The laureates of SOWO visited the Syrian refugees

The Laureates of SOWO 2012 (Flemish Olympiads of Social Sciences) Laura Pauwels and Eveline Pylyser went to Gaziantep, Turkey on the 15th September for their social work placement. They spent 7 days as volunteers of the international humanitarian association 'Kimse Yok Mu' in this southeastern Turkish town. They participated in the social investigation in suburbs in order to determine the poorest families. They also participated in the distribution of food and visited several schools in the region as well as a Syrian refugee camp.

The adventure started in October 2011, when the Flemish Olympiad Association (VOV), member of Fedactio, organized Social Sciences Olympiads for all students in the third level of secondary education. More than 1200 Flemish students competed for the first prize: a social work placement abroad. Laura Pauwels (Sint-Jozefcollege Aarschot) and Eveline Pylyser (Maerlant Atheneum Blankenberge) were elected as first laureates of SOWO 2012 for their researches on suicide and anorexia. This gave them the chance of participating to the voluntary work placement in the Southeastern part of Turkey.

After a stopover in Istanbul and a long plane journey, the students arrived to Gaziantep. They then were taken to the accommodations of Zirve University by the project manager Lien Vanhoorne and the president of our Platform Culture, Art and Media Mevlüt Akgüngör. They met the local team of “Kimse Yok Mu” the next morning and were offered flowers by them. next, they went for a tour around the town and visited museums with information on the history and artisanal culture of the city. During the walk in the crowded streets of Gaziantep, they also stopped in a ‘dervişhâne’, the house of worship of Sufi believers. After a break accompanied with traditional Turkish coffee, they went on an exploration tour in the authentic bazaars. The assistant head of the association, Fahrettin Güneş, took his guests to the best renowned restaurant of the town for a ‘lunch’ where Laura and Eveline tasted traditional Turkish dishes like kebabs, mince breads, fried aubergines and the traditional yogurt drink, ‘ayran’. The city trip finished with a visit of the Zeugma museum. The group then was invited for dinner at the director of “Kimse Yok Mu”s house, where they received little presents.

The next day our volunteers visited the 'city of Prophets' Sanliurfa with a stop in Harran, where the ruins of the world’s first university can be seen. The guide Ibrahim explained its history and took the group to an authentic clay house that is currently used as a café.

Exploring Gaziantep’s suburbs

After the visits, it was time for the work. Following a warm welcome from “Kimse Yok Mu” team, Laura and Eveline faced their first challenge: they investigated the suburbs to gain a deeper understanding of the life standards of economically deprived social classes.

The first family they met was victim of an honor crime: Eveline explains that the mother had asked for “Kimse Yok Mu”s help as the father had murdered his daughter and had been sentenced for 36 years of imprisonment. Although the Turkish government has taken action against honor crimes, they still occur in the rural parts of the country. Eveline and Laura noticed the hospitality of families which always offered tea and fruits, even the most deprived ones.

They then assisted in the distribution of food. Families that are helped can collect hot food three times a week. Our laureates have helped cooking and dealing out the food. They then went to the schools in the smaller villages to distribute school equipment and clothes. The girls afterwards said that the children’s smile has been their biggest reward.

Syrian Refugee Camp

Laura and Eveline visited Kilis, at the Syrian frontier. They inspected the medical care and helped distributing soup to the refugees at the camp. The most touching moment was the visit to the hospital that takes care of soldiers. The state of the rooms and the lack of adequate medical equipment was poignant. Eveline stated that many men were awaiting urgent operations for months.

The last day of their stay, they visited Zirve University and expressed their wish of studying  in this university for one term. Finally, they went shopping for souvenirs and relaxed in a traditional hammam. Impressed, the laureates came back to Belgium, ready to start their education in psychology.
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