Istanbul Summer Campers Create a New Green Age


Summer-camp participants rally for their ecosystem teams. Photo via RC Summer.

It's hard to imagine what the adults waiting at the bus stop must have thought of the group of kids in matching baggy, lime-green T-shirts rattling and clanking plastic trays, tied-together aluminum cans, and wooden push brooms in a shy Stomp-style performance before sweeping up the garbage and "recycling" it in a big plastic can. But the captive audience dutifully listened as the mostly pre-teen students came over to hand out flyers about recycling and canvas shopping bags -- "They want us to use them instead of plastic," one older woman repeated to a fellow bystander -- then trotted onto their bus, carrying, to a one, their new "GreenAGE"-emblazoned sacks over their shoulders.While an actual "Green Age" is a ways off from arriving in Istanbul -- or, really, most anywhere -- a few hundred kids between the ages of 9 and 14 have gotten the chance to imagine what one might look like as part of an innovative summer camp hosted at the campus of Robert College, a prestigious private high school nestled into the woods above the Bosphorus strait.

Designing Sustainable Cities
In between skits, sports, "hang time," and other classic camp pursuits, participants in the English-language RC Summer program are designing kid-friendly sustainable cities suitable for various ecosystems as part of this year's GreenAGE theme. (Previous years' educational activities have centered around the cosmos, or lesser-known English-speaking countries, for example.)


Campers perform a Stomp-style recycling skit. Photo via RC Summer.

At the beginning of the three- to four-week day camp, the approximately 200 students are divided into five teams, each representing a different ecosystem -- desert, geyser, island, mountain, and wetlands -- that they must recreate in their assigned classroom. A rubber blow-up crocodile stalks the wetlands room, while a construction-paper waterfall flows from the wall of the mountain room and the desert room bakes under a hanging orb dripping crepe-paper rays onto a blazing-yellow floor mat. Then comes the tough part.

Choosing Eco-Friendly Power
"We tell them they have to create a city that has the things they would want to have in it and is also sustainable, with a power source suitable for that environment -- for example, solar in the desert, or bio-mass in the wetlands. We don't tell the kids which power source to choose, but we try to point them in the right direction," says Joe Welch, a longtime expat who has been directing the summer program since the early 2000s. "Basically, it should be an eco-friendly place where they would like to live."

Each ecosystem team is then further divided into five "professions." There are managers who assess the "city's" needs and learn to cooperate and negotiate with other cities; activists who make signs promoting things like recycling and saving energy and organize "protests" around the campus; tourist guides who promote the city, often with raps, skits, and other types of performances; engineers who make models of the wind turbines, sea-water filters, and other technologies the city will need to run itself; and artists who draw up maps and other visual depictions of what it will all look like. At the end of the session, an "ecocouncil" made up of core camp staffers visits each city to assess how well its "residents" have done.


Campers see where their trash ends up on a visit to the Istanbul dump. Photo via RC Summer.

The camp's community-service component also has a green theme this summer. Coordinators Melisa Korkmaz and Felise Berra sign up young volunteers each week to try and take RC Summer's environmental message out into the community. One week, students set up recycling bins and passed out information in front of cafes -- then took what they collected to Istanbul's massive landfill and recycling center. "It was so smelly, some of the kids were almost throwing up," Korkmaz says. "But it was really something for them to see how much Istanbul throws away."

Greening the Neighborhood
Another week, the morning that culminated in the bus-stop performance began by bringing potted plants to local shopkeepers and cafe managers and soliciting promises that they would take care of them, then handing out certificates thanking the merchants for giving their word and setting an example for the community.

Camp staff freely admit that their young charges (and the communities they are reaching out to) are part of Istanbul's privileged class -- their families couldn't afford the program fees if they weren't -- but say instilling a sense of environmental responsibility in the future elite will bear fruit later on when today's campers turn into tomorrow's business and political leaders.

"A lot of these kids aren't even used to picking up after themselves," one staff member says. Adds a counselor, "They see trash on the ground and say, 'That's not mine.' We're trying to teach them that it's all of ours -- the whole school, community, country, and world's problem."

More about kids going green:
How to Green Your Kid's School, Part 1
How to Green Your Kids Summer Camp, Part 1
Educate Kids With Local Green Adventures
Earth Day for Kids
Nickelodeon Gives Green For Kids to Go Green
Raising Environmentally-Conscious Kids
No Kidding, One in Three Children Fear Earth Apocalypse
Trash Contest Inspires Kids to Spread the Green Word
Teaching Kids to Go Green

Tags: Education | Green Youth | Recycling | Summer | Turkey