Nick’s Adventure: Izmir – Found in Translation, NGO Interview

Turkish Ministry of Youth and Sport Workshop

Today was a great, busy day.

Izmir-based Learning Designs (LD) volunteers Buket and Hasan picked me up at the Izmir bus station, took me a to a delicious breakfast (which included my first experience of boyoz, a flaky, bread-type breakfast food, and an Izmir specialty), then to a few important spots around town (including Konak Tower, in Konak Square), before we met with Ömer Farik Koçhan, another LD volunteer and trainer that would very kindly be driving us around today as well as serving as Master Translator for both conversations as well as the two big appointments we had today.

First up, we headed to the Turkish Ministry of Youth and Sport´s Izmir location, where the LD volunteers had scheduled a workshop for us to connect with their staff and youth leaders from the program, which serves youth in many ways, like functioning as an after-school community center of sorts, and offering regular programs and organized activities centered on youth engagement, inclusion, healthy living, and empowerment.

Upon arrival, we met up with the other LD volunteers that helped make all the Izmir connections and magic happen, and would assist with the day´s activities (7 total), took a quick tour of the beautiful grounds (all Turkish Ministry Youth and Sport locations are housed in historical buildings, which have preservation rules applied, so while they are modernized in some ways, they retain the charm and beauty of their original design), met with the volunteers and youth leaders from the program, and prepared the upstairs room for our workshop.

Before moving forward, I must include a Huge thank you to Izmir LD volunteer Ömer Farik for what took place next, and throughout the day. Not only did he give us all rides around town, he also was an incredible translator, communicating everything I said in English (including instructions throughout the workshop, processing questions, all dialogue, etc.) into Turkish so everyone could be on the same page, and he did so in real-time, which is incredible. Obviously, this experience would not have been possible without him, so I thank him deeply for his selfless help.

Once everyone arrived and was ready (about 15 – 17 people in all), we got started with the workshop, which was based on experiential learning principles and would include the use of Learning Designs’ innovative, fun games and tools to teach lessons on leadership, inclusivity, teamwork, cross-cultural communication, and more. First off, we circled up and did some energizers (face shake-out, pass the sound, movement introduction) to get the energy levels up and have everyone´s minds ready to engage and participate. Once warm, we did the ball toss exercise, which at its core includes creating a pattern by throwing a small ball to someone else in the circle after making eye contact and saying the name of the ball recipient. I chose this activity for its quick implementation, its relative ease of learning the ¨rules,¨ its ability to create cohesion with a new group through familiarity and increased name recognition, and for its flexibility in allowing a wide variety of processing potential, from surface-level to incredible depth.

After we went through a few rounds, I engaged the group with some processing questions, and all involved really brought their whole selves to the activity, as we were able to get insight on topics such as what makes a good leader, what motivates those in the group, the pervasiveness of hierarchies, and also made some connections between the exercise and how the volunteers and youth leaders see the need for implementing new, more innovative ways to market the center and their programming. The Youth and Sport participants also found a connection between the exercise and their need to increase the amount of outreach and listening to their target audience (youth in Izmir) in order to plan programming, so the youth are dictating what will serve them best rather than the planning and creation phase beginning at the organizational level. There were more insights, connections, and great discussion throughout the exercise.

Up next, I facilitated the next learning game, known as Topik (created and developed by Learning Designs, using colorful, engaging, durable materials) which has participants work together to achieve a common goal. We differentiated the experience for participants by initially having everyone on the same team, and then splitting the teams in two, effectively having the teams compete against each other, to see what learning and ideas could come from the experience. Needless to say, the energy really ramped up with this game, and once we stopped for processing and debriefing, it seemed everyone was ready to relax and reflect on the experience we had all shared. The debriefing brought about a number of insights, ideas, interestingly unique experiences, and connective moments. This game was definitely a success.

After taking part in two fun exercises, I could feel the energy in the room dip a bit, and sensed participants may want a break. After asking them, and confirming my suspicions, we decided to break for the day and go downstairs to enjoy some bread, çay, and conversation. One of the youth leaders was particularly engaged in asking questions (which I loved). She is a university student studying Islam, and was very curious about the role of religion in the U.S. (especially after learning I studied Religion in my undergrad days), and why it is that so many new religions come from the U.S. I learned that she currently plays viola, and finds hope and happiness in herself, in believing and relying on herself and her ability to do what she wants and needs, which I found to be an incredibly empowering response.

