June 28, 2014

The love for service knows no boundaries

Abdülhamit Bilici

When several Turkish businessmen went to Romanian authorities 20 years ago asking for permission to open up a school in Romania, the Romanian officials were very surprised. They had high opinions of the Turkish people who had business operations in their country, but they believed that Turks were largely good at baking and making kebabs. Education, on the other hand, was a serious undertaking.

Indeed, an official from the Education Ministry had given a cold shoulder to the project, saying, "You have no experience with education." But upon repeated requests from Turkish businessmen, the ministry eventually allowed them to open up a school in an underdeveloped neighborhood of Bucharest.

Such an unfavorable start had given teachers volunteering at the school extra motivation, and they believed the achievements they would attain in a short time would dazzle authorities across the country. Indeed, students from Lumina Educational Institutions, run by Turkish entrepreneurs, started to form the backbone of student delegations representing Romania in international competitions. The average rate of admission to universities is 97 percent.

Lumina students have become so successful over the years that they have won one-third of the awards in national competitions. Celebrating this success, Romanian Education Minister Ecaterina Andronescu once praised Turkish educators: "You see how many awards they won. They deserve the most applause." The Romanian prime minister would receive and congratulate accomplished students and their teachers every year. The president would decorate them with awards for excellence.

The Education Ministry official who had said 20 years ago, "You have no experience with education," apologized for his attitude and expressed his appreciation for the Turkish schools. The Romanian parliament's Education Commission chose the Lumina Turkish schools as its model for a draft bill it prepared about private primary and secondary education. The commission invited the school directors to parliament to hear their proposals and recommendations on private education.

Today, Lumina Educational Institutions command a countrywide reputation and offer the best of educational services to 3,500 students at 10 schools. Recently, Lumina established a university.

Outside the schools, Turkish volunteers work as cultural ambassadors. They have been organizing a festival to promote Turkey and Turkish culture for the past three years. Some 200,000 Romanians attended the event this year. Mehter marching music and shows by whirling dervishes sparked the greatest interest at the festival. Hidayet Uslu, a teacher working at a language center who served as a volunteer in charge of beverages during the festival, says that she was very surprised with the high level of interest Romanians showed in the event. She said that they sold some 18,000 servings of gözleme (Turkish pancakes) and thousands of fez caps during the event.

Such is the prestige the Turkish schools in Romania, which hosted the song contests as part of the International Language and Culture Festival -- held abroad for the first time. A total of 100 students from 22 countries made it to the finals and came to Bucharest to attend the festival, which was hosted at the largest cultural center, Sala Palatului. As soon as they arrived in the country, they were received by the Romanian parliament. Many people had come to watch the event -- from the Netherlands, UK, Turkey, etc. -- and expressions of joy were mixed with tears during the event.

It was awesome to listen to students from Turkish schools in many countries, ranging from Mozambique to Germany, sing songs by Neşet Ertaş and Orhan Gencebay. Many members of the Turkish and Tatar society living in the Dobruja region had come to witness this memorable event. Moreover, Romanian ministers, deputies and many ambassadors in Bucharest attended the ceremony, which was broadcast live on Romanian TV.

This picture was proof enough that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government was doing it wrong when it told foreign governments to shut down Turkish schools, when it didn't give visas to students trying to attend the event and when it didn't provide venues for the organization to hold it. During the ceremony, Doina Pana, a Romanian minister, said, "You are doing what diplomacy cannot." Her words indicated the futility of the defamation campaign Turkish diplomats were told to conduct against the Hizmet movement. Professor Haluk Şükrü Akalın, the former head of the Turkish Language Society (TDK), has supported the Turkish Olympiads for 10 years without changing his position because of political developments. He delivered a message that drew attention to the mission of Turkish schools: "Hail those who make a homeland for the Turkish language abroad."

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 June 2014, Saturday

Related: Hizmet without borders