbours as you do with friends. You are surrounded by different people which often belong to groups with nothing in common with yours. And this diversity is stimulating” as Rasmus said, but at the same time “good neigbourship needs time and commitment, it doesn’t come automatically” concluded Swantje. Internet do also play an important role in connecting people and creating communities, “it opens up networking and does not confine neighbouring among set boundaries”, in Kyarakims’ opinion. A general consensus has been given to the assumption that communication and active participation should always lead human interactions, especially in our direct surrounding, by simply greeting the person who lives next to our door. According to Nihal “there are justified and unjustified fears and unfortunately most of times people do not understand the difference between them while dealing with people”, but Athanasios concluded “to have another perspective is already part of the solution”.

On the same day, the group visited the Soroptimist (“sisters for the best”) centre based in the oldest part of the city, behind the castle’s walls. This kind of empowering centres have been established in 1931 in USA and then imported to Turkey in 1948, with the aim to provide trainigns free of charge to children and women in different fields: education, health care, crafts, ect. Nowadays there are in total 39 clubs in the whole country. Participants met the chairwoman and a few active members, learned about their activities and attended an open presentation about the situation of female entrepreneurship in Europe with a special focus on gender stereotypes, realised by Kyriakims Panourgia, the Greek representative of The European Network of Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors.

The second workshop “Neighbouring in my country”, took place on the fourth day, after a visit at the impressive Ataturk’s mausoleum which attracts people from all over the country and the world. As team building activity, organisers decided to let participants learn how to cook Menemen, one of the most famous and delicious Turkish dishes, which preparation required a constant cooperation.

While a part of the group stayed at the office discussing about the European Youth Parliament, presenting an example of good practice in terms of functioning neighbouring system in the Municipality of Dionisos in Athens, where inhabitants established an organisation in order to take care of their own neighbourhood and sharing personal experiences in this regard, a few people went to the radio station to present the project as a whole and to advertise System & Generation’s activities and the Neighbours’ Day.

The Youth Initiative is realised through financial support of the Youth in Action programme of the European Union.