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Press Centre (5/2017)

Yes, it's a truck! A special place to learn and play

The truck, operated by the Turkish Red Crescent in partnership with UNICEF, is one of two Mobile Child Friendly Spaces in Turkey. Photo Credit: © UNICEF Turkey/2017/Lorch
By Donatella Lorch / UNICEF

IZMIR, 3 May 2017 – Raghad was not going to let anyone stop her. The 12-year-old Syrian refugee had gotten up at 6am, dressed and made breakfast for her two younger brothers.
Then the three of them, jackets on, scarves wrapped around their necks just stood at the door, smiling as they told their mother to hurry up.

“I am not going,” their mother Khoula, 40, declared. “It’s raining. It’s cold. I cannot bring you. Just go by yourselves.”

The children ultimately won the standoff and the four headed off for a one-hour bus ride to their destination: their school parking lot. The rain had turned to drizzle but the night’s downpour had created large puddles. The siblings paid no attention. They were mesmerized by a long tractor trailer, painted with a picket fence and dancing children in reds, blues, yellows and greens.
The inside was even more welcoming. In the 45sq meter one-room activity area, balloons hung from the ceiling, colored mats covered the floor and miniature modern sofa chairs lined the walls.
“This place is so beautiful,” whispered Raghad. “It’s also warm.”
The truck, operated by The Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) in partnership with UNICEF, is one of two Mobile Child Friendly Spaces (MCFS) in Turkey. Like 28 Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) that function in centers across Turkey, the two trucks provide a safe space where Syrian refugee children can play, learn and receive psychosocial support. The second truck works out of Sanliurfa, in Turkey’s southeast. But the mobile CFS also includes Turkish children from local communities and acts as a bridge to ease social cohesion.

Turkey is home to around 2.9 million Syrian refugees of which more than half are children.
The mobile CFS trucks stay parked for as long as two months near Turkish schools with large numbers of Syrian students. UNICEF estimates as many as 400 students a month attend a mobile CFS. In addition to play activities, The TRC youth workers focus on team communication, ice-breaking activities as well as provide structured discussion on child rights, hygiene and bullying among others topics. Today’s morning session was for 8 to 11 year olds.
The truck had arrived the day before, on the last day of the Turkish school term. TRC youth workers had introduced themselves to families and teachers and explained how they worked. The next morning, 20 children sat down together on the mats. There was that awkward ‘I don’t know you yet’ silence.
“Today we have a mixed group of Syrian and Turkish children,” explained Hilal, 30, a TRC youth worker. “We invited the families to join us too. Parents are very important. We want them to be aware and to be fully comfortable to leave their children.”
Like many Turkish public schools that accept Syrian refugees, this school is overcrowded and students attend classes in shifts.  The truck is a special treat. Hilal and her teammates know how to make learning fun. The day’s theme focused on increasing awareness of traffic rules. Drawing pads and colored pencils were distributed while a TRC youth worker explained traffic lights, emergency numbers and street signage. Gradually, the room filled with chatter and laughter.
“I love to draw,” Raghad said in a half whisper as she hunched over her pad near her brothers. “We draw all the time at home.”
The final lesson consisted in placing road signs on a monster-size road map. Raghad’s 10 and 9-year-old brothers, raised their hands enthusiastically jumping out of their chairs to get the youth worker’s attention.
Their mother, Khoula, herself a high school geography teacher in Syria, sat nearby pleased that her children were making friends. The family has been in Turkey for only four months and already Khoula said the children were mixing their beginners English with Turkish. Raghad and her brothers now study six hours of Turkish a week. By next year, they will be doing 15 hours a week. They need to reach a level of fluency before joining regular classes.
Adapting to life in Turkey has been much harder for Khoula and her husband. She is unemployed and her husband, also a school teacher, now works on a road-paving crew. He earns 70TL (US$19) a day. Khoula aches for her days as a teacher.
But her children’s joy visibly tempers her anxiety. She smiles as she leans over her son Mahmud’s drawing. “It’s a house,” Mahmud proudly declares.
The meeting over, the students gather outside, reluctant to go home. Two girls, one Turkish, one Syrian walk arm-in-arm. And there is one last hug for Hilal, the TRC youth worker.

In collaboration with the Turkish Red Crescent Society, UNICEF has been supporting two Mobile Child Friendly Spaces with funding from the Government of Germany (KFW), the Government of Japan and the European Union (EU Trust Fund). Each reaches at least 400 children a month. They have been working closely with the Provincial Directorate of National Education and local authorities on selecting the schools where the spaces will be located. Both Turkish and non-Turkish children are able to benefit from the spaces.
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org