Yesil Cember

 Interviewee: Gülcan Nitsch
Organisation: Yeşil Çember – ecologically intercultural gGmbH since 2012
Her expertise: environmental education – Activation and sensitization of Turkish-speaking people in Germany for environmental issues

Intercultural environmental education is a necessary approach in a multicultural society. I started to become involved in the German intercultural environmental scene 12 years ago; I was born in Berlin, I was socialized in Germany and I grew up with two languages and in two cultures. Back then I realized that the Turkish community was simply nowhere to be found in the environmental scene, I was also the only person not with a German background at conferences and conventions. It wasn’t just people with a Turkish background who were missing, people from all other backgrounds were also not in attendance. So I asked myself, why? What are the barriers, what are the stumbling blocks, there are so many Turks in Germany! And then I began spontaneously- I went to Turkish associations, then on the street, where we asked passersby if they were interested in environmental protection topics, and I was really surprised that many people on the street, we were strangers to them, wanted to get involved in environmental protection, but they didn’t know how. And then I thought, ok, people with a Turkish background are absent in the environmental scene not because they don’t want to be involved, but because they don’t know how, that meant we had to create new ways for them to get involved. It was pretty quickly clear to me that there was a need to mediate between the German environmental actors and the migrant communities. Their offer needed to be modified, they had to be made more culturally specific. As they were at that time, they could not reach the migrant communities.

That was my discovery, my observation, 12 years ago. And so, we started to work with pictures, with simple flyers, and we tried very hard to always communicate on a personal level, not with a website and Facebook and such things, but with a personal appeal. Like this we were able to hold events in almost every Turkish organization on different topics; recycling, saving energy, saving water, chemicals in everyday life, how can we protect the environment even in a big city, what does my consumption have to do with catastrophes in the world. These connections are not made and are often not sufficiently thought through. People don’t think, ok, I am buying these bananas, and if they come from South Africa I’m doing something bad for the environment.  That means this thought process, for example what do I put on my plate, or what happens when I use specific products, for example if your mobile phone breaks, you throw it in the rubbish bin- you cannot do that anymore.

That means that we have developed many culturally specific and importantly concrete approaches. My recipe for success is to reference the personal everyday lives of participants within the first three minutes, as concretely as possible, instead of explaining complicated, abstract, theoretical things that people only partly understand. Other they won’t stay in the room. If you really want to motivate people, if you want to engage people in something, then it is immensely meaningful when you immediately make the connection between their behavior, their everyday life, and the environment. And that the sentence “but I cannot save the world on my own” is differently interpreted- everyone can save and improve the world a little bit, saving the world is nothing other than “I can reduce the damage that I otherwise would have done to the environment”

We experienced that when people come together, we can mobilise them for a cause much more easily. As a result, we don’t go onto the streets so often any more, nor do we speak to individuals alone, but we go where the people come together naturally, associations, neighbourhood centres, because, if people are in groups of ten, fifteen, twenty or more then responsibility is felt much more quickly, this feeling of mobilization, that they feel the power also of working as a group. As an example, I often ask the question “who here has planted a tree?”, and most have done this in their lives. There are fewer who have never planted a tree, but we have never had a participant who has said “nah, I never planted a tree and I never want to”, planting a tree is almost a primal desire. I ask the question, and then I say, imagine, if we put all the trees together, and those planted by your families, your friends, acquaintances- if you imagine all of these trees together, that’s a whole forest! And then, “oh yeah, that’s right, just my circle of friends has planted a forest!” A tree and the power of cooperation, the power to do something together, they can work miracles sometimes.

We can reach all people, we can engage people irrespective of background and current position, the only question is, which instruments can we use. If we fail to reach people, then that is due to us, not due to them, that is due to us not yet having developed the instruments. Period. That’s how it was, for example, as I held my first multiplier training with Turkish women. I had prepared a lot of written material, until I realised that two if the women couldn’t read or write. So, I went home, and I didn’t know what to do. Could these women not take part in the training? I thought, the women are not able to change the situation overnight, they had grown up in Turkey and at that time it was quite normal that girls didn’t go to school. But I have the possibility to develop a plan B, so that they can participate in the training. So I recorded all of the written material on an audio cassette, gave it to them, and said they should listen to it until they understood it all, and if they have questions they can call me at any time. That was a very moving moment for me, I had confronted my limits, what do I do now, I have an education, I had never had to deal with people who couldn’t read and write. But I developed an instrument for them, instead of stigmatizing them as illiterate. My approach is, we can engage everyone. Period. Regardless of the barriers, there are always ways around them. We just need the courage to find a way!