Irish Red Cross Heybeliada International Youth Camp

When I joined the local Irish Red Cross branch in Mallow, I had no idea what awaited me. I could never have foreseen the amazing opportunities I would one day experience. I joined believing the Irish Red Cross to simply be an organisation where I could learn first aid. I could not have been more wrong. The Irish Red Cross has thought me so much more. I can honestly say that travelling to Istanbul in Turkey on behalf of Irish Red Cross Youth this August was one of the best experiences of my life.

I was excited and nervous in equal measures but I could not possible fathom what awaited me. At the airport I met Pauric, the only other Irish delegate.  Arriving in Istanbul was intimidating. Everything seemed bigger, busier and more confusing.

The camp itself was situated near the sea, completely closed off. At the gate we met our leaders. Everyone was so caring and welcoming, which helped my nerves. After that everything happened so quickly. I remember sitting at the back of the group, as we had arrived later than most. Within minutes I was being quizzed by everyone about where I was from, how I was finding Turkey and about myself in general. Without much more than a thought and a few simple words I had made friends from around the world.

A Fusion of cultures

Irish Red Cross Heybeliada International Youth Camp

Each camp workshop was a fusion of cultures. In music we learned about each other’s traditional instruments and folk songs. In dance we learned Turkish dances and taught each other our traditional dances. I even taught people the odd few steps. I Drama consisted of different exercises, all designed to teach us how similar we all are, regardless of geography. We all put on shows, illustrating our countries’ traditions and showing off what we had learned at workshops. In the evenings we held groups and discussed Red Cross Red Crescent Youth and the programs run in the different countries.

The highlight was all the time spent learning about different cultures. Time spend laughing about television shows we all loved. I had no idea that “How I Met Your Mother” was a huge hit in Turkey! Selfies were also immensely popular among everyone, whether they were from Kazakhstan or Qatar. We taught each other different languages. Pauric and I taught everyone a “cúpla focail as Gaeilge”. I talked more Irish in Turkey than I ever have in Ireland!

Curious not critical of our differences

We spent time discussing the problems faced in our home countries, from Iraq’s horrifying unrest to Colombia’s poverty. Between visiting mosques and churches, religion was an occasional topic. Everyone seemed more curious about different religions than anything else. Not in all my time there, did anyone criticise another person’s beliefs nor did they dismiss them. Religion and culture caused no difference in everyone’s common goals. To make the world a better place, free from war, unrest, poverty and so on. Everyone there just wanted to help people, in any way they could.

Getting my leaving cert results with new friends

Irish Red Cross Heybeliada International Youth Camp

One particular incident out of many stands out in my mind as I write this. One of the first questions everyone asked one another was what they were studying in university, if you were in university. As I just finished my leaving cert that past June, I told them I didn’t know and had to wait for my results on Wednesday. Sure enough Wednesday came and everyone remembered to ask, rushing over to me see how I got on in my exams and what department I would be studying in. Once they saw that I was happy, and would get my preferred course they couldn’t congratulate me enough. I got a hug from nearly everyone in the camp, leaders and participants alike. I just thought, “Here I am, in a foreign country, with people I only know a few days, who have never even experience the Irish Leaving Cert. Yet here is everyone, celebrating my happiness as if it was their own.” It was the most magical, sweetest of moments.

Time to say goodbye

All too soon came the final day. I had no idea how much I had come to love my new found friends until that it was time for goodbye. In a few short days I had become closer to these people than most of the people in my own school. That night everyone was in floods of tears. Leaving on the boat was devastating. Although the holiday ended bitter-sweetly, I now I have the best of friends from all over the world, Japan, Malaysia, Turkey,Kazakhstan and so on. I hope one day I will have the opportunity to meet them all again, but for now, Facebook and Skype will have to do.

Written by Jennie White, Irish Red Cross Youth member, Mallow (30/8/14)