Emet Degirmenci and Yeliz Mert
Emet Degirmenci, who is the pioneer and the ‘Ercis Permaculture Aid’ project, is a former seismologist and current permaculture designer and teacher. She sent a call out to the permaculture related groups in Turkey as soon as a deadly earthquake happened in Van, 23 October 2012. She has been on some field studies during her seismology work to measure the aftershocks and witnessed how difficult the survivors’ lives were. It took them seven months to become organized since the assessment of the local needs and matching these with the skill set. Also some of the team members were living abroad when the earthquake occurred.
As a group; of one instructor, two new permaculture designers including Yeliz and one amateur documentary maker delivered a permaculture aid program between July 1 st to 5th, 2012 to the survivors. Our budget that was formed with some small donations by the individuals was less than $1000 US. We did not want any funding from the institutions since the aid distribution was corrupted during the earthquake. Also, the area which is predominantly Kurdish speaking was quite politicized. We decided to keep the project independent and not to be manipulated by any groups in any ways.
The project that we implemented included; a winter veggie garden that had been built and planted with hugelculture technique, biochar stove and solar cooker making, seed spouting, vertical gardens, food forest establishment techniques, herb spiral, hot composting, and a grey water treatment. Ercis was the epicenter of the earthquake. One third of the town was destroyed and more than 500 hundred people died and many wounded. We named the project ‘Van-Ercis Post-Disaster Ecological Restoration Permaculture Project’. Mainly announcing the project with ‘From Absence to Abundance’ motto, we aimed to eliminate negative influence of the words such as ‘disaster’ and ‘earthquake’ and to show how much we can do with the things that are called ‘waste’ without realizing its value.
the people and the project location:
A five-day intensive hands-on project was held in our host Ceylan’s extended family court house garden, and we also used the Technical High School in Ercis for biochar stove and the solar cooker making workshops. The eldest of the family, 78 year-old grandmother, has been living in this location with her three children, three daughters in law and eight grandchildren in different houses. While walking through the streets of Ercis, we could witness wreckages and cracked buildings of empty houses and workplaces at every corner although the debris had been cleared. Having felt like a movie scene, this disaster was a reality at first hand for Ceylan’s. The local people we came across in Ercis instantly started telling their memories of the earthquake without even being asked. It was showing clearly how people have still been traumatized. They kept telling about where they were and what they felt when the earthquake occurred, showed videos recorded at the moment by their cell phones. It seemed as if another wound is inflicted at any moment. Asuman, who is the mother of our host family during the project, lost almost all of her biological family members in the earthquake. She and her three sons were hardly able to speak despite getting psychological treatment in the last seven months.
The project venue and its constructive dynamics had been arranged by our local organizer, Malik Durmaz and the program which was free for the locals. We were determined to use all recycle materials as much as possible. We walked around and collected anything useful we saw along the roads under the debris, sometimes even horse or donkey excrement or bones, . Most days we even sent our local friends to the grocery stores early in the morning to collect their waste for our veggie gardens, herb spiral and the hot compost during the workshops. Although this was embarrassing for them at the beginning, they said after couple of days:’It became a habit now. We looked at everything that could be used as a resource for us when we walked along the streets’ .
However, we have noticed that our original program was not covering the local peoples’ emergency needs when we arrived there to access. For instance, after noticing dirt and smell at a corner of the garden where the children play because of the grey water coming from one of the houses, we decided to include a grey water treatment in the program. Also, there was a wonderful fruit orchard in the garden, but all the bee hives were destroyed . There was no reason to spend money and time to create a new one. Therefore, we decided to show the technique how it can be enriched towards a food forest with comfreys under the fruit trees and cover crop along with swales. Likewise, we showed how to produce sprouts from seeds which are suitable to their taste, in order to increase nutritional value of the foods, especially at times of scarcity. We went to the different parts of the field around the town to collect some endemic species to create a special herb garden, because we heard that most of the herb species for their special cheese ‘Van otlu peyniri’ were almost extinct due to a careless harvesting method for the market economy. The herbs are also used for medicinal purposes and fist aid.
Another point is that when we went there to assess the locals’ needs before the workshop, we noticed that some women could not speak Turkish. So we decided to create a Kurdish program poster, and found an interpreter for the workshops.
We opened the circle using couple of Kurdish words we were learning from the locals every morning.
