Schools become agony-sharing bridges between Turkey and Myanmar

A devastating cyclone that hit Myanmar badly damaged one of the Turkish schools in Yangon.

Schools become agony-sharing bridges between Turkey and Myanmar

A devastating cyclone that hit Myanmar badly damaged one of the Turkish schools in Yangon.

Six Turkish schools, the only solid link between Turkey and Myanmar, have brought the hearts of hundreds of Turks and Burmese together in the face of disaster.

When a devastating cyclone struck Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) last Saturday, certainly the hearts of the entire world went out to the Burmese, but in Turkey, some people stricken with fear and worry as they had families, relatives, students and friends they loved and deeply cared about living at ground zero. Diplomacy and trade ties between Myanmar and Turkey are weak and hardly any tourists from either country visit the other one. There is no common history and the two countries are not bound by ties of a common ethnicity or religion. However, Turkish educators and entrepreneurs have so far opened six schools in Myanmar, currently attended by a total of 750 students. Horizon International Schools, which has four branches in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the center of the devastation, and two branches in Mandalay, has been a link between hundreds of people in Turkey and Myanmar as Turkish teachers who have lived there and families of those who still live there fear for the lives of relatives, students and friends they know.

Today's Zaman spoke with some of the teachers who have taught at the schools in Myanmar. They said that though they were in Turkey during the cyclone, their hearts are with their students in Yangon.

The time of the cyclone coincided with a trip some students of a Turkish school and their teachers made to Turkey for the sixth Turkish Language Olympics, which will end on June 1. The teachers' concern for their students who stayed back in Myanmar is matched only by the concern of the Burmese students' for their friends and families back home.

In Yangon, Turkish teachers are doing their best to support their students through the traumatic disaster. Their schools were once again ready for classes within three days of Saturday's cyclone; despite the difficulties they face in a country where blackouts and water cuts are frequent even without a disaster.

Students of the Horizon School are going back to school when the education season starts, on May 26. Summer classes resumed this past Wednesday. The school building was badly damaged. Its classrooms were flooded with the waters of the storm, the school yard was covered with felled trees and its soccer field was badly damaged. A teacher named Ömer who works at the schools said, "The damage caused to the building can be compensated over time. I am mostly sorry about the books we were prepared to give to the children this year. It had been so difficult to bring them into the country." But he quickly added, "Still, we are very happy that none of our students were harmed."

Everyone has been very helpful during the process of repairing the school. "Even members of the school board worked along with us like workers. Some of our students came to help us without looking at the condition of their own home. Our friends put a lot of effort into this. Particularly cleaning up the fallen trees, as we did not have an electric saw," said Said, another teacher at the school.

Thinking of Myanmar in Turkey

Some of the school's teachers, like Serkan Akar, could not be there to help. A physical education teacher and the principal of a Turkish school in Yangon, Akar was in Houston, Texas with one of his students for the International Science Olympics when the cyclone hit Myanmar. His father, İsmail Akar, in a phone interview with Today's Zaman, said that he was worried terribly when he heard the news about the disaster on TV. His daughter-in-law -- Saliha Akar -- was still in Myanmar. Luckily, he was able to contact Saliha about two days after the cyclone. "Saliha told me everything was okay, other than the roof of the school, which flew off with the cyclone. The houses of some Turkish families were also hit," he said. His worry has now turned to pride, as his son has flown back to Yangon to be with his family.

Murat Küçükdüğenci, the managing director of Horizon International Schools in Myanmar, was also with Akar in Houston at the time of the incident. However, he hardly considers himself lucky, as his wife and three children were at the center of the disaster. Küçükdüğenci, who visited our office yesterday, said he had been able to contact his wife and that she and the kids were alive, well and safe.

It is feared that the death toll in Myanmar may reach 100,000. The military government has already declared 23,000 people dead and 42,000 missing. Turkish teachers and their families here have at least shared, and hopefully somewhat alleviated, their grief and pain.

Küçükdüğenci says that one of the Turkish schools in Yangon is continuing to operate, even through the disaster. "As far as I know, 40 percent of our students are participating in the summer school classes and our school is the only one keeping its doors open during the disaster," he said.

Aid organizations from Turkey already lined up

Meanwhile, representatives of Turkish international aid organizations the Red Crescent (Kızılay), Kimse Yok Mu? (Is Anyone There?) and the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) told Today's Zaman on Friday they had completed preparations for sending teams to the disaster zone. Kimse Yok Mu? President Mehmet Özkara said he was in constant contact with his volunteers in Myanmar, but that all organizations were still waiting for permission from the government there to deliver aid within the country.

Turkish military cemetery escapes damage

The honorary consul of Myanmar in Turkey, Ercan Aygün, said Cyclone Nargis has spawned the largest disaster in the history of Myanmar. The cyclone devastated the southern part of the country, where people were already suffering from poverty and hunger, Aygün said. He noted that the Turkish schools in the region have sustained no major damage, adding that he is thankful the schools' personnel were not injured.

The Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) is sending an emergency aid team to the region and Aygün denied news reports that the government was blocking aid organizations. One newspaper had reported that a Turkish military cemetery in the country had sustained major damage but, Aygün did not confirm this. He explained that the Turkish cemetery, where 62,000 Turkish soldiers captured by British troops in World War I and exiled to Myanmar were buried, was actually located outside the disaster area.

Today's Zaman

Last Mod: 10 Mayıs 2008, 12:09
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