The friendship train tours Turkey
Children travel 2,000 km by rail to make museums fun
TURKEY, 10 May 2011 - Thirty-three children – all members of Turkey’s provincial child rights committees – undertook a train journey of almost 2,000 kilometres in April as part of a UN joint programme targeting the development of Eastern Anatolia through culture tourism.
The journey of the “Friendship Train” began in Istanbul and ended four days later in Kars in northeast Turkey.
“I expected it to be very tiring and it was,” commented Ismail Pelenkoglu, one of the children who made the journey, and a national coordinator for the child rights committees. “But we learned a lot about our culture. We also made a lot of new friends. For me, it was also interesting to meet children in the cities which we visited and find out what their lives are like and what issues they are facing.”
#The trip was the culmination of two years of work by UNICEF, Ankara University Education Sciences Faculty, the child rights committees and the government in order to turn museums into places that children enjoy, raise awareness of the cultural heritage, support the creative skills of children and establish permanent and participatory learning environments. This work formed part of a UN Joint Programme entitled “Alliances for Culture Tourism in Eastern Anatolia”. It has resulted in the development of a package of museum education materials which have been published as a set of five attractive, easy-to-use books.
The package includes an innovative peer-to-peer module, which the boys and girls aboard the train will be the first to use, and which has already attracted international attention. The same partners have also collaborated to furnish and decorate children’s rooms in museums in Kars and Erzurum, so that visiting children will have a space for their activities.
“We are determined to spread this work to all provinces of Turkey,” underlined Damla Guldogan, the other national coordinator for the child rights committees.
The special train, consisting of five sleeping cars, a conference room, a dining car and a baggage/activities wagon, set off from Istanbul’s Haydarpasa Station on April 18. The speakers at the farewell ceremony included UNICEF Turkey Representative Dr. Ayman Abulaban.
The child passengers, some of whom had never travelled by train before, were joined on the train by adult child rights representatives from the provinces taking part as well as representatives of the UN joint programme and the collaborating institutions.
While on board, the children took part in various educational activities organised by academics from Ankara University, kept diaries, produced a newspaper containing news and observations about each day’s activities and documented their activities with video cameras.
The organisers of the journey included the Social Services and Child Protection Agency (SHCEK), the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, UNICEF and Turkish State Railways.
Despite rain and cold weather, the Friendship Train received a marvellous welcome at its first stop in in Eskişehir. The platform was crowded with children and adults singing and dancing and enjoying toffee apples. On April 19, the train reached Ankara. Here, the passengers visited the Grand Mausoleum of Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, where they laid a wreath and signed the special visitors’ book, as well as visiting the museum. The second activity of the day was a visit to the CerModern art museum, which included museum training activities.
A farewell ceremony was organized for the Friendship Train at Ankara Station, including a band and folk dancing. Ankara University President Cemal Taluğ made a speech in which he underlined the importance of creating awareness of cultural heritage and child rights among children.
After an all-night train journey, the Friendship Train passengers woke up in Sivas railway station, where a warm welcome had been prepared for them. The provincial governor and other local officials made speeches and visited the train. The children then visited the Republic Museum and Sivas Archeological Museum. A festival including examples of local folklore and culture was held in the garden of the Archaeological Museum with the participation of many local children.
Museum Children’s Room Opening Ceremony
The train arrived in Erzurum on April 21. After another overwhelming welcoming ceremony, the train passengers and local children marched to Atatürk House, for the opening ceremony of the new Children’s Museum Room (The new museum room in Kars had been opened in January). Museum Mustafa Erkmen expressed how happy and proud he was to be hosting Turkey’s second child museum room. UN Joint Programme Manager Neşe Çakır and UNICEF Turkey Deputy Representative Regina De Dominicis were also among the speakers.
The Friendship Train passengers then took a city tour and visited historically important places, while twenty girls and boys from Erzurum Child Rights Committee became the first children to use the Erzurum Children’s Museum Room and receive museum training there.
On April 22, the Friendship Train arrived in Kars. The cold and rainy weather that had followed the train ever since its departure from Istanbul was waiting in Kars too. However, this did not stop the deputy governor, mayor and many other local officials, as well as children, from turning out for the welcoming ceremony.
The travellers then visited the Kars Minstrel Culture House, where they enjoyed a performance by Kars minstrels and had lunch with boys and girls from Kars. Due to the weather, the passengers were unable to visit the ruined city of Ani as planned.
The train journey attracted considerable publicity for the joint programme, child rights, child participation and respect for the cultural heritage. A crew from the children’s television channel TRT Çocuk accompanied the train throughout its journey. The well-known news website ntvmsnbc.com published a special train diary every day. Many other national and local media outlets also carried news of the train’s progress.
Although the train has come to a halt, momentum is still building for further activities “along the same lines”. As a next step, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has decided to expand the child museum room model to other museums, and is also considering the establishment of children’s museums.
A forthcoming protocol between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Ministry of National Education is expected to help to institutionalise further the innovations developed in the context of UNICEF’s contribution to the UN joint programme.
The UN joint programme is funded by the MDG Achievement Fund entrusted to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) by the Government of Spain. Besides UNICEF, the UNDP, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) took part in the joint programme.
The provincial child rights committees, established and maintained by the government of Turkey with UNICEF technical support, have been at the forefront of child participation in Turkey. They have been involved in all kinds of programmes and activities from child rights education to the establishment of a child rights monitoring committee in the Turkish parliament and the representation of Turkey’s children at local, national and international events.