Three years on from participating in EVA-FEM, Vesile spoke to us about how the project changed the course of her life.
EVA FEM stands for Empowerment, Vitality and Assertiveness, Female Education in Mentoring. EVA-FEM is designed to empower women, promote independence, and develop essential competencies. Project activities are based on non-formal and informal education around the topics of inclusion, equity, gender violence, gender discrimination, and the empowerment of women in general, but specifically those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We use and perfect the empowerment methodology that was developed during EVA-FEM on every Ikkaido project.
In 2019, Vesile was twenty years old and volunteering in a Turkish youth centre teaching children English. Vesile's dream since childhood has been to travel the world and visit as many different countries as possible, and so she was thrilled when her local youth centre invited her to a short project in the UK. As she described, "going to the UK is such a rare opportunity for many Turkish people." With little expectation of what the project would entail, Vesile set off to England to participate in a project that she would later describe as the best week of her life. Now, Vesile is about to move to America, having been accepted on three placements to do her post-graduate training as a cardiologist.
What was your experience of the EVA-FEM project?
"It was fantastic to be able to visit another country and experience another culture. There were forty women from seven different countries in one place - many of whom had never even been abroad. It was fascinating to see such different people interact and to see my people together with them. When you watch people from your nation interact with others, you begin to compare your attitudes and customs with theirs. You begin to question what is good and bad for you, what are other people doing and how can we all be better. I learnt so much from spending time with this group of people - it transformed my way of life. I think everyone needs to experience this perspective." I also really learnt a lot about education in my country and how it differs to others. I really enjoyed the non-formal approach we had during the project, we learnt skills through drama, role-play, music, and art, instead of using formal methods - it was so fun."
Non-formal education is the idea of handing over control of the learning as much as possible to the participants, rather than the teacher having full control. This fosters an environment based on equity and empowerment, and everyone is given a voice. The participants produce and deliver their own activities about the issues that are most important to them.
One of the best experiences from the project was undoubtedly the lifelong connections that I made. I met a girl called Vicky from Greece and three years later, we are still close. I've always dreamed of having friends and finding mutual understanding with people across Europe. It was such a rare and amazing opportunity and I feel very lucky to have had the chance of participating in EVA-FEM."
Vesile, pictured with some of the life-long connections she made during the project.
What was the biggest lesson you learnt from your experience?
"EVA-FEM gave me the confidence to see myself in a different light. It inspired me to do things I never thought I could.
Everything we did in the seven days led me to this. The very first exercise on the first day helped me to leave my comfort zone and open up to the learning and other participants. We were put into groups and engaged in a non-formal learning exercise; the task was to extract images and words from women's magazines to create a poster that represented a view of the modern woman. Looking through the magazine's, I began to identify some troublingly superficial representations. As I brought one up to the poster, I instinctively asked permission from the group. I realised that I had needed approval to express myself about a very real issue experienced by so many women. I would never do that again.
We never spoke about who would present the poster and whose English was best, but as we walked up to present, I felt a change in myself. I just stood up and started talking about the things that I wanted to talk about. It was the very first day I did something by myself. I was shocked at how fast it happened to me. I couldn't believe I was the one presenting.
"It was the very first day I did something by myself. I was shocked at how fast it happened to me."
Another key moment that helped me change my self-perception and have greater self-belief was during an exercise where we had to create a performance based on a certain topic. Our topic was personal space. It was the third day of the project, and we were deciding who would play the lead role. I noticed the progression that I had made in that day because, again, something inside of me urged me to put myself forward and play the lead role. It was so liberating. Everyone said to me at the end 'you have a talent for theatre' and I thought; no, but I like it - it gave me confidence. It made me realise that I could do things that I didn't think I could do, and it changed my vision of what I thought was possible for me."
Vesile pictured in Christ Church Hall, University of Oxford during EVA-FEM.
You say that your experience helped change the course of your life. How so?
"I believe that no one thing can change your life, but it's kind of like a puzzle, you know? There are so many factors coming from different environments around you; the people that you have met, the places that you've been, every experience that you have comes together and they create a great puzzle that changes the course of your life.
This project was a great piece for my puzzle because I learned that I could overcome the barriers in my life such as needing money to go abroad, getting permission from my parents, overcoming the language barriers, and having the courage to go. I realised that my dream of traveling was not impossible. After this project I learnt that I already have everything that I need - and the things I don't have - I have the power to work for. It gave me the self-belief that I needed to follow my dream. That was the biggest lesson I learnt. The change in my self-perception and attitude was the change that led me to make decisions that got me to where I am today. Now, I'm in my last year of medical school and I am about to go to America to start my post-graduate training to be a cardiologist. During the project, my view of myself changed. I realised I have the power to change my life and achieve my dream."
"After this project I learnt that I already have everything that I need - and the things I don't have - I have the power to work for. It gave me the self-belief that I needed to follow my dream."
We discussed the multidimensional nature of the project. How did EVA-FEM help you overcome some of the barriers/obstacles in your life?
One of the tools that EVA-FEM taught me was how to meditate and practice mindfulness. This is something that I have carried with me going forwards and something that I use in my everyday life to deal with stress and anxiety.
Self-defence was another great lesson from the project. I felt so empowered by the self-defence - I realised that I actually am able to defend myself. As a woman, sometimes it's hard to imagine yourself fighting against a man, but when you realise that you just need to know the correct techniques you realise that you do possess the power to defend and protect yourself. That also made me feel more confident to go abroad alone and pursue my dream.
"As I said earlier, I see life like a puzzle, and this project helped me find more pieces than ever. I've learned so many things and when I went back to Turkey, I thought, that was the best week of my life. I just kept saying it to everyone around me."
One of the greatest lessons I took away from the project was learnt during an intercultural night. When I go away to do my doctorate, I'm going to be a foreigner in a different country. That's harder than you think. During the cultural night we shared videos and pieces of our culture. It's important to learn about other cultures and different countries and I'm happy with people asking questions about my country and culture - I love to share and learn! Discussing our different cultures helped me find where my boundaries lie when learning about each other. For example, I don't mind answering questions about people's preconceptions of my culture and country if they listen to my answer, but I've learnt that if they ask twice, they're undermining me and using it as a weapon against me. The project helped me learn how to have and uphold boundaries, maintain respect, and how to answer people's questions. That has given me the strength and tools to deal with any prejudice I may face when I move abroad."
Do you have anything else to add?
"To leave your country and everyone you love behind you is a huge decision. I won't have anyone in the USA, and I will have to speak a completely different language. My experience on the project helped me make the decision to leave because now I know that I can improve myself and that I must go outside of my comfort zone if I want to follow my dreams. I have the self-belief to make these life-changing decisions now and the confidence to see them through because of what I learnt about myself on the EVA-FEM project."
Vesile and other EVA-FEM participants on the last day of the project jumping for joy with their Youth Pass certificate's.