ANKARA, Turkey, 12 May 2011 – Thirty-three child members of Turkey’s provincial child rights committees undertook a train journey of almost 2,000 km in April, as part of a UN joint programme targeting the development of Eastern Anatolia through cultural tourism.
“I expected it to be very tiring and it was,” said Ismail Pelenkoglu, one of the children who made the journey, and a national coordinator for the child rights committees. “But we learned a lot about our culture. We also made a lot of new friends.”
Promoting cultural heritage
The journey of the ‘friendship train’ began in Istanbul and ended four days later in Kars in north-eastern Turkey. “For me, it was also interesting to meet children in the cities which we visited, and find out what their lives are like and what issues they are facing,” said Ismail.
The trip was the culmination of two years of work by UNICEF, Ankara University Education Sciences Faculty, the child rights committees and the government in order to turn museums into places that children enjoy. It also aims to raise awareness of cultural heritage, support the creative skills of children, and establish permanent and participatory learning environments.
This work formed part of a UN joint programme funded by the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund, entitled ‘Alliances for Culture Tourism in Eastern Anatolia 1’. It has resulted in the development of a package of museum education materials which have been published as a set of five easy-to-use books.
The package includes an innovative peer-to-peer module, which the boys and girls aboard the train were the first to use, and has already attracted international attention. The same partners have also collaborated to furnish and decorate children’s rooms in museums in Kars and Erzurum, so that visiting children will have space for their activities.
“We are determined to spread this work to all provinces of Turkey,” said Damla Güldogan, the other national coordinator for the child rights committees.
The special train set off from Istanbul on 18 April. The speakers at the farewell ceremony included UNICEF Turkey Representative Ayman Abulaban. The child passengers – some of whom had never travelled by train before – were joined by adult child rights representatives, as well as UN joint programme delegates and collaborating institutions.
While on board, the children took part in various educational activities organised by academics from Ankara University, kept diaries, produced a newspaper containing observations about each day’s activities, and documented their journey with video cameras. Organisers of the trip included the Social Services and Child Protection Agency, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, UNICEF and Turkish State Railways.
The ‘friendship train’ received a marvellous welcome at its first stop in Eskisehir, with children and adults crowding the platform amid singing and dancing. The next day, the train reached Ankara. Here, the passengers visited the Grand Mausoleum of Atatürk, the founder of the
Turkish Republic, where they laid a wreath and signed the special visitors’ book. They also visited the CerModern Art Museum.
After an all-night train journey, the ‘friendship train’ passengers awoke in Sivas railway station, where they were greeted by the provincial governor and other local officials. The children then visited the Republic Museum and Sivas Archaeological Museum. A festival including examples of local folklore and culture was held in the garden of the Archaeological Museum, and many local children participated.
The next stop on the train’s journey was Erzurum, where the passengers and local children walked to Atatürk House for the opening ceremony of the new Children’s Museum Room. A similar room opened in Kars in January. Museum Director Mustafa Erkmen expressed how happy and proud he was to be hosting Turkey’s second child museum room. UN Joint Programme Manager Nese Çakir and UNICEF Turkey Deputy Representative Regina De Dominicis were among the speakers.
The ‘friendship train’ passengers then took a city tour, while twenty girls and boys from Erzurum’s Child Rights Committee became the first children to use the Erzurum Children’s Museum Room.
On day four, the train arrived in Kars, where the children were welcomed by the deputy governor, mayor and many other local officials, as well as children. The travellers then visited the Kars Minstrel Culture House, where they enjoyed a performance by local artists and had lunch with local boys and girls.
The train journey attracted considerable publicity for the UN joint programme. A crew from children’s television channel TRT Çocuk charted the train’s journey, while well-known news website ntvmsnbc.com published a special train diary each day. Many other national and local media outlets also carried news of the train’s progress.
Although the train has come to a halt, momentum is still building. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has decided to expand the child room model to other museums, and is also considering the establishment of museums targeted specifically to children. A forthcoming protocol between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Ministry of National Education is expected to help further institutionalise innovations developed during the programme.