The first month of meetings of coordination groups in Tekirdağ, İpsala, Malkara, Pehlivanköy and Muratlı has been completed following Responding Together training 6 March. Each city/town has gathered volunteers to form the coordination groups. In the cases of Tekirdağ, İpsala, and Malkara, the core of these groups is formed by the members of the Citizens' Assemblies established by the municipalities. The groups aim to represent as widely as possible the different social groups present in the towns/cities.
Following on the valuable work of Agenda 21 in Turkey the Ministry of Interior introduced legislation in Municipal Law (Article 76, Law No. 5393 - http://www.migm.gov.tr/en/Laws/Law5393_Municipality_2010-12-31_EN_rev01.pdf ) to require all municipalities with populations greater in size than 50,000 to establish Citizens' Assemblies. The law aims to enhance the participation of citizens in their local areas across Turkey, and enable bottom-up contributions to local governance in terms of social development, co-decision making and scrutiny of municipal budget-setting and public expenditure. We visited East Thrace to see how these budding assemblies can contribute to Council of Europe objectives of social cohesion, and more specifically the Joint Programme's objective of engaging citizens in reducing poverty and inequalities.
We were delighted by the motivation and enthusiasm of the members of the coordination group and the support and encouragement from the elected officials of each of the municipalities. After crossing the Springtime, green farmlands of East Thrace, we were greeted by the Mayors and Mukhtar of Tekirdağ, İpsala, Malkara, Pehlivanköy and Muratlı respectively, before holding meetings with the Responding Together Coordination Groups in the Council buildings of each municipality. For the three groups based on the Citizens' Assemblies it had been relatively easy to establish their groups, but for the two remaining towns facilitators in both cases analysed the different social groups present and approached people belonging to the various groups to suggest they volunteer for the project. We met a wide range of citizens representing women, elderly, disabled, youth, business owners, health and police services, educators and local councillors.
The range of activities meeting key strategical objectives of the Joint Programme were equally impressive. The Coordination Groups are hoping to gather waste and unwanted resources to use for traditional handicraft skill training with local unemployed residents, with a view to generating alternative forms of income and sharing local skills and knowledge; to bring unemployed and marginalised residents together with patients and retired people for training in vocational caring at local hospitals and old people's homes; to encourage local dentists to volunteer some free time to provide dental services to those that cannot afford it, while engaging in awareness raising activities on dental health with all participants involved; to develop local dance and music traditions through shared training for different social groups such as Balkan-, Roma-, Anatolian-, Bulgarian-, Marmara- origin residents to provide entertainment for local events; among many other proposals - see respective city descriptions https://respondingtogether.wikispiral.org/tiki-index.php?page=Cities&structure=Responding&page_ref_id=385.