My first day in Hatay Province in Antakya was a whirlwind of new contacts. After running a few errands in Antakya with Mehmet and his colleague, they dropped me off at my first Servas family. This family was comprised of a mother and two children. The eldest was a budding teenage girl eager to practice her English and support the Peace School which she had grown up participating in. The little boy was shy but always eager to help and participate. The mother was a gracious host and stupendous cook. The home was shared housing with extended family so I was immediately introduced to the majority of the family. With Naz’s help, I learned a few Turkish phrases that were essential in my daily contact with the community of Ekinci and I discovered the heavenly dessert künefe which makes the Hatay Region famous among the Turkish. I stayed with Nas’s family for five nights and six days. Later, I transitioned to another counselor’s family home where I stayed for the remainder of the camp. With that family, we went exploring the nearby province’s tourist attractions and I tried even more local dishes.
My time in Ekinci was unforgettable and eye-opening. My family and friends were worried when they heard that I would be going to Turkey—more so when they heard that I would be along the Syrian border! However, I can say that all throughout my two weeks there, I never felt like I or anyone near me was in danger. We were all in a bubble made up of cross-cultural understanding, peace, and openness. While it would be magnanimous to attribute this to Servas International being present there for nine years, I feel like this organization has largely impacted the community in a positive way. Mehmet with the help of other community members, has been able to cultivate a supportive, healthy environment for neighborhood children aged 4-13 every July for nearly a decade.
Mehmet invites speakers from his home in Izmir and foreign speakers through Servas to teach classes and entertain the children every year. This past year we had a film crew and an environmental architect hold the majority of the lessons. I, representing the Republic of Georgia, contributed a few lessons in Georgian language while also giving lessons in Spanish and English. Mehmet provided ideas for other lessons and I was able to experiment with different games and activities that I had learned during my service with Peace Corps Georgia. All in all, it was a rewarding experience because I could see the lasting impact that the camp has had on the young children—the majority of the junior counselors were all alumni of the Peace School! These children so believed in the mission of the camp that they returned as camp leaders to instill the same sentiment in the younger generation. I was incredibly lucky to have been a witness and participant to this wondrous initiative. I highly recommend other Servas Members to join this initiative in the coming years.