Didem Doğan

Dreams Academy in a Mediterranean Village: the door to an alternative life

Located on a hill village in the Mediterranean region in Turkey, namely Cukurbag Village, the Dreams Academy is an open air complex converted from an old primary school. The Academy itself is based in Istanbul, here in Kaş, since 2014 it serves mainly outdoor activities for ‘Alternative Camp’ a programme for disabled and a project for adolescent girls who are socially disadvantaged. I spoke to Alper Akça, the project manager and asked him how his idea come into reality. It is such an interesting story by his own words: “I started to think on the concept of ‘women empowerment’ back in times when few people used to talk about the concept in Turkey. Mainly in the US, also in India, Pakistan, in countries where there’s a sharp social distinction between men and women the projects of empowerment are taking place in various ways, as personal development programmes, annual projects, etc. As we were specialised on ‘Alternative Camps’, an outdoor camp for disabled people, we developed the project on the same line, focusing on outdoor activities for adolescent girls; the name itself explains it ‘the empowerment programme for 12-18 year old adolescent girls by outdoor activities’. These are one week programmes in open air with 10 to 15 children each week and workshops are realised by participation of young women volunteers. I wrote this project in 2009 but at that time our application was denied. Today ‘empowerment’ is a global concept discussed in international summits and included in States’ policies, and with United Nation’s ‘He for She’ campaign a big part of funds are directed to these kinds of projects. It is interesting indeed how the capitalism in crisis looks for alternative ways to survive by focusing and investing on women. The actual system, based so much on men power and male energy, needs a balance and the participation of women is a solution (in my opinion). So the project was waiting on the shelf. Empower- the Emergent Markets Foundation, with its Head Office in the US, is an association founded by finance backed investors, both individual and corporate; it focuses on emerging markets and funds youth projects; it is a way of investment in societies they work with, their aim is indeed to distribute these funds. When we met the Responsible person in Turkey, Ms. Bikmen, she was quite enthusiast by the project. There was really lack of such project in Turkey that focused mainly on adolescent girls- an extremely important age period. We started to work with the Ministery of Family. Our groups are made of adolescent girls who are under protection by the Ministry of Family: there are different branches as the House of Love, The Foster Families, Support Centers; 14.000 children are officially under protection in Turkey by the State, unofficially other 100.000 children are indirectly protected; so the number is almost 120.000! The first year we worked with the Rehabilitation Centers, the second year with Foster Families, and the third year with Children Support Centres. These kids live at places outside city centres, in dorms at 81 cities; and they have traumatic backgrounds (criminal, sexual abuse, etc). They arrive here with their teachers/responsable persons whom they call ‘Mum’ by their own vehicle/driver and stay for one week; we do not show their faces. Their programme consists of several activities such as diving, sailing, dance, etc., all of them outdoor activities given by both volunteers and professional instructors. We received about 400 volunteer applications among which 60 were chosen. We prefer college graduates as the volunteer represents a ‘model’ for these kids. At the end of each camp we do evaluate the process by academic tools. We have just finished our third year and the project has already become a brand.” Alper Akca’s photography exhibition ‘Trans-form’ can also be visited here at the exhibition hall. Congratulations Dreams Academy!