Turkey is the country that hosts the highest number of refugees in the world. Because of the civil war in Syria, the southern border of Turkey has been crossed by more than 3.5 million people in search of refuge and security. 60 kilometers north of the border is Gaziantep, a city which is now home to about 500,000 refugees who are seeking to rebuild their lives. It is here that we will open the first international school for refugees in the world. At the center of this crisis, at the crossroads between the Middle East and Europe, we will create a space that welcomes refugee children and encourages their growth.
For the home of our school, we have chosen a bright and welcoming building in the neighborhood of Binevler, located in the middle of the city, and in close proximity to the poorest areas in which many of our students live. In Turkey, public schools are open and free for all boys and girls, including refugees, between the age of 6 and 18. However, the rate at which refugee children drop out of school is abysmal: according to national statistics, while 97% of refugee children attend fifth grade, only 57% move on to attend middle school. The situation in Gaziantep is even worse. Out of the 1700 children that complete elementary school, only 140 continue their studies. There are various underlying causes: unsuccessful social integration, cultural differences, and the failure of educators and teachers to manage relations between native and refugee children in the classroom. Additionally, the lack of economic opportunities for refugees in Gaziantep has created an environment in which children are pushed into child labour and daughters are married at very young ages.
Before opening Still I Rise International School in September, we are welcoming our upcoming students in our Beraber Youth Center. Our long term plan is ambitious: a seven-year curriculum of high quality education. The Youth Center provides the opportunity to develop educational for refugee students. At the same time, Beraber will also be useful for us to identify potential long term students for our upcoming International School.
The Beraber project is implemented in partnership with a local organization that is experienced in education. During the week we teach through recreational activities in English, Turkish and Arabic. We also lead activities in science and mathematics, which we recognize follow universal languages that can serve to unite the different cultures present in our center. There is also time allocated for Art and Sport activities. Teachers and students all have lunch together and enjoy breaks between lessons.
Beraber in Turkish means together - together with coordinators, teachers, and volunteers, the children at our center are developing to grow into themselves and to pursue their passions, all while sharing with one another.
Our school is an educational investment. We create change and opportunity. We work carefully to give back to our students the stability and structure they need to develop psychological wellbeing and the energy and hope to rebuild their right to peace and happiness. Our school’s curriculum begins with a preparatory year, in which English and a range of other subjects are taught in order to prepare students for the following international program.
Upon completion of the preparatory year, children will then have access to undertake their studies in the international middle school, which lasts four years and will provide them the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge in multiple disciplines: English as a second language, natural sciences and health education, technical and artistic skills, and many more. In these four years, students will be challenged to engage in inquiry in, and perceive the world through, multiple academic disciplines. These are skills they will need in order to succeed in the final two years of the international program. During the final two years of high school, for which they will receive an international diploma, students will have the opportunity to specialize in subject areas of their choosing in the hope that they will take control of their intellectual path. Rather than memorizing material and constantly taking exams, students in our school will be encouraged to reflect and communicate what they have learnt, to critically analyse and compare their knowledge, to learn how to express their thoughts and opinions effectively and intelligently. At the end of these three years they will possess an international diploma with the necessary credentials to successfully enroll in quality institutions of higher education and to apply for competitive positions. Students will have the opportunity to remain in Turkey and become an active member of society, or to return to their countries of origin and participate in the process of infrastructural and cultural reconstruction. If our graduating students wish to relocate to western nations, they will be able to do so with the unique skills and knowledge they have, improving and enriching society wherever they go.
Our school will be open from Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 18:00. Students will attend 45 minute classes with 15 minute breaks. We will offer every school day a nutritious and balanced lunch, adapted to all dietary restrictions. Additionally, we will allocate time and space for socializing, independent study, tutoring and recreational activities. Saturdays, especially, will be dedicated to quality free time. The school will remain open as a youth center to allow children to spend time with friends and pursue their hobbies. On these days, students will be able to meet, play, read together, and attend creative and sport-related courses. Every Saturday concludes with a dinner and dance party. The efficient operation of the school is thanks to the contribution of motivated and skilled volunteers who take care of the center and manage the extracurricular activities. Additionally, we employ a team of long term highly qualified teachers as well as an efficient team of staff coordinators who are ready to respond to any emergency on the field.