The project dates for Diyarbakır coincided with ‘Kurban Byram’ or the ‘Festival of Sacrifice’ which is a religious holiday in Turkey. As I knew that schools would be closed for a few days I thought that it would be a good time to take Tell me a Tale in Turkey to one of Turkey’s many orphanages as the children would not be in school. In 2008 Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, went undercover and visited orphanages around Turkey where they filmed shocking conditions and showed the footage on ITV1 film Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission. This resulted in a huge diplomatic row between Turkey and the UK as Turkey saw it as a ‘smear campaign’ against Turkey joining the EU. It was therefore no big surprise that running this drama project in an orphanage involved a complex permission process from the social services in both Diyarbakır and Ankara.
The social services in Turkey run most of the countries orphanages, homes for people with special needs and old people’s homes. I decided to take the project to the 13-18 year olds girls orphanage mainly because the last two schools in the project were for children up to the age of 14 so I thought it would be interesting to work with a different age group. The orphanage for 13+ girls in Diyarbakır was also the same building as for the mixed 0-6 year olds. We therefore decided to also run workshops for the 2 year olds and a separate class for the 3-6 year olds.
The byram holidays were for the first 3 days of the two weeks and some of the children had gone to stay with relatives so it was a good opportunity to work with the students didn’t have anywhere to go for the holidays. It was a welcome change to work with an older group and the workshops reminded me of many drama workshops that I attended myself at uni. I was lucky to have a great assistant with me in Diyarbakır, Nazlı Bulum, a first year drama student at Kadir Has University. She led the voice warm ups to the sessions and it was wonderful to have a facilitator with me that I could learn from. The girls also responded really well to having somebody so close to their age run the workshops too and I found that it was important to have Nazlı there not only as a facilitator but as a positive role model for the girls.
When byram was over we had quite a big shift in dynamics. Some of the girls had ‘morning school’, others had ‘afternoon school’ and others did ‘open education’. Open Education (acık öğretim) is distance learning for students who are unable to attend school. What this meant was that the girls were coming and going all day long so finding a class time to suit everyone was a challenge. In the end we decided to run 2 classes for the girls everyday, a morning class for students who were in Open Education (so didn’t attend regular school) and an evening class which everyone could come to. Unlike the other schools that have taken part in the project it was not compulsory for participants to attend the workshop (whereas previously if the school told students they were taking part in the project, that meant they were taking part in the project). Due to this we had quite a high turnover of students. The biggest change was after the holidays as when many of the older girls went back to school they became too busy with school work to come to the classes. Also whenever there were any issues in the orphanage between the girls themselves our participants fluctuated. As a facilitator this was a challenge as we were putting on a production for the end of the second week and an ever changing cast reminded me a lot of previous projects that I have run in prison or detention with no guarantee who might show. We therefore tried to keep the class structure flexible so that participants could join or come back at any stage.
Our morning classes specifically for the students studying Open Education started off pretty quiet with just one or two students. However soon they began to pick up and by the end of the residency nearly all of the girls who didn’t attend school were coming to the workshop (about 6 students). This was a great outcome as it was clear to see that these were the girls who had the biggest social issues. They seemed isolated and didn’t interact much with the other girls at the orphanage. Their reasons for not going to school differed from being young mums (with their babies living in the 0-6 year old section of the orphanage) or trying to run away when the bus used to take them to regular school. It was good to see them slowly but sure come through the door one by one and join our group. All of our morning students would then also come to the evening classes and mix with the other girls. We saw the girls developing firm friendships throughout the two-week residency. One girl who was quite new to the orphanage and was struggling to adjust (as she had moved from a more ‘liberal’ orphanage in Istanbul) seemed to grate on everyone at the start of the residency as she kept talking about ‘when she was in Istanbul’. However by the end of the project she had bonded with her peers and had made what seemed like the starts of some solid friendships.
The group wrote a story together for the final performance. It was about a girl who was very lonely and who escaped into another world where she had to solve many problems (based on the structure of Alice in Wonderland, Narnia etc). This story structure gave the girls the opportunity to create imaginative scenes that echoed many issues from their own lives. The story they created was full loneliness, boredom, conflict and resolution. Diyarbakır as a city itself is seen as an area of conflict as it a large city with a predominant Kurdish population and is often the centre of news stories for when events happen in eastern Turkey. It was clear to see cultural conflict between the girls who had lived in Diyarbakır all their lives and others who had been moved there at a later age. Creating a play about conflict was a good opportunity to explore what many of the girls were experiences in real life one- step removed. Writing a story as a group was a challenge but it brought a sense of unity and ownership to the participants. On student said (translated from Turkish) ‘I liked writing a story that was from my thoughts and ideas’.
Overall the orphanage was an extremely homely place to be. It was clean and colourful, filled with comfy sofas to chill out on. I would say the biggest issue was the lack of things to do. Every weekend the girls had permission to go to town in the afternoon but outside of this there were no planned activities. For a home where there are a group of 40 girls living together there was not much feeling of ‘togetherness’ which I had felt at Ekinözü YİBO (a boarding school in Maraş). At Ekinözü YİBO pupils organised film nights, dance nights, volleyball and football matches and were always working together to keep themselves entertained. There was none of this here and boredom was a real problem. There was little motivation for the girls to get up in the morning when they didn’t have school and it was clear in our workshops that they were all craving the need for attention. This drama project gave the girls some structure in their day and made them feel like they had a purpose outside of school. It gave the girls the opportunity to spend time with other girls in the orphanage that they didn’t usually socialise with. Saying this, it only touched on the surface of dealing with many of the social issues that occupy the orphanage. I think a crucial time to work with the orphanage would be during the long 3 month summer holiday where even though there are some short 1-2 week trips on offer there is still 2 and a half months of nothing to do. It could be an opportunity to look into developing a strong activity structure within the orphanage to create motivation between staff and students. It could then be stripped back once schools start after the summer but for their still to be activities left in place that could fit around different school timetables.
One student said after the final performance (translated from Turkish) ‘I believe that I have learnt to believe in myself and that I can be successful in life’. This comes through motivation, team work, self-confidence and imagination it can not be achieved simply through clean floors and a comfy sofa.