During the project, instead of showing only how to apply techniques, we made an effort to share the idea of permaculture design by explaining every technique’s benefits holistically. For example, we explained to our participants how we positioned hugelculture in the garden, what the use of layering it was, why the herb spiral is important, how we can harvest sun and water and how to sprout seeds to increase their nutritional value, which were applicable in an emergency situation. Moreover, as soon as we arrived there, we guided our host family to collect the organic matter coming from their kitchens and shared why we do it. We sometimes asked for rotten foods from markets. All these were elements that helped our participants adopt the main idea of our project. Looking at what we called waste in another way and therefore being self-sufficient instead of being dependant, were the things that we could naturally narrate to our participants, our hosting family, the women and the children in the family.
Our participant range was diverse. There were students and lecturers from Ercis Vocational Institution and Centennial University of Van, farmers, those who wanted greenhouse cultivating, or who wanted to do gardening in their private gardens, people from the agriculture department of the municipality, and even two prisoners from an open prison. Additionally, the children were active from the very beginning till the end. They worked with us when we were sowing seeds, preparing soil mixture for plastering a giant herb spiral, and the like.
We opened our first day of the project with a circle and let ‘our 78 years old grandmother lead us with her wisdom. On the following days , we continued in the same way. In the circles, we asked every participant to introduce themselves in the way they were most comfortable with, and wanted to get to know each other. In addition to this, during the techniques that were applied, we were attentive to learn about their local diet using endemic plants. We cooked our dinner together everyday. We offered free lunch to the participants, ranging from 20 to 35 everyday, showing clearly that we were there to share our knowledge and to create something together rather than taking something out. This is why our project was also successful in terms of social influences included. Above all, having women and children involved in the project made them contemplate themselves and their needs in life from another point. Dear Sevgi, who was our documenter with her partner Yasar narrates her thoughts as followed:
‘Asuman was one of the most curious participants with our ecological restoration applications during the project. In solar cooker and biochar stove atelier, she obeyed Emet’s word, as she wanted women to be able to use working tools in atelier as well, and took the drill in hand for the first time in her life. She drilled used grease bucket at the bottom. It was the first time that I saw her grinning from ear to ear since we arrived.’ Another woman participant, named Leyla, also took everybody surprised by saying ‘the earthquake does not listen to woman or man, we have to learn it too.’
The project’s instructor Emet particularly emphasizes the important role of the project for children in the neighborhood who have been traumatized by the earthquake: ‘In the beginning, I told them to listen and watch us during the day and throughout the project so that they could draw what they were affected by. All children used a board that was already prepared for them and that was named by the children themselves as ‘Red Kid Board’ where they pinned their drawings and their poems. While we were listening to what was the background of their productions, they made us sometimes smile, sometimes cry and sometimes think. On the last day, I was very much influenced by children’s theatrical demonstrations. One girl was telling us about fungi family and the fungi role, how they help trees communicate with each other. There was also a hip-hop song, composed and written by them, about the earthquake, which made all of us cry. We were very much impressed by the scenes that children illustrated. They stimulated realistically their friends, siblings, relatives of how they were trapped in the wreckage.’
The Van-Ercis project was the first project where permaculture has been used for aid. Ultimately, Emet gave the idea to build a permaculture aid group in Turkey and shortly but we hope this first step will take further to create a permanent permaculture aid group in Turkey which is an earquake prone country. Emet explains, ‘The seeds, that we sowed in hugelculture greenhouse and food forest with our children and our elders, are going to grow and spread to other projects, too. I feel the peace inside that this was the first step in our country. I hope that this motivation will remain. Thanks to our small aid group and the supporters.’ Ercis experience was a representative project for us of becoming a whole with people, land, culture, differences and despair as permaculturist.
We performed Ercis experience with heart and soul but most importantly, by considering locals’ needs and finding appropriate approaches. We succeeded in this project because we respected the land and culture as well as people. We are thankful to our donors and the permiese friends who have sent their willingness to help out, including from overseas. Our gratitude goes to the Ercis Technical High School which opened their classrooms for our biochar and solar cooker workshops. Also many thanks to the individuals who made donations to help our dream come true!
A PHOTO ALBUM OF THE PROJECT
More YOUTUBE VIDEOS will be added to this account:
1. Hugelculture green house–> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghU36eQP3Fc
2. Local children’s involvement to the project–> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSRaKwyZ18A&feature=youtu.be