Monday, September 27, 2010

Illiteracy does not just mean the inability to read or write

“As I would board the bus, I would ask the driver shyly whether the bus was headed in the direction I needed to go. Now, I can read the bus route. I can go wherever I want without asking anyone.”- Emine S.

“I couldn’t go to the hospital alone before. Since I couldn’t read, I couldn’t find the department I needed to go to. I was afraid to ask. I would spend so much time looking. Now I can find the hospital departments without asking anyone. I can read the door plates.”-Hamiyet K.

“My greatest wish was to learn phone numbers. When somebody gave me their number I couldn’t write it and I felt miserable. Yesterday I got a phone call. They wanted to talk to my husband. I said he wasn't home and wrote their phone number. I am so happy.” -Muteber B.

As surprising as it may seem, Emine, Hamiyet and Muteber live in Turkey’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, Istanbul. Until they enrolled in the Mother and Child Education Foundation (ACEV)’s Women Empowerment and Functional Literacy Program (FALP), they could not read.

These women are not alone. There are several thousands of women, of all ages, who like Emine migrated to Istanbul, but who are unable to integrate into city life because of illiteracy. Illiteracy does not just mean the inability to read or write. It is a situation that prevents, mainly women, from living a normal life. For the past year, FALP has helped to change that in three disadvantaged districts in Istanbul.

From October 2009, FALP has implemented a literacy program for women in their 30s and 40s in Eyup, Fatih and Kagithane, where there is a high percentage of migrants from southeastern and eastern Turkey. The majority are migrants with only a primary school education for the men and only a few years for the women. In most instances women from these parts of Turkey never even enrolled in a classroom.
With the assistance of three volunteer teachers selected by ACEV’s Functional Literacy Program, 65 women from these Istanbul districts developed basic primary school level reading skills in three months.

FALP aims “for participants to gain skills that would boost women’s status in society and the family, such as using literacy skills in daily life, benefiting form the right to lifelong education as an informed citizen, and understanding the importance of educating female children.” Raising literacy rates in Turkey is one step in the right direction.

As a result of ACEV’s literacy program, there are several dozens of women in Istanbul more confident and able to function independently in their daily lives. Pleased with its results, ACEV plans to offer more advanced courses for these women. It also plans to expand the program to other districts in Istanbul.

ACEV's FALP program is a recent grantee of TPF. Read more on the outcomes of the project here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tweetchat on female education and literacy

We just had a very lively discussion on Twitter on female education and literacy. Thanks to everyone who joined us.
If you missed it, you can read back through it here: 

Visit TPF website.

Monday, September 13, 2010

If a Turkish girl can be President, can she change a tire? Only if she has an education.

Posted by Elmira Bayrasli

My father doesn’t think I should change a tire. I am, after all, a Turkish girl – and Turkish girls don’t change tires. Interestingly, he does think that I should and can be whatever I want to be – President of the United States for example. Hence, why he encouraged me - no scratch that - ordered me to study – a lot. “Education,” he would say, “is the most important thing in the world.”

That is, unfortunately, not the norm in Turkish culture. More than half of Turkish girls do not receive anything beyond the mandatory primary education. Today, only 57.2 percent of Turkish girls are enrolled in secondary school and only 18.7 percent in tertiary – and that is an increase over the past ten years. It is a disturbing gender gap, especially for a country that has aspirations to belong to the European Union. That is why I’m so glad to be involved with the Turkish Philanthropy Funds (TPF).

In name, TPF is a foundation that assists individuals eager to make philanthropic donations to Turkey. They’re an information and due-diligence resource that helps people make knowledgeable choices in charitable giving. Translated, they’re a convener and a community eager to make a positive impact on Turkey, in four specific areas:

  • Gender Equality
  • Arts & Culture
  • Economic Development (entrepreneurship)
  • Education

It’s two of these areas: gender equality and education and the work TPF is doing is why I’ve chosen to volunteer my Wednesday mornings working at their offices.

TPF identifies, evaluates and partners with non-profits that are doing measurable work with significant outputs in these areas. One of the organizations they’ve chosen is the Mother Child Education Foundation (ACEV). It is an organization that works with rural communities to develop early childhood and adult education programs. Among the programs that they support is educating….men.

Fathers, brothers and uncles hold the key to closing Turkey’s gender gap. They must be included in efforts to increase female literacy and school enrollment. That’s what I love about ACEV’s Father Support Program. It works to “address the parenting skills and attitudes of fathers.” ACEV works with the Turkish education ministry and other education professionals to develop programs that encourage men to not only support female education, but to be involved in their daughter’s success. Beyond cool.

It is a program I found out about through TPF, as a result of the resources it makes available to those interested in making a difference in Turkey. TPF has a team that works to identify non-profits working in the four areas of focus I outlined above. More importantly, it works to ensure that those non-profits and the programs they’re implementing are having a significant and measurable impact. TPF is the quality control of Turkish philanthropy.

And quality is something we’re all looking for in every aspect of our lives. Yet somehow we don’t make it a priority when we’re giving. Our charity is, more often than not, driven by guilt as a palliative rather than thoughtful deliberation on what will affect long-term progress. The Turkish Philanthropy Funds has created the platform to help turn giving into something that is part of a community rather than conscience. It is a place to affect real change.

For me changing the lives of Turkish girls by giving them a chance at an education couldn’t be more thrilling. They’re capable of so much. And that capability is something Turkey desperately needs.

Elmira Bayrasli writes and works on economic development issues. She is writing a book Under-Development about her experiences working in government and with entrepreneurs.

Please join her in a Twitter chat to discuss this issue of female education and literacy next Monday, September 20 at 2PM EST/9PM IST using the hashtag #girlseducation.

Visit TPF website.