Policymakers are always keen on finding ways for the local and migrant communities to better integrate within Britain. The Turkish speaking community is just one of those communities within the UK that make up one of the largest migrant population groups.
Despite its roots dating back to the 1950s, the educational attainments and the process of integration have been somewhat neglected amongst the youth. Surveys and studies highlight that the younger generation have low aspirations within the academic and professional spheres and the lack of visible role models in the community is identified as one of these reasons amongst other factors that include a lack of parental involvement and socio-economic conditions of families etc.
Our objective in this project has been to highlight the members of the Turkish speaking community who have been successful both academically and professionally, in order that they can provide inspiration to the younger generation who share similar socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Ultimately, this project aims to reflect our belief that, aspirations are achievable despite internal or external barriers, and to underline the importance of prospering not only as an individual but also as a community.
The London Centre for Social Studies (LCSS) has been actively involved in community projects related to the educational attainments of the Turkish speaking students since 2004. Previously, we have organised discussion groups and public talks and undertaken both qualitative and quantitative research on understanding the root causes of the mentioned academic underachievement, enquiring into methods on overcoming this.
Through the experience of all previous activities on the topic, this project forms the next reasonable step in demonstrating our continuing efforts in highlighting and tackling the issue of the underachievement of the Turkish youth.
Last year, our core project team, consisting of a group of second and third generation members of the Turkish speaking community, concluded that the younger generation needed more visible role models to aspire to. With an hands-on approach, the group drafted a project proposal for its funding, the aim of which was to bring together those professionally ‘high achieving’ members of the community who have built successful careers despite the many disadvantages that the youth from ethnic minority backgrounds regard as an hindrance during their personal and professional developments. The need was obvious to the community, the educators, the parents, and in particular, the youth. All that remained was a co-ordinated action. With many thanks to the main funding from the Big Lottery Fund – Awards for All programmes, we gave a full start to the project in June 2010.
It has been a very exciting period ever since, and the project has appealed to many individuals who have subsequently became a lot more involved and have generously devoted their time and inspiration to the development of the project.
The selection process of our role models was admittedly very challenging. Initially, the problem had been to list thirty names representing different professions, age groups, sub-ethnicities etc. After an arduous search, many names appeared to prove our cause; the role models were indeed ‘invisible’. The criterion used to identify the final list was very specific as we were committed to a limited number for the project. We chose individuals who represented a spectrum of different professional and personal backgrounds who had spent a majority of their life in the UK. Representation of the three main focus groups within the Turkish community was also an integral part of the project. These included; those of Turkish and Kurdish origin from Turkey, and the Cypriot Turks from Cyprus.
In this version of the booklet, we have focused on the difficulties faced by our role models, such as the difficulties being an individual from an ethnic minority of a mostly disadvantaged social and economic background. Other discrimination factors such as gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliation etc. did not form part of the focus of the project. The final list we devised was a very exciting one, indeed!
Despite the different migration histories and experiences of the Turkish Cypriots, and the Turkish and Kurdish people of Turkey, the common educational problems of the youth appeared to be a major cause for concern to all members of the community. Beyond all political conflicts and divisions, the need for a project that addressed these issues came under a generally agreed umbrella term ‘Turkish Speaking Community in Britain’, so as to acknowledge the common cultural and social background that we share.
Although, born in France and having lived in many different places before coming to the UK, the award-winning novelist Elif Shafak, represents a beautiful working example of a Turkish immigrant achieving global success and popularity in her chosen field. Her recent novel ‘Iskender’ clearly illustrate Shafak’s deep understanding and appreciation of the socio-cultural environment the community in the UK live within. We believe that her kind participation to the project will add to its depth and objectives that are anticipated.
For us, the achievements of the project are not limited to the publication of this booklet. It is also a realisation and an acknowledgment of the great potential within the community itself. The brightest individuals from the second/third generation brought in their enthusiasm, energy and skills to the team at different phases of the project, through interviewing, transcribing, editing, publication, and dissemination. More than a dozen of volunteers generously gave their hours, days, weeks and months to make this experience a success.
The insight we have had on the stories of our role models provided us with new ideas in the other ways in which we can disseminate the information gathered. Project presentations took place during two workshops at Cambridge University and the University of Surrey and we will endeavour to continue with our participation in relevant forums in the future.
This booklet, together with the project website and the networking events to follow, will be the main forms of dissemination. 5000 copies of the booklet will be distributed to schools, libraries, community organisations and local governments across the UK, particularly, in those areas with a dense Turkish population. A soft copy of the booklet and complementary multimedia material will be made available through our website. The follow up activities are planned to take place in the form of ‘breakfast panels’ to create opportunities for the youth to meet the role models involved in the project in an informal setting. Based on demand, we may organise more networking events in the future.
As a final word, we would like to thank our role models for sharing their stories and invaluable feedback along the way. It is these stories that we believe will encourage high aspirations amongst the younger generation, undoing all those prejudice and societal barriers they feel are ahead of them. It is for this reason, that their stories should be carried forward to spread the great wisdom and inspiration.
Our vision throughout, from the very beginning till the end, is for this humble step to be considered as only a beginning of a longer term activity with wider participation. It is our aim to turn this into something of a larger scale, complete with the migration histories and social experiences of all community members; documenting all those many untold stories of the first generation migrants of Turkey and Northern Cyprus origin. All contributions and suggestions throughout are welcome!