Volunteer teaches Turkish earthquake survivors
Rotary Volunteer Margaret Curtis gets students involved during class at Sarayli Primary School in Değirmendere, Turkey. Photo courtesy of Curtis.
When Margaret Curtis, a retired professor, began looking for an opportunity to teach English as a second language overseas, she turned to Rotary. Her Rotary Volunteer experience would take her to a community that had survived one of the deadliest earthquakes in recent memory.
Searching for volunteer openings on the RI Web site, she found a program posted by local Rotarians that would require her to teach for about four weeks at Sarayli Primary School in Değirmendere, Turkey. Located in the country’s northern coastal area, Değirmendere was near the epicenter of the İzmit earthquake on 17 August 1999, a disaster that lasted less than one minute but claimed more than 17,000 lives and left thousands homeless.
In July 2007, Curtis taught English to two classes of 10- to 13-year-olds who had survived the disaster. “They were too young to remember the horror of it all, but the lives of their families were forever changed,” says the member of the Rotary Club of Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA.
A professor emeritus of religion and philosophy at Western Kentucky University, Curtis was used to the classroom setting, but in Değirmendere, she faced a few challenges. Loud bleating goats outside the school, for example, competed for the students’ attention.
On one occasion, she noticed some 16-year-old girls trying to listen in on the class from outside. She invited them to help tutor the younger students. It quickly became “a slick operation, with helpers and children all joining in enthusiastically and everyone benefiting from the learning process,” says Curtis. “To my amazement, the teaching methods worked, and the children started to speak very nice English.”
The Bowling Green club donated supplies including posters, activity books, pens, and stickers, and members of the Rotary Club of Kocaeli-Gölcük, who had arranged Curtis’s volunteer trip, invited her into their homes. “I have experienced a camaraderie and warm fellowship that extends way beyond language and culture,” she says.
It all added up to an unforgettable journey. “I could never have imagined how much fun and excitement the children would bring into my life,” she says.
This article appeared in the April issue of Rotary World .