My trip to the village last spring was the best ever. Shortly after arriving I asked someone on the city board if anyone was in charge of the wonderfully located storefront that served as a half-hearted Tourism/Information office for the few tourists who come throught the village in the summer. There were wonderful black and white framed photos taken 30 to 40 years ago hanging on the wall, but tourists rarely went inside to see them because the store wasn't particularly inviting. The mayor's office gave me permission to take over the place, and the fun started.
First, let me tell you about the location, because that's what made this place so ideal for what I wanted to do. This storefront adjoins Crazy Ali's wonderful meeting-tea-drinking-poetry-reading antique store -- (see <http://www.kilimwomen.com/ali.html> for photos). His English and German (and who knows what other languages) are excellent so the few tourists who came through were well taken care of.
But I this was exactly the kind of location I had dreamed of to serve as a center for training women in e-commerce skills so they could take over the kilim-program I had started (see <http://www.kilimwomen.com/success.html> for photos of the kilim school). This storefront office is the only place on the main street of the village where women are comfortable walking on a casual basis. For the most part women keep to the back streets, but because the Tourism/Information office is located where they cross over the main street and adjoins the little library where most of them went as students, I knew curiosity about our project would bring them by to peek in and maybe have a cup of tea.
So I was ecstatic about getting the okay to take over the place. My team of four young women headed by the Director-in-Training, Hatice) rolled up their sleeves and started ripping out old carpeting and throwing out old furniture, sweeping and washing. (see Hatice's report on the bulletin board at <http://www.barbarasher.com/ubb/Forum22/HTML/000010.html>.
My son (who comes in from Italy twice a year to help with the project) set up outdoor tables for chess so the passing men and boys would also feel welcome, friends moved furniture and painted the backs of metal chairs, which were being gorgeously covered with scraps of kilims donated by Crazy Ali. The best chair-upholsterer was a member of the Mayor's board of directors, a man who loves the village and enthusiastically adopted the project, smoothing our way whenever he could. (The mayor often came by to nod his approval as well.)
The main room became a lovely gallery for the photos. They looked great. With light pouring in through the floor-to-ceiling arched windows facing the street, the walls and floor in light brown and the ceiling in white, the black&white photos with their black frames and white mats looked wonderful. The metal desk was covered with a beautiful kilim and 2 more kilims donated by Crazy Ali lay on the carpeting.
One of the back rooms, now sparkling white with a bright blue rug and lots of little tables and chairs I had made by the local carpentry shop, became the school room for teaching English. I had brought dozens of my favorite illustrated English-language children's books, a white board and magic markers.
The other held the computer, and the third was a little dining room with a hot plate for making tea. (We were going to give cooking classes to the tourists, but never managed to work that in. Maybe next time.)
The location is also located perfectly for helping the girls practice English and start learn business skills because this is where the tourist buses pull up.
The people who get off the buses are mostly Turkish, but some bring Japanese or Germans, and Americans. Almost everyone speaks some English, and that's a great benefit for the girls. Because although everyone is taught English as their second language in school, without a chance to practice,they forget what they learned.
At first, the girls were hesitant to run outside when the occasional tourist bus showed up, but I hauled them out and showed them how I accosted the tourists, explaining that the brochures were free, that there was a wonderful exhibit inside (also free), that if they bought postcards from Ali, we could sell them postage stamps (soon my son was biking furiously down to the postoffice over and over to fill the need.).
They soon got the idea and now, led by my intrepid director Hatice, they fly out of their seats and go outside to welcome the tourists. They offer brochures about the village which are outside on metal stands, sell maps and answer questions about the village (with Crazy Ali stepping in as backup.)
When I returned to the U.S. in June the girls were on their own and I had my fingers crossed, but they were splendid. Their nightly reports told how they welcomed everyone who comes within 20 feet of the front door and are learning French and Japanese as well as English!
And they became, in fact, directors.
Because if someone wants to send emails or to scan photos or print something, even someone important, they must ask the girls. The girls are all women are such lightning fast learners that I put them in charge of the computer before I left and their position gives them great confidence. Although Turkey educates and respects women (women got the vote before we in the U.S. did!), in the smaller villages the men are still accustomed to being in charge, while women and boys mostly bring the tea. So being in charge of the Information Office computer is a great position for these girls, and soon gave them a new confidence.
When it got cold, the program halted and the doors closed. The computer went to my director's home where she sends nightly reports, is learning Excel and writes on my bulletin board to continue practicing her English. (Check it out with the link I gave you above. It's sure to win your heart: (see Hatice's report on the bulletin board at <http://www.barbarasher.com/ubb/Forum22/HTML/000010.html>.
After some restoration, I managed to set up a loom room in my home, and hire two weavers. (I write this in the winter, and we've added heaters and a stove for tea and lunch). I just got some photos of beautiful kilims and I'll scan a few for this newsletter.
I'm paying the miniscule salaries out of my pocket because I'm still in the process of trying to create a non-profit status, but it doesn't cost very much, less than most vacations, and I'm having the best time of my life, I'm helping people, and I'm not having a disruptive impact on this small, well-run village.
I'm hearing of a few others who have done similar things, and I wonder if we couldn't serve as a model those of you who wish you could help others in a more personal and enjoyable way than most big programs offer. (Look at some of their stories -- and add your own if you know of them -- at <http://www.barbarasher.com/ubb/Forum22/HTML/000008.html> ).
I think of the many letters I get from people whose dream is to be philanthopists, but they think they need millions of dollars, big administrative staffs and huge fund-raising events. So they settle for writing a check to some organization and assuming it's impossible to do anything less formal, more intimate.
And others who would love to join the Peace Corps but just can't commit to that kind of time. Everybody should pick a village and try to spend some time there every year and help the people in some way that's this enjoyable to them. And forget non-profits or grants or all that bureacratic lockstep stuff. Just go there, plop yourself down, get to know the place -- and then start something fun and useful and small scale.
If I ever find the time, I'm going to write up my experiences in the hopes of inspiring someone else.