Interview with Onur Çalışkan

Today we have a very special guest — Onur Çalışkan.

This boy led 3 different work camps in Turkey, has faced lots problems and learned how to deal with them.

Today he has shared his experience and told how leading a camp can develop your skills and mentality, become more open-minded and mature.

How did you get to the sphere of volunteering?

I was helping an NGO and they offered me to join a training on leadership. Actually, it was my starting point for leading work camps. I have joined 3 workcamps: in Konya, Bartın and Kırklareli. Every camp has helped me to improve my English to the good level and to gain really unforgettable experience.

So, tell more about every work camp =)

The first work camp was in Konya.

This was an environmental project, we have worked in the park.

The municipality promised us to bring to Antalya. So, we have worked on the weekends to have four days off then.Then the person who was our communicator said that we wouldn`t go to Antalya. All the plans and expectations were broken.

My English was really bad at that time and another camp leader went to Istanbul for a meeting. This fact made managing the situation more difficult because of the language barrier.

So, we decided that we have to go to the sea in any case. We have promised it to the participants and we needed to go to the sea. I arranged the shuttle bus and we went to Manavgat. The journey was really difficult because the air conditioner didn`t work on the bus and it was really difficult to breathe.We came to the Otogar and then another workcamp leader asked me: “Where shall we stay?” I didn`t know the answer because there was no place for us to stay.We have found a hotel, the participants were ok to pay for it. Then I contacted the municipality and they agreed to cover the expenses for accommodation. We stayed there for one night and came back.

What have I learned from this work camp? I have learned how to face bad situations and to plan the actions in advance.

The second workcamp was held in Kırklareli.

We have been repairing the toys for 15 days, 5 hours per day. The project was in the cooperation with the toy library. Actually, it was more like a hobby, not work. We really had lots of fun while repairing the toys and the support from the municipality was great. I was the only team leader and it was fine for me.

But! During the work camp, there was a coup attempt on the 15th of July. It was really dangerous.

What has happened that day? A section of the Turkish military launched a coordinated operation in several major cities to topple the government and unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. More than 241 people were killed and 2,194 others were injured*.

I took everybody to the garden and explained the situation. Then we stayed at the municipality building, it was quite safe. I said that if something bad would happen in Kırklareli, we will take them to the safer place. Let`s wait until tomorrow. The important thing here was not to make quick decisions.

The mosques have been playing namazes (a pray when the person dies), it really disturbed us.The next day was silent. I asked the campers if they were ok. They were fine, so we continued the work camp.

Then they were making jokes: let’s meet on the 15th of July in Turkey.

Also, the municipality wanted to take us to Istanbul but because of the situation, we were not able to go there.

This workcamp was really nice, the municipality cared about us but because of the coup day it was not that good as it could be.

The third work camp was inBartın, close to the Black Sea.

Our work was to clean the beaches, it was so dirty. We cleaned it every day and it was becoming dirty again and again.

We lived in the tents, on the territory of the otopark. We didn`t feel that much safe that is why we asked the municipality to buy lockers for the tents` zips. They did that but still, it was too easy to steal something from the tent. There was a kind of security but they were not looking after the tents all the time, that is why someone stayed by the tent to make sure that our staff is safe.

We even didn’t have the cultural night because we didn’t have a place to cook. I was sad of this because on all work camps we did that.

After first 3 days, I asked the municipality for water and they replied that the volunteers can buy it by themselves.I talked to the youth center and then the situation becomes better, but after some time, it was the same again.The food they sent was usually quite late. Well, the quality was good but it was the same all the time.

The volunteers started to lose motivation. At first, they were really motivated but the municipality didn`t care about the volunteers, as well as, about the work that we were doing. I lost the motivation, as well. When we realized the situation, I offered to chill out, to have fun and make the best week ever. Let`s swim!

So, we started exploring the town, watching sitcoms, playing the board games and talking in Spanish (because most of the participants were Spanish) instead of working.

What experience have you got while leading the work camps?

During leading the camps, I learned to check everything twice, to ask about the expectations of the volunteers, not to tell until the last minute to the participants about the problems we have. Also, I got to know how to deal with the municipality and to call the youth center if I have any troubles. Another good thing is that my English has improved and I started feeling more confident in this language.

You told that you have learned how to deal with the municipality. What can you recommend for the future camp leaders?

  1. To be straight: to ask for what we need;
  2. If you have any problems, you need to talk to the youth centre;
  3. Don`t challenge the municipality if they are not okay.

Also, lots of things depend on the political party they support. I have worked with the municipalities that supported 3 different parties. And their attitude to us was completely different.

About Onur

I am Onur Çalışkan aka Robin. I born in 1994 in Erzurum. I grow up at Ankara. I study Computer Education and Instructional Technologies at Ankara University. I can tell that I am a sociable person. I love archery, designing, writing and reading (especially underground literature). I love volunteering and I volunteer for some Non-Governmental Organizations. I do archery for seven years as hobby and as university team member. I wrote for my personal blog and once my story published at “Edebiat Magazine” in September 2015. I define myself as youth worker because reaching people, understanding them and making them happy is my greatest joy. Life to me means living in the moment and try to be happy whatever happens to you. I believe that when I live my life like that, the others will look at me and they will become happy too.

 *Editor`s note

By Daria Babik


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