The Campus of Colours, a Turkish NGO, now accepting applications for its eighth season, widens the horizons of university students so they can be responsible leaders and supporters of equal opportunity.
In 2012, five women met at a leadership workshop in Turkey: Arzu Gunesli, Idil Ander Dede, Kristina Steinbuechel, Pınar Gokpinar and Suna Ozpar. At a meeting on social projects, they decided on the Campus of Colours project.
The Campus of Colours project was initially geared towards disabled youth but after the women discussed their idea with various universities, institutions and their peers, they changed their mind. The feedback they received was that this should be an inclusive, mixed project, of differently abled university students, some with disabilities, and some without.
Gokpinar stresses the importance of accessibility in their programme. “We have a great desire to see them participate in daily and corporate life,” she says. “In Turkey, about 6.6 percent of the population has some kind of disability,” she continues. “That’s equal to the population of Eastern Turkey region.”
“We worked a lot starting in 2012,” Pinar Gokpinar says, “and changed our content by the end of 2014. We started our first programme in February 2015 with 33 students, half of whom were disabled.”
The programme is from November to May, on 14 Saturdays, each class called a ‘module’. This year there will be an additional 4 modules during the week for further education.
It is based on three pillars. The first is personal development, where speakers from different disciplines talk to the participants.
The second is employment, getting ready to be employed. The career day organised by the Campus of Colours welcomes both new graduates as well as graduates from previous seasons.
The third is a focus on NGOs. Each university student works within a team and meets with an NGO chosen by the Campus of Colours. That way, they become familiar with NGOs and get to work on a project that they are interested in.
Gokpinar tells TRT World that at first the programme would last three months, then it became six months. Now, the leadership and social responsibility programme is seeking participants for its eighth season.
“We will take 65 students,” Gokpinar says. “Everyone has had complaints about having to go online during the pandemic,” she adds, “but for us it has been a blessing in disguise.”
“Thanks to going online, we can now open up our programme to the whole country. We had only had one participant from outside Istanbul before, a student from Elazig last season who had a corporate sponsor. Now we can have many more,” she laughs.
For the eighth season, the Campus of Colours project is still accepting applications, until September 30, 2020. Applicants are expected to be undergraduate and graduate students between the ages of 18 to 30 and as of this year, can apply from anywhere in Turkey.
Gokpinar says depending on their capacity and the number of applications, they may even go up to 80 participants this year.
The students are assisted by two mentors, an academic plus a corporate mentor, as well as a third ‘rookie mentor’ who has graduated from the Campus of Colours. They work for six months on a project.
“We want them to become active in NGOs, to meet new people, and to work in an environment with colleagues not of their own choosing, just like they would in real life,” Gokpinar tells TRT World.
Graduates of the Campus of Colours programme, of which there are currently 246, form a network. Of the 246, about 60 to 70 people work as volunteers for the Campus of Colours programme like professional teams.
The Campus of Colours programme is supported by an association called Steps for Change, established in 2015. The association has more than 80 members. Then there are the mentors, who number in at 76 people.
“Adding all our networks together, we probably have about four, five hundred people who are with us on our journey,” Gokpinar says. “It’s not a huge number, but you know when you throw a stone [into the sea] and it makes rings, that’s how we are.”
The motto of the Campus of Colours is “Change your world to change the world”. Asked to explain what it means, Gokpinar says it refers to a responsible leadership and awareness programme. “In order to start change, you need to change yourself,” she elaborates.