If you would ask me about the best times of my life, one of them would definitely be my international voluntary youth camp experience. I still remember what an amazing two weeks I had in a small town in Spain with 20 young people all around the world when I was 19 years old (which is 5 years ago). It was an incredible experience to witness 20 strangers from completely different backgrounds turning into family members within only two weeks. For those two weeks, we lived like a small community. We cooked big amounts of food together maybe for the first time in our lives. Even though we were starving, waiting for that amateurish food to be served was one of the highlights of our days. Maybe none of the food was really tasty but the enjoyment we had by being together on that big table was something different. We cleaned our own mess, worked in a local music festival, we got exhausted but still stayed up late because there was so much to be shared and so much to be felt. It was not only sharing random moments of life, it was rather creating meaningful memories by feeling that everyone is happy to be there, all together. I, for the first time, experienced collective living as a participant in a voluntary workcamp and I cannot express how amazing of a feeling it was to be taken care of by one another even if we knew each other for only two weeks.
If our paths hadn’t crossed with GSM, I wouldn’t have had such an important, eye-opening experience in my life. Now let me introduce you to the organization which planted the idea of being a citizen of the world to my mind five years ago.
GSM (Gençlik Servisleri Merkezi) is an organization that is dedicated to helping young people gain a wider perspective in life by providing them with international voluntary experiences along with running effective local projects in Turkey to create awareness about gender equality, youth rights, and the importance of education. The organization is found in 1985 by a group of young people in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. Since then, GSM has been diligently working on creating a world where young people are more aware of their environments, of other cultures, and of inequities that prevent people from living in harmony.
Over the years, GSM has allied with international like-minded partners which allowed the organization to be recognized in the international arena and to offer a wider choice of international opportunities to youth. GSM has been an active member of CCIVS (Coordinating Committee For International Voluntary Service) and Alliance of European Voluntary Service Organizations. Both of these institutions are the end product of the international youth movements after the Second World War and since they were established, they have been offering their services to youth with the aim of a more peaceful future. Besides, GSM has been the partner of the Sustainable Development Goals Platform which is supported by the UN to find solutions to the moral, economic, environmental, and health problems of our current world.
As you see, the main goal of GSM has been to help build a more sustainable, dynamic, and open-minded future by strengthening equality and solidarity among young people. GSM acknowledges that youth is the future and the future can be shaped for the better with the right tools and approach.
With this understanding, the organization has been actively playing a part in the arrangements of international voluntary workcamps since 1985. Every year, these workcamps are held in 70 different countries with the participation of thousands of young people from all around the world. The initial idea behind the invention of international youth camps was to bring young people together to work on a solid goal to accomplish something, regardless of the individual’s nationality, gender, or race. Building a park for kids or cleaning a beach might look like simple tasks that don’t worth praising much. However, the biggest accomplishment of these workcamps is to make young folks aware of the pointlessness of discrimination in any form and to show how it is possible to live in harmony with diversity.
Along with workcamps, European Voluntary Service (EVS) is another project that GSM has been continuously contributing to. The aim of the EVS project is to encourage young people to take part in international projects for up to year-long durations. It is a great opportunity for young people to work for a matter they truly believe in whilst they challenge themselves to live in a different country with all the pros and cons. The subject of the projects varies between art, culture, education, climate change, health, agriculture, and more. Thus, participants have a chance to choose the subject which speaks to their hearts the most. After all, the growth comes by going out from the comfort zone and experiencing life from completely unfamiliar angles to have a better understanding.
The world is longing for kindness, understanding, and acceptance and none of these will happen as long as we keep alienate each other for endless, empty reasons. The prejudices we have only block reality and cause discrimination. What’s even more ironic is that most of the time our prejudices don’t even belong to us. We inherit them without realizing and let them be stick to us for maybe a lifetime. To break this vicious cycle, actions are more effective than words. Experiences have great power of reshaping the ideas and create powerful changes and GSM adopts this mentality. To be able to see the change that they believe in, GSM has been working persistently and has been offering young people priceless experiences.
By Duru Simsek, Balıkesir/TURKEY