Report for the Solidarity Work Conducted by Amargi After Earthquake in Van
On the 23rd of October, 2011 there was an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 in Van. This earthquake resulted in the death of many people and left many homeless by causing damage to, or destroying many buildings. It became clear that the work done in order to reorganize life in the area after the earthquake was inadequate in responding to the general needs of the public. For this reason, many non-governmental organizations which work in different fields, started operating in the area in order to meet basic needs or provide psycho-social support. Though the political and social conditions of the area created certain difficulties, the support was continued. Throughout this process, non-governmental organizations which worked in fields relating to women also started organizing in order to provide trauma treatment and respond to the daily needs of women. Taking the patriarchal structure of the region into consideration, especially after a natural disaster, women’s responsibilities in organizing social life greatly increase. When the deprived conditions following a trauma are added to the daily housekeeping work women already do, such as taking care of children, cooking, cleaning, taking care of spouses, etc. supporting women becomes increasingly urgent. Due to these reasons, a group of feminists from within the Istanbul Feminist Collective – which is the common platform of feminist groups in Istanbul – willing to take care of this issue formed a communication network called vanpurplesolidarity in order to coordinate the work that would be carried out in the area. Through this network, information and new developments in the area were shared, while relief efforts and activities were also organized. As one of the organizations within the Istanbul Feminist Collective, Amargi was an active participant of the vanpurplesolidarity network.
After the meetings and information-sharing at Vanpurplesolidarity, the kinds of projects that could be conducted with regards to women in the area was discussed within Amargi as well. First of all, a monetary contribution was set aside for the container that the feminist collective bought to be used for womens’ work in Van. After this, a group of volunteers, which included those who had worked in disaster areas before and were knowledgeable and experienced in trauma treatment, was formed. This group received training and worked on new techniques in order to be able to conduct drama workshops with children, since this seemed to be the first and most necessary requirement for supporting women in the area. The primary aim in these trainings was to reach women who had to continue taking care of their children, and support them in various ways, as well as pass on the drama techniques to women who were already working in the area. Thus, an active human force that would be a partial response to the urgent need for post-traumatic socio-psychological support was formed within Amargi. A trainers training chain was formed for the drama workshops with children. Then, between 15-26 January, 10 volunteers who were to alternate among each other went to Van in order to work with the women and the children. The work here was organized in collaboration with VAKAD (Van Women’s Foundation). First, the volunteers worked in the distribution of food and clothing aid, which was run by Vakad. Then, a tent suitably large for working with women and children was set up in the neighbourhood and soon after the drama workshops with children began.
Voices from Van:
Hello to all,
I (Hatice), Medine and Beyza reached Van in the afternoon, on the 19th of January. First, we met up with a couple of friends from Vakad and talked about the general situation for a bit. Then, we met up with Fulya and our other friends and went directly to the activities tent. We found ourselves in the midst of the work that Birsen and Nurcan had already begun. The place was more like a playground for children that a drama therapy workshop. We all had a lot of fun.
All our friends who had gone there before us, and all those who had been working in the area for a long while had already done all the groundwork. This made it easier for us to directly go into trauma therapy and workshops as soon as we got there.
This is how we organized ourselves:
We made a working plan for all the days we were to stay, which was:
Friday: At 11.00, with children in the People’s Center tent, at 15.00, with children in the Independent women’s tent,
Saturday: At 13.00, with young girls, at 14.00, with women,
Sunday: At 13.00, with young girls, at 15.00 with women
In the evenings, when we evaluated the whole day, we agreed on the following points:
We transformed the trauma therapy work into a means for bringing the children’s talents out into the open, for creating solidarity, for sharing, for spreading, and most importantly for doing whatever it was that the children themselves wanted to do. Hence, during workshops we observed that the children are very sharing, creative and energetic. We knew that we had to analyze the group dynamic very well, in order to make sure that some children who were trying to be leaders, were very interactive, and the center of attention due to the effects of the earthquake, did not stand in the way of those children who were shy, quiet and unable to express themselves also due to many reasons including the effects of the earthquake. We had to ensure that these children were also able to be themselves, be present, express themselves. We never spoke negatively with the children; we never told them not to do certain things, or not to shout, etc. For instance, when there were children who kept picking on and hitting those next to them, we would say “would you like to do kung-fu after this workshop?” and when there were children who kept asking when we would draw and demanding to make drawings that very instant, we would say “let this workshop end, then we will make drawings with those who want to.” And of course we did that. We saw that the children were able to concentrate better on the work at hand, and their ways of communicating with each other changed, became more about trying to understand each other.
