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Going door-to-door in Turkey for girls’ education

© UNICEF NYHQ/2005/Beck
A young girl in Van province, where high percentages of children do not attend school.

VAN, Turkey, 29 December 2005 – In schools and homes and coffeehouses across the country, the same question is being asked by teachers, journalists, local activists and religious leaders: “What will it take to get your daughter in school?”

Only sixty-nine percent of girls attend primary school in Turkey. But thanks to a major education drive, over a quarter of a million more children have enrolled in school since 2003 - and 175,000 of these are girls.

The campaign, dubbed “Hey Girls, Let’s Go to School,” depends on a vast network of volunteers who go door-to-door to lobby parents on the value of education. Volunteers from a wide variety of professions are signing up and the programme has received support from prominent politicians, including the Prime Minister and First Lady of Turkey.   

In Van, where the nationwide campaign was launched over two years ago, poverty and cultural traditions have historically kept girls at home. Up to half of all girls in this eastern province are estimated to be out of school. Through the efforts of the campaign, 20,000 girls have enrolled for the first time.

Local efforts 

On a stop in Bakimli village, a remote outpost near the Iranian border, a team of four teachers checks a list of children and nods at a mud house where an eight-year-old girl is said to be out of school. 

The woman who answers the door does not appear surprised at the group gathered on her front steps – in accordance with the campaign, volunteers visit each village regularly in order to ensure that parents follow through on school registration. With an air of resignation, she arranges chairs for the visitors almost before the first greetings are exchanged.

© UNICEF NYHQ/2005/Beck
Local teacher Sukran Celik visits local homes to convince parents to send their daughters to school.

“My husband and brother are working in Istanbul,” she says. “I’m afraid to stay home alone. And I don’t think my daughter really needs to go to school.” 

Sukran Celik, a teacher from Van who works on the campaign in her spare time, nods sympathetically. “But isn’t it hard for you to read instructions when you go places? If your daughter is educated, she can earn money and bring in a salary and care for her mother.

Celik uses herself as a role model. “I am from Van. I am from this culture. I show them that this is what girls can be,” she says.
Twenty minutes later, the mother is wavering – swayed by the force of Celik’s arguments, she still worries that education will spoil her daughter for marriage. It takes a visit from the village imam, Ibrahim Yasin, to persuade her that school will make her daughter a better mother someday.

Like many religious leaders in Turkey, the imam promotes girls’ education during Friday prayers. “It is a girl’s right to go to school,” he says. “A girl must be educated. Islam tells us this.” 

Ongoing challenges

Persistent poverty and insufficient resources continue to plague the educational system in Turkey. Schools are scarce and overcrowded; conditions in urban slums and rural areas are especially bad. And for families that are struggling to afford food, even the most basic school supplies can be well out of reach. 

At a community meeting in Van, women respond favourably to a campaign coordinator’s speech on the importance of education. But murmurs arise when the volunteer, a local high school principal named Bahri Yildizbas, tells them that it is their duty as parents to send their children to school. 

“We want education, but we don’t have the money,” says one mother. “The school is far away – it takes too much time to get there, and it’s not safe,” says another.

Despite these practical obstacles, the campaign has helped create a desire for change. According to Zozan Ozgokce, the head of the Van Women’s Association and another volunteer who visits local homes, there is a growing consensus that education is an imperative for every child. 

“When we ask women how they want their children to live, they almost never say, ‘Like me.’ And when we ask the women what they want to be, they say, ‘Educated.’

“It might take 25 years for the effects of this campaign to show,” she says. “But the campaign will still be visible then – because it is this generation that will show how the world can be.”



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