Teachers Village, Turkey
#greensilkroad post nr 7
Many weeks have passed since my last post and I guess that’s a good sign: a lot of experiences keep piling on top of each other. So much happened, we met so many new friends, developed so many new ideas, that I just don’t know where to begin. Of course the best would be for you to join us and share in this abundance directly. So let’s start from where I am writing this now: Southern Turkey.
We are on our way back from Europe to India and on our way we met a young English teacher from Iran and now the three of us (Naimeh, Mahshid and me) are travelling together. It has been my dream for many years to do a tour past as many Ashoka fellows as I can, observe their work from up close, immerse myself in their environment, and now I am living it!
The place where we are staying is a training centre for teachers involved in changing the education system in Turkey. From a smattering of wooden and adobe huts we overlook a mountain range near the Aegean sea, covered in ancient olive groves and pine forests. The sound of cicadas, the smell of lavender and very blue, blue of the sea and sky remind us that we are in the Mediterranean.
Thousands of years old Lycian walking paths connect the site with other sacred spots. One such site is the Aisklepion temple, dedicated to Asclepius, Greek God of medicine – once a hub for holistic healing. Yesterday one of the young teachers who came for a summer holiday gathering explained that in the olden days patients were cured here by a community of herbalists, artists and peers. They were encouraged with positive affirmations and guided in their healing process with drama exercises performed in a dedicated amphitheater, while various naturopaths exchanged remedies to find the most relevant therapy.
OK, maybe it wasn’t quite as rosy as I just described, but there is a lot worth reviving and re-integrating into our current health care system. Why are hospitals places for separation and not integration? We split ourselves into specialisations, different roles, departments, etc. Is this how healing happens?
Why am I writing about hospitals when we’re in a teachers village on an ecological Odyssey? Because I woke up to the importance of healing in every aspect of our work and life. I know it’s late, and I am trying to understand why. I admit I feel uncomfortable with the word “healing” which I assume is the result of social conditioning (“healing” is a word for vague New Age softies and escapists). I’m getting over that now. Healing, healing, healing. There, I said it!
Education, community governance and conflict resolution can be sources of trauma as well as healing. Just like food, buildings, and possibly the entire economy. It’s not for nothing that the new trend in sustainable development is called “regenerative agriculture”.
But what does this mean for those of us working in schools? Right now in my hometown Auroville we are undergoing a traumatic divorce among community members involved in education. We are confronted with a choice: we can suppress the pain and hurt caused by the separation and get “back in line”, “do our job and not make a fuss”; or we can see if this episode can be used for the greater good, such as healing prevalent dis-ease in the relation between parents, teachers, kids and administrators.
For education to fulfil its healing potential educators cannot ignore dis-harmony within their own realm – just as strife in the kitchen results in unhealthy food. This does not mean teacher circles should become group therapy sessions – too much navel-gazing can be counterproductive- but the health of the school cannot be separated from the health of the system in which it is embedded.
Turkey is going through traumatic times, with political polarisation and oppression, and teachers are very aware of their potential role as a ray of hope and humanity. This is a huge responsibility but they are bearing it brightly together. Theirs is a community of practice, with strong solidarity and support. The key, according to founder Burak Ulman (his NGO is called Another School is Possible) is active connections. Every morning starts with a circle gathering with gentle but honest and frank sharing of feedback. Their governance and conflict resolution is based on sociocracy and non-violent communication.
Now one of the challenges is financial independence and Burak plans to harvest olives from the neighbours’ orchards and sell the oil to fund the organisation.
I feel blessed to experience such a living embodiment of education as a source of healing, and to feel accepted as part of this tribe midway between my motherland in the West and my village in the East. Everyone is excited about the prospect of mutual exchange visits and shared journeys with our respective school classes. I have learned that the network of peers I imagined actually exists for real, and I am struck by a huge relief. Sometimes education and healing really do go hand in hand.