First our friends shared their knowledge and experience with us about the local area, the groups we would work with and the specific needs of those groups. So, we were able to prepare the workshops in line with the needs and wishes of the groups, as well as the specifity of the local area.
As the working group, we made our preparations by sharing each other’s experiences, analyses and knowledge as well. Depending on how crowded the workshops were, we would be 2,3 or 4 facilitators at times. We would share an exercise to use in the workshop and whoever had shared a specific exercise would take the initiative and responsibility for that exercise during the workshop. We facilitators became participants at times, and sometimes we stayed out.
The work we did with young girls was also very productive and active. We saw that the participants were very open, willing and sharing. They themselves voiced this, and asked for the workshops to be longer and constant.
The work we did with the women was more rights-based. First of all, it was quite difficult to even be able to come together with the women because of the conditions of their daily life. Even though we weren’t able to meet up with a lot of women, we did have long, friendly chats with the women we did meet, talking about our rights and their needs.
Then, we decided it was necessary for us to do work in the neighbourhoods, and the next day Tuba, Nil and Başak begun. We also decided to have a separate workshop with the kids at the times when the women were to come. We were going to need a second activities tent for this. I believe it is either being set up nowadays, or it already has been.
We conducted great workshops, which were productive, responded to need and were also quite pleasant. We are very glad to have gone there, and we must now aim to make many, many re-visits possible.
Hello from me also..:),
After we (Tuba, Nil, Başak), as the third group, reached Van we met with women from Vakad and from Amargi’s 2nd group in order to gather some general information about the situation. We discussed the work the other groups had done and the thoughts they had had. We needed different ideas and creative activities in order to work with the children, because the groups before us had already done most of the exercises and activities we knew of with the children. Repeating the same things would bore them. So, we sat down the very first day and made a list of what kind of activities we could do, and for which purposes. We made use of some drama books we had with us.
Since the children had nothing to do but go to school, when we were there the popularity of the tent almost doubled. What was 15 children in the beginning, quickly became 30-40 children. So, the first workshop we had, suffered from our inexperience. When we suddenly came up against a very large group we weren’t able to conduct a very productive workshop and we weren’t able to send the kids back that day either. After that, we split the group in half and decided to meet certain days a week. If we hadn’t done so, nobody’s energy would have been enough to cope with the situation. In our following workshops we came up with games for the younger kids, aged 7-10, in order to bring out their talents and have fun while doing so. These included enactments, imitations, thematic drawing, etc. With kids who were slightly older we focused on creating ideas, and discussing via techniques such as forum theatre. Our experience was that the way we related to children during group-work that allowed us to interact with them on a one-on-one basis was much healthier than having activities that addressed the children a whole. We had just started to get to know them more closely when we came back here. We thought staying longer would have been better. At least for one more week… Now as we move on, we might like to take this into consideration.
In order to meet up with the women we first went and knocked on their doors, one by one. We visited their homes. Due to how heavy their workload is, in the house or in the tent, they cannot leave to go anywhere. We suddenly found ourselves pursuing methods of insistence that ranged from taking the women by the arm and bringing them with us to begging their mothers-in-law for permission..:) Our methods worked and we were able to meet with about 20 women. However, since most of them had little children, they brought them along as well and there was total chaos in the tent. In spite of the noise, we were able to talk about rights after an earthquake, and a friend of ours who was a woman and a lawyer joined us for the discussion. It especially was clear that there were difficulties around issues like reading, writing and going to necessary institutions and state offices. We said that we would be able to be in solidarity by providing support from the central Vakad office. Information was given about what to do when lawyers were needed, etc.
The second tent which has now been set up, shall prove to be quite valuable in having meaningful and productive gatherings with the women. It is very important to continue working with the children. In general, we had quite productive workshops, formed valuable friendships, and most importantly we all felt the power of solidarity once again.