Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alternative camp , Turkey- Summer 2003

After a 13-hour journey from Istanbul, I stumbled off the bus and into an adventure I knew very little about. All the better really, because to have embarked on the project with any preconceptions would have been a huge mistake – the next five weeks were far more challenging, rewarding and fun than I could ever have imagined, especially as this was my first experience working with disabled people. I was volunteering in Alternative Camp, a centre in Southern Turkey which offers sports and social activities for groups with all kinds of special needs.

As volunteers we were given the rather daunting task of running the camp on a day to day basis, as well as organising activities such as swimming, origami, English lessons and basketball. I soon realised that this included cooking for over 40 people (I learnt how to peel a cucumber to perfection) and cleaning the guest rooms/toilets – really fun, honestly! One of the best parts was the constant variety. The groups who came every week ranged from kids with Downs Syndrome and autism to a wheelchair basketball team. We ended up playing blind football, singing ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ in Turkish too many times to count and having a disco every single night without fail…!

Being able to see the pleasure we were giving the guests (for whom life in Turkey is a real challenge as there is very little government support) was really rewarding. For example the excitement of taking a man with cerebral palsy into a swimming pool for the first time in his life brought our group together in an incredible way.

In our free time we managed to cook a full English breakfast despite frequent power cuts, developed a taste for Kurdish music and went on a chaotic road trip, spending the night on a deserted beach being attacked by mosquitoes!

Leaving the camp and saying goodbye to everyone was one of the hardest things I have ever done but we’ve all got some amazing memories and the knowledge that as volunteers we made a real difference. I’ve come back to England much more aware of the difficulties disabled people overcome and already planning my next project!

Louise Treves, Alternative Camp

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