Eco-Outreach in Germany, With a Turkish Accent


Gülcan Nitsch (left) and other members of 'Green Band.' Photo by Yeşil Çember/BUND Berlin via MiGAZIN

Living in predominantly Turkish neighborhoods, speaking primarily in Turkish, and shopping at Turkish markets just like the ones back home, Turkish immigrants to Germany are often seen as having failed to integrate with the culture of their new country -- a culture that includes environmental laws and consciousness largely foreign in Turkey. But one child of migrant workers is bringing that ethos to other Turkish people in Germany, in their own language and on their own turf.As a young person curious about the environment, Gülcan Nitsch, whose parents migrated to Berlin in 1970, joined the youth branch of Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) and started to participate in their panels and conferences. "Thanks to these activities, I had the chance to meet many environmentalists. But I never met... a single person with a Turkish background among the volunteers, let alone someone who worked for the organization," Nitsch said on a recent episode of the CNN Türk series "Turkey's Changemakers," which profiles Turkish people making a difference. "This also applied to large seminars and conferences that sometimes had up to 300 to 400 people. Therefore, I decided to go and talk with the Turkish people."

The relationship between Turkey and Germany can perhaps be compared to the one between Mexico and the United States -- as with the bracero agreement of 1942 that brought thousands of Mexican farmworkers to the U.S., a 1961 deal allowed Turks to migrate to Germany as workers. But though valued for their labor, both immigrant groups have faced prejudice and marginalization.

Educating Shoppers at Berlin's Turkish Markets
"Today, the biggest problems of the Turkish community are lack of education and high levels of unemployment... The unemployment rate for Turks living in Berlin is around 45 percent," Özcan Mutlu, a Turkish-born Green Party member of the Berlin state parliament, told CNN Türk. "When people confronted with problems like these, it becomes harder for them to concentrate on other issues such as the environment."

Nitsch is working to change that by reaching out to members of the Turkish community in Germany one on one, talking to them about environmental issues at the weekly Turkish market and distributing reusable cloth shopping bags along with Turkish-language pamphlets on four main topics: saving energy, the perils of plastic bags, the benefits of organic products, and the effect of household cleaning supplies on the environment.

The group she founded within BUND, Yeşil Çember (Green Band), publishes a Turkish journal on environmental issues, runs seminars and training programs -- some specifically for women -- visits people at their homes to hand out energy-saving light bulbs, and has organized an annual Environmental Day that is now in its fourth year.

Changing Everyday Habits
"We used to open the windows when the heater was on. We do not do this anymore. We used to throw away used batteries. Gülcan taught us that we should recycle them. [She] taught us very useful information indeed," Berlin resident Seher Türk told "Turkey's Changemakers."

Nitsch says she has heard similar stories from many Turkish families in Germany, who say her activism has inspired them to start recycling, using energy-saving light bulbs, or buying environmentally friendly cleaning products -- and to spread the word to other members of the community. Her group received an award last year from the Representatives of the Berlin Senate for Integration and Migration for its work supporting the integration of migrants in Germany.

"When people see me, they ask: 'So what does this do for you, what's in it for you to inform so many people about what is happening?'" Nitsch said. "Then I say, 'This world belongs to everyone and as a citizen of this world, it is my obligation to look after it; I feel this responsibility in my heart.'"

English-subtitled episodes of "Turkey's Changemakers," which highlights people contributing to social and human development in Turkey, are available on Facebook.
More about environmental issues in Germany:
Germany Stands Up For Science - Maintains 40% by 2020 Emissions Reduction Pledge
Germany: Unveiling Our Energy Future Before Our Eyes and Putting the Power Back in Our Hands
Showbiz Sustainability Scorecard: Germany No. 1
Germany Leads, US Still Brings Up the Rear: G8 Nations' Climate Change Performance Rankings Released
Germany Bans Planting of Monsanto GM Corn
First Organic Fast Food Chain Opens in Germany
First Solar City in Germany: Marburg City Council Approves Law Requiring Solar
Germany Gets Creative with Renewables

Tags: Activism | Berlin | Germany | Television | Turkey

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