The Coşku Special Education and Rehabilitation School in Ortaca provides a lifeline for 300 students aged between 2 and 38 but a lack of funds has hampered development. But now the Dalyan Society’s Foreign Committee has recognised their struggle and is organising Dalyan’s first Christmas Fair on Saturday December 10th 2011 to raise funds.

The adult disabled are largely invisible throughout Turkey – most adults with special needs are looked after at home by their parents and siblings. But what happens when those parents become elderly and finally die?

In some cases the extended family remains supportive but occasionally adult disabled people are left destitute with no means of support and no means to earn any money.

The Coşku Special Education and Rehabilitation School in Ortaca has a new plan and a new teacher, Hale Tireli, to address these problems. Hale teaches skills that can help create an income. In Ortaca she will coach young adults to make marbled writing paper, lampshades, umbrella stands and external paintwork.

300 Students Aged Between 2 and 38

Coşku is a large school with 300 students aged between 2 and 38! Around two thirds of the students have physical and mental disabilities including around 10 boys and young men diagnosed autistic. Others are profoundly deaf and a significant minority are physically disabled but mentally sound.

Students from as far away as Göcek and Toparlar are bussed in 2 days a week for 2 hours therapy per day.

Lessons are 1-on-1 with one of the physiotherapists or teachers. Eylem Tan, the school head, says that for many of the disabled from smaller villages the trips to the school are the only times during the week that they leave the house.

Although extra coaching is available privately (over and above the government paid 4 hours) Ms Tan says of the 300 students only 3% have families in a position to pay for supplementary tuition.

Often disabled children in Turkey are hidden away at home, as a source of shame. Coşku pushes those boundaries and children are taken on regular day trips.

Şakak Pavey, one of four disabled candidates in the 550-member parliament, campaigns tirelessly for disabled rights but she concedes that dislodging deeply held stigmas and promoting human rights-based discourse on disabilities will be difficult in a country where disabled children are considered a punishment for sinful behaviour, and communal values often trump individual rights.

The legal status of the disabled has slowly begun to improve in Turkey over the last decade though actual implementation is slow. Parliament ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2008. Discrimination based on disability is illegal and a deadline of 2012 has been set for making public buildings and local transport accessible to disabled people.

Change is Happening

In 2007 the Initiative for Human Rights in Mental Health (RUSIHAK), Turkey’s first grassroots organization by people with mental disabilities and their relatives, was created. RUSIHAK challenges inhumane treatment by defining people with mental disabilities as full human beings, who are equal citizens in every way. There is even quota that calls for 4% of government positions to be filled by persons with disabilities.

However, Şafak Pavey is scathing about actual progress; “In the justice and employment area, the AKP is also not respecting their own law.” For example, a 2010 report submitted to the United Nations noted that of the 1,813 jobs allotted for disabled persons within the Ministry of Justice, not one had been filled. The key is giving disabled people dignified work, not just hiring them as office boys or to get tea,’ she says. It seems that this is too often the case.

Education Enables

The President’s wife Hayrünnisa Gül is a champion of disabled children’s rights and in 2012 she addressed a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg promoting the rights of children with disabilities, becoming the first Turkish first lady to address such a session. She said; ‘Those with disabilities do not live in isolation as if on far off islands in the ocean anymore, but we all know that they are still confined to the four walls of their homes in some countries, which is why we are sometimes not even aware of them. We must remember that children are not disabled by choice however, they have to live with their disability.’

In 2009 she launched a nationwide campaign called ‘Education Enables’ aiming to empower the disabled through education, the key for children she felt was ‘opportunities for education… not leaving their parents to cope with them alone.’

According to Şafak Pavey one of the biggest problem is the lack of financial support for the adult disabled; ‘Families with disabled children are praying for their kids to die before them, because they have no support systems. They are very scared about who will take care of their kids, and how their kids will have a dignified life after they die’.

State Allocates Only 300TL per Month to Them

Currently, the state allocates a around 300TL per month for persons with disabilities in need of care, according to a shadow report submitted to the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in May of 2010. The report noted that with these sums; ‘The only thing guaranteed is a life at the hunger level.’

A 2010 study in a medical journal looked at the levels of stress, depression and anxiety of parents of disabled children in Turkey and found that financial problems are the most important factors that affect the psychology of the parents of disabled people.

Christmas Fair Set to Raise Essential Funds in Support

At Coşku in Ortaca, Hale Tireli has plans for a workshop to be set up in one of the current classrooms, the only thing holding her back is lack of funds. However the school has recently had a stroke of luck with the Dalyan Society’s Foreign Committee taking an interest in funding the equipment and furniture needed for the project.

This they hope to achieve by organising Dalyan’s first Christmas Fair on Saturday December 10th 2011 in the public Atatürk Square. Volunteers will be working on cake and candy stalls, amongst the gift stalls there will be a forest of kitschy glitzy fake Christmas trees, Santa will be along between 2 and 4pm and the icing on Noel cake will be the candlelit carol concert at 4pm.

Set by the river the event is sure to be popular and hopefully will raise the money the Coşku School needs. Organiser Fazile Zahir said,

‘The idea is very well supported in Dalyan and there have been loads of volunteers – except I couldn’t get any adult elves! Even though it’s our first Christmas event I think we stand a good chance of getting the money that Coşku needs.’

For more information on the Dalyan Christmas Fair or on helping Coşku school you can contact Fazile on 0534 590 6162 or