Göle is a rather grubby, nondescript little town in Turkey’s Ardahan Province. It was also the scene of a minor revolution that, with a little luck and a fair wind, will have a profound effect on the lives of hundreds of kids.
Before going on, I need to give you some background; from our very earliest days here in our village, J and I have been privileged to know a certain young man. I’ll not embarrass him by revealing his name or his present position in the bureaucracy – suffice to say that when this story was set, he was a Kaymakam, a regional governor. One of his greatest attributes is that he has never forgotten that he is a ‘village boy’!
Kaymakams wield considerable power and control substantial budgets; some use their position to bring real benefits to the areas under their control, whilst a few do little more than collect their monthly pay packets! We have, on numerous occasions, watched ‘our’ man make good on his promise to us that he would always seek to work for the people. We have witnessed countless individuals benefit from acts of relief, and numerous larger projects bring benefits to the wider community. From helping the destitute to setting up an organic food/milk/cheese cooperative; from pioneering environmentally friendly road surfacing (with a South African-Turkish company) to breaking the strangle-hold of monopoly produce buyers; we have seen so much good done.
This is the story of one such project:
The idea was that all of the school children in the Göle region, regardless of age, would be encouraged to take up some serious reading; and not just reading but also discussing with their teachers what the book was about in order to ensure they were understanding and absorbing what they were reading.
As the schools had little by way of reading books, the first task was to seek aid from sponsors in order to create a decent library in every school. Our man achieved this in very short order through the generosity of individuals and companies.
With kids in place and books in place the next objective was to provide an incentive for the children to follow through. This part of the project involved going back to various sponsors and persuading them to cough up the funds for – get this – 500 brand-new bikes for the various age groups that were participating! 500 new bikes! These were to be passed on to the students who worked the hardest at reading and understanding the hundreds of new books now available to them.
It’s a few years ago now that J and I were invited by our man to attend the inaugural presentation day and celebration for the Göle Book Project. We invited ‘Kaptan’ June Haimoff, author, of İztuzu Beach and Turtle fame along for the ride.
On their special day, we joined the children, the media and the many members of the inevitable ‘protokol’ for the presentation of the prizes. As happens every day in Ardahan, it rained, which had no effect whatsoever on the proceedings and on the spontaneous street party that erupted.
The following year the scheme presented a further 500 bikes, and the Minister for Education announced that he wanted the project to go nationwide – some hope of that ever happening – a project like this requires the commitment and focus that is rare amongst the population at large and absent altogether in the political classes!
When the presentations were over and the street party had dispersed, a bunch of bureaucrats and their wives, an army colonel, a TRT film crew, ‘our boy’ and his wife, June, J and I crammed into a few mini-buses and disappeared off into the wilderness for a barby that went on late into the night – a day to remember for everyone – especially the kids of Göle, a small, grubby, nondescript town in the province of Ardahan, NE Turkey.
Here are some impressions from that wonderful event:
Alan in Okçular