Hatay, Turkey – Today Maria is attending a small graduation ceremony in the gym of the Hatay Youth Centre, which doubles as an auditorium for student assemblies. Maria smiles proudly as she hears her teacher announce her name over the microphone, congratulating her for the hard work. The 13-year-old Syrian girl, who lost her father to the war 5 years ago, has many reasons to be proud of herself. Fleeing the violence, Maria and her family settled in Hatay, a Southeastern province on the Mediterranean coast to start a new life.
“Had I not joined this course, I would still be feeling sad and lonely as I have been here for years now and still could barely speak Turkish, till I came here.” Maria explains. Maria understands that learning Turkish is more than just about succeeding in school, it’s also about making friends and finding her place among other youth in Turkish society. Her hard work paid off as she successfully completed her Turkish language course at the Hatay Youth Centre as part of the Non-Formal Education Programme, implemented through a partnership between the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS) and UNICEF, with the generous financial support of the European Union as part of a broader Non-Formal Education (NFE) Programme.
Maria is among the 10,000 refugee children that the Turkish Language Courses (TLC) programme aims to support by enhancing their ability to integrate in their local communities and at Turkish public schools. The TLC component consists of two learning levels accredited by the Ministry of National Education (MoNE), currently implemented in 83 Youth Centres in 24 provinces.
“We focus mostly on reading and writing. The structure of the Turkish language is different from ours [Arabic] so it’s been difficult for me to learn,” she explains. Maria was referred to the Centre by her school-teacher, who felt she could benefit from the Turkish Language Classes programme to accelerate her integration into secondary school. “My teacher knew about the Turkish language courses being offered here and helped me register,” she says. The classes have been essential in helping her improve her Turkish and stay in school.
“I don’t have any close Turkish friends yet, so I really hope that I will be able to make friends in my school and neighborhood,” she says.
The Turkish Language Classes have been vital for building self-confidence in this bright young adolescent but have also contributed to her family’s resilience. “I feel really proud now as I’m able to help my mother translate many things in Turkish, especially at the supermarket as my mother can get a bit mixed up with the food labels,” she says giggling.