I opened the question up to everyone else in the room: Where do you find hope and happiness in your world?

Some mentioned looking for those things in little moments in the daily, in seeing and connecting with cats, and in family. This casual, open conversation was by far my favorite moment of the day, with everyone seemingly as curious about me as I was of them, and their daily lives.

Following the refreshments, I had the opportunity to interview the center´s Head Coordinator, Hazar Iscan, learning more about the the Ministry of Youth and Sport (Izmir), its mission, history, challenges the team currently faces, and why he thinks working there acts as a type of fountain of youth.

Overall, it was a tremendous, stretching experience, on that I hope others enjoyed as well.

Pi Gençlik Derneği

Immediately after the Youth and Sports workshop, the 6 LD volunteers and I piled into Ömer Farik´s car (a funny, tiny moment) and hustled over to visit with Turkey´s 2016 NGO of the Year, Pi Gençlik Derneği (Pi Youth Association). The Pi Youth Association, in its third year of existence, ¨…was founded for the youth’s progress of capacity, helping for developing positive behavior/ attitude, contributing to knowledge and skill of the youth and carrying on works aimed at solution of the youth’s problem…carries out activities regularly for their young members and volunteers. Besides it produces and conducts national projects, develops partnership on the determined 6 mission topics. Especially the youth in particular to classified as woman, person with disability, refugee, minority and in disadvantaged on the subject of sociality, economy, geography etc. – each individual who lives in Turkey ( between 15- 30 years) is focus group of Pi Youth Association,¨ (from

Here´s a quick video describing what the organization´s name symbolizes.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Demirkan Demir, the organization´s Head Coordinator. I wasn´t really sure what to expect of the meeting, but it was clear Demirkan was very well-prepared.

We all sat at a long conference table in the organization´s office suite, and Demirkan proceeded through a refined, comprehensive, hour-long power point / video presentation of the NGO´s background, mission, projects, vision for the future, and more, before opening it up for a free-flowing Q&A. Once again, HUGE thanks to Ömer Farik for translating the entirety of this presentation and my follow-up questions.

Pi Gençlik Derneği, based in Izmir, is a non-profit member of three international networks (including a member of the UN Global Compact and Google for Non-profit and two Turkish networks. The organization focuses on 6 main topics:

  1. Youth Rights (their main focus)
  2. Civil Society
  3. Tech-based Development – engaging with youth to create technological solutions and knowledge development
  4. Healthy Lifestyle – aka Active Aging
  5. Volunteerism Hours – the education of volunteerism, ¨volun-take-time¨
  6. Social Media Analysis

The Pi Youth Association has youth volunteers in all 81 cities in Turkey, and they seek to balance the fun some youth programs provide with the rigor and strong learning that others provide, for an engaging, exciting, developmental experience. They are partnered with the European Union Commission´s Erasmus+ Plus program which ¨…is the EU’s program to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. Its budget of €14.7 billion will provide opportunities for over 4 million Europeans to study, train, gain experience, and volunteer abroad¨ (from the EU´s Erasmus+ site).

They have developed and implemented youth programs in Turkey, Slovakia, and Poland, such as the 10-day ¨Being Youth in My Country¨ which helped youth investigate cross-cultural identity through education, social life, work life, and more, which resulted in each participating country presenting and sharing their projects with each other at the end of the program. The Pi Youth Association has also had programs on vocational education and youth engagement, combining a vocational education opportunity awareness campaign with an incredibly comprehensive survey of 5,000 youth from all 81 cities in Turkey. The survey sought to learn why Turkish youth, facing the challenges of youth unemployment and numerous university graduates with degrees but no work, were largely ignoring vocational education training and work opportunities.

The organization generated a 55-page report from the survey, with findings that surprised them. They anticipated most youth would have been pursuing other work for greater prestige and monetary gain, but found instead that youth were largely unaware of the vocational school opportunities available to them, and 60% of youth surveyed indicated they would like to take part in vocational training in the future.

The Pi Youth Association is involved in a number of exciting projects and will be a great organization to keep your eye on (and get involved with!) moving forward.

Many thanks to the amazing LD volunteers for making everything happen, and to the Pi Youth Association for opening their doors and time to us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.