By Selman Aksünger
5 October 2023
On 6 February 2023, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake rocked Türkiye and Syria. More than 55,000 people were killed and 300,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Among those most affected by the disaster are young people. In August 2023, six months after the earthquake struck, UNICEF estimated around four million children in Türkiye were still in need of humanitarian assistance, including access to shelter, safe water, education, psychosocial support and medical care.
Using funding provided by Maastricht University’s Children’s Rights Research Fund, the Parliament of Earthquake Children in Türkiye (PECT) project will educate children aged eight to fourteen affected by the earthquake in Türkiye about their rights through a series of four parliamentary simulation workshops. The workshops will be held in Kahramanmaraş, the epicentre of the earthquake where many children are still living in temporary Şirikçioğlu & Arkas Container Camp. Each workshop will have capacity for 15 children to attend, meaning the project will reach around 60 children in total.
The initiative is a collaboration between PECT and local partner Yeryüzü Çocukları Derneği (YEÇED), a non-government organisation. Since 16 February 2023, YEÇED has run education and psychological support programmes in areas affected by the earthquake and has already reached 20,000 children affected by the earthquake. YEÇED also has experience holding similar parliamentary simulations in Turkey prior to the earthquake (especially for refugee children). In collaboration with PECT, these previous parliamentary simulations run by the YEÇED will be adapted to the earthquake context.
The aims of holding parliamentary simulation workshops for children in earthquake affected areas are threefold. Firstly, the goal is to engage children with thinking about how they can contribute to a fairer and more just society. Secondly, by teaching children how to advocate for their rights, the parliamentary workshops will also assist young people in their post-disaster rehabilitation and reintegration by giving them a sense of agency and developing their public speaking and communication skills. Thirdly, PECT will deliver training to local YEÇED staff. As such, PECT’s work in earthquake-prone areas of Türkiye is a sustainable investment in the future of both young people and their communities.
Learning by doing
The parliamentary workshops use an active learning strategy. Each group of children will be allocated a specific right (e.g. the right to education, health, family, clean water, and food) and provided with all the information necessary to prepare a proposal on it for the parliamentary plenary. In the parliamentary simulations the children will then practice advocating for their rights in accordance with Turkish law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The decision to use parliamentary stimulations to teach children about their rights and how to advocate for them is underpinned by research showing that active-learning methods assist young people in learning about politics. Additionally, the YEÇED staff have observed in their previous projects that children who participated in parliamentary simulations were better informed about their rights and more likely to advocate for their rights.
Empowering children in a post-disaster context
By using techniques that include role-playing, storytelling, and art-based activities the PECT project will provide a fun activity to children living in a disaster zone where psychological relief is much-needed. Moreover, research has shown that educating through active learning techniques enhances their capacity to contribute their safety and well-being. It is therefore hoped that teaching children their rights will help bolster their resilience in a post-disaster context and stimulate them to express their needs and concerns about the reconstruction plans of the cities.
The PECT project also aims to provide an additional educational opportunity to children in the epicentre of the earthquake affected area. As already noted, UNICEF have indicated that schooling of children in these areas has been disrupted. As such, the PECT project hopes to contribute to closing the educational gap between the children in earthquake zone and other parts of Türkiye.
Teaching children’s rights in a post-disaster context and beyond
The PECT project also seeks to provide sustainable teaching infrastructure. Training will be provided to local YEÇED staff about how to teach children’s rights to young people in a disaster context by PECT project lead Selman Aksünger, who is also a PhD candidate at Maastricht University. This training will focus on how to integrate children's rights education into daily practices and plans for communities living in the Kahramanmaraş Şirikçioğlu and Arkas Container Camp, rather than teaching rights as a general knowledge.
The training will be done by way of three mentorship sessions for YEÇED staff and volunteers working in the Şirikçioğlu and Arkas Container Camp. At the sessions, best practices for teaching children's rights and lessons learned in previous projects will be discussed. By working with and training local service partners the PECT project seeks to create a sustainable way for children to learn about their rights beyond the PECT project’s end.
The next blog from the PECT project team will be about the experience of holding the parliamentary simulations for children in earthquake affected areas. This second blog, which will be co-authored by YEÇED staff members, will look at both the successes and lessons learned for the future. We look forward to updating you soon.