Say Yes, Summer 2003: Çeltiksuyu School -- Waiting for Word

Hacer (centre) waits for news of her son Doğan as rescue teams search the ruin of Çeltiksuyu Boarding School

In the company of her daughter, Emine (left) and others, Hacer awaits news of her son Doğan. Photograph by Sema Hosta © UNICEF Turkey 2003

On the morning of Thursday, 1st of May, an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter Scale (RS) struck the province of Bingöl in eastern Turkey. By the following Monday, 177 people were reported dead and 520 injured. The worst hit building was the boarding school in Çeltiksuyu, fifteen kilometres east of the city of Bingöl, where 85 students and one teacher died. As rescue teams searched the rubble, people from the neighbouring village of Güzeler kept a vigil in a corner of the schoolyard. No one ate and no one slept. They were praying that another of the 50 children from their village who attended the school would be found alive.

The building fell upon my son, but my heart is torn to pieces, said Hacer, awaiting news of her boy, fourteen-year-old Doğan, who was still buried under the ruins, speak to me Doghan, give me a word, any sound. Watching the scene for a sign of hope, she spoke about the youngest of her seven children with pride and joy:

Doğan would come home to us every weekend and even at fourteen, he’d sit on my knee and insist on being called Mummy’s boy. Everyone from the village is here, we’re all waiting and hoping, praying. We don’t have a school in our village, so we all sent our children here as boarders -- to school, mind you, not to a graveyard.

An estimated 130,000 primary school children from the age of six upwards come from sparsely populated rural areas of Turkey to board, Monday to Friday, at schools like Çeltiksuyu because it isn’t viable to have a school locally. It’s not an ideal solution but it’s all there is for the time being and the children and parents miss one another terribly. Even fourteen year old Doğan hated making the trip back to the dormitory on Monday morning: There would be tears, said Hacer.

As the rescue operation continued amid an atmosphere heavy with sorrow and the incongruous brilliance of early Spring, Ayşe and Bahar, day pupils from the eighth grade, clutched photographs of dead friends and wept silently. With something of the resolve that hallmarks her youth, Ayşe asks What will happen now? Does this mean we won’t get our diplomas in June? This is by no means selfish of her: in Bingöl, one of Turkey’s poorest provinces, where many girls do not go to school, Ayğe knows only too well that her education is the key if she is to have a better life than her parents.

In the wake of the disaster, local authorities are determined to restore a sense of stability to the lives of the children and their families by resuming school activities. However, most schools were so badly damaged by the tremor and the aftershocks which followed that they are unusable. After consultation, UNICEF immediately sent 100 school tents from contingency stocks so that schools could reopen within a fortnight. School supplies were also released in order to avoid risky forays into unstable school buildings to retrieve items such as blackboards and books. Çeltiksuyu was prioritised for obvious reasons.

It takes a long time to get over the trauma of an earthquake of these proportions. People are fearful in their homes or any kind of permanent structure so tents become an important psychological prop, said UNICEF Representative, Edmond McLoughney at Çeltiksuyu, adding that:

Nobody feels at risk in a tent so they’re ideal for school activities in the short term. School is also the ideal situation for psychosocial programmes to help the children, teachers and families get over the trauma of what has happened. We have a great deal of experience from the Marmara earthquakes in 1999 where we developed the Psychosocial Programme to help families pick up the reins on their lives.

Within fifteen hours of the disaster, UNICEF Turkey’s team was at the scene. After an initial assessment, teams of psychologists were drafted into the area to work with the Ministry of National Education (MONE) and other agencies on a psychosocial programme.

The Psychosocial Programme provides a platform for children affected by traumatic experiences to confront issues such as bereavement, disorientation and trauma. By expressing their feelings and reactions to what has happened to them, they are able to resolve obstructive issues which would otherwise prevent a return to normalcy.

Regrettably, for Doğan and the other children who died in the earthquake, it is too late, but to the boys and girls of Bingöl who survived, we promise that it is UNICEF’s mission to help you realise your right to an education and a better future.

Visit the Press Centre for more details about UNICEF Turkey’s response to the disaster.

Read about the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness programme. There is more information about the MONE/UNICEF Psychosocial School Project in Less Fearful, More Active, our account of the response to the Marmara earthquakes in 1999.

Following the Bingöl disaster, UNICEF Turkey launched an appeal for funds. For further information, please contact UNICEF Turkey on +90 (0)312 454 1000

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