TOY for Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinator from Turkey

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Bilgehan, a Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinator in Turkey, wants you to know about his work.

Interview with Bilgehan Çıray

Role in TOY for Inclusion: LAT Coordinator
Where: Turkey
Job title: LAT Coordinator
Years as LAT Coordinator:
Almost 1 year

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?
A: The important thing here is to reach disadvantaged children. Families who already have a certain income level can offer their children the necessary opportunities. However, disadvantaged families cannot always provide their children with age-appropriate materials, as they do not have access to the same options. With the TOY for Inclusion project, we offer a playground to children who might not have access otherwise. We aim to contribute to their social and cognitive development. Families are aware of this opportunity and support them as much as possible.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is flexibility. Can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?
A: As many know, during the pandemic, we are not able to gather together. However, children have to be able to be children. So, we sat down with our team and evaluated what we could do under these circumstances. We came up with the idea of delivering toys to children, keeping safety measures in mind. We disinfected the toys and brought them to the children so that they could play in their homes. After some time, we disinfected toys and traded them out for new ones. This way, children could play with different toys.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally or that ‘touched your heart’? 
A: We focus on disadvantaged children. These children may not have as much access to playgrounds as their peers. One day I went to check on the playground, and I saw a four-year-old boy. He was pushing a toy truck across the garden. For a moment, the boy looked up and gave me a warm smile. That smile was like the price of all my hard work.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?
A: Many policy makers have a lot to say about children but do not listen to preschool teachers or child development professionals, which is a problem. For more children to access playgrounds, local policy makers need to act.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator/Play Hub Assistant? 
A: In our country, and in other countries, there are many spaces and opportunities for adults to socialize. However, this is not the case for children, especially when mothers and fathers are working. Often, children are placed in the background. We offer children, especially disadvantaged children, the opportunity to improve their social and cognitive skills in an important period of their lives. This is our greatest source of pride.