Today’s Zaman – 29.09.2009
‘Civil voices’ take center stage in first festival for NGOs
İstanbul is hosting the largest-ever gathering of civil society organizations in the country in a festival that winds down today.
Focusing on the theme of civil society and change, the Civil Voices Festival is being organized by the Civil Society Development Center (STGM) with financial support from the European Union. The festival is part of a broader STGM project to develop Turkey's civil society and support dialogue between civil society organizations, STGM Communications Director Gamze Göker told Today's Zaman ahead of the festival's opening yesterday.
“The two-day festival will serve as a platform for NGOs to engage in discussion and for their representatives to have a good time together. The stands at the festival will represent NGOs from across Turkey, where they will introduce the work that they do. In addition, there will be workshops on issues involving children and gender,” Göker explained. Participating NGOs and civil society organizations represent a range of interests, from human rights to the environment and the rights of persons with disabilities; the groups with stands at the festival include Turkish groups and EU-based NGOs.
Göker says that the festival will be a success if it allows for the establishment of foundations for future cooperative work between groups and the strengthening of ties between Turkish NGOs and international groups with similar concerns. “But the most important thing is for the participants to have a good time together and when they leave the festival that they come away with a sense of the strength of organization,” she said. The festival is open to the public and also features an array of entertainment and other activities.
Avi Haligua, the media and lobby coordinator for Amnesty International (AI) Turkey, one of the organizations participating in the festival, told Today's Zaman that in particular the festival will serve as an important contact and networking opportunity for civil society organizations in Turkey that are all too often working without coordination. “Sometimes it can be difficult for civil society groups focusing on advocacy, who don't have a very long history in Turkey, to follow the work of other groups. For us, it's very valuable to learn
from the experiences of other organizations working in similar fields that for various reasons we're not up-to-date on the work that they're doing. In our opinion, the greatest benefit of this festival for Amnesty International and the other participating civil society groups will be in this regard,” Haligua said. “And taking another look at the legal framework of freedom of expression, demonstration and organization in Turkey will also be of great benefit.” In addition to large groups like AI, the festival stands to benefit smaller NGOs the most, Göker said. “All of the services offered by the STGM, including the festival, assign priority to smaller NGOs with limited capacity,” she said. “Roughly 60 groups from less urban areas applied to participate in the festival, and we took care of their travel and accommodation expenses and ensured that they would have stands at the festival.” The festival began yesterday and runs through this evening at Küçük Çiftlik Park in the Maçka district. For more information and a schedule of activities: www.sivilsesler.org