Emre Çelik is an Australian based in Washington DC and President of the Rumi Forum.
Following on my recent piece on travels in Africa.
During my visit in Tanzania, I met with the former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi. He commended the Hizmet schools highly for their successes and contributions to Dar Es Salaam and the wider region. He was a genuine advocate of the schools, and he dedicated his time to sharing the virtues of the schools to his fellow countrymen. And as such he took on the role of Honorary President of the Ishik Medical and Education Foundation.
A short hop across the Dar Es Salaam Bay to Zanzibar and we are greeted by one of the teachers from the Hizmet’s Feza School. Zanzibar can easily be described as an island oasis – the climate and the people – both warm and welcoming. The Hizmet schools set up on the island do not only play an educational role.
Like all Hizmet schools around the world, they partake in numerous community activities, and concern themselves with any social and civic issues that can be alleviated through their efforts. In this case, doctors from one of the Hizmet medical associations from the region of Izmir were visiting the island. It was a group of 8 doctors – 7 male and 1 female with various specializations including general practice. The purpose of this visit was to provide medical assistance to the students and their families, and to their relatives. This was done numerous times over the previous five years. With each visit the doctors would spend two weeks providing these services on the school campus.
For Turks engaged in Hizmet, the globalization phenomena might be said to have reached them as a result of Gulen’s encouragement to travel abroad and provide service to others. Through Gulen’s encouragement a new generation of teachers, often new graduates themselves, took up the challenge of “education abroad.” This term usually refers to students studying overseas, but in the Hizmet’s context, it meant teachers going abroad. This could easily be seen in the handful of such people working in Zanzibar. Similarly, while in Africa, I also found out about new school projects on the Comoros Islands. To me this was even more remote than Zanzibar, since the Comoros Islands were halfway between Madagascar and Zanzibar – and unbeknown to me.
In Kenya, there is the Light Academy and its numerous campuses in Nairobi
and Mombassa. I met with the person heading the dialogue activities. He introduced me to a Catholic nun who was impressed with Gulen’s message since coming across it through Fr. Tom Michel when she was in the Philippines. In Somalia, I met by chance the person heading Kimse Yokmu, a Hizmet international aid organization. He told of two attempts on his life by the Al Shabab during Kimse Yokmu’s relief work. He survived both without a scratch. But this reflects the danger that some in Hizmet find themselves, and despite such risks they continue their service.
In Mombasa I came across a young family of Catholic Missionaries from Chicago. They were passionate and busy with their work in the local prisons. They were so pleased with the Light Academy and the school’s willingness to accommodate them that they had enrolled their two young daughters in the school. This was all the more interesting as there was a local Catholic school that they could have considered.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I met with numerous ministers from the Ethiopian government, all pleased with the local Hizmet schools. Some ministers were also sending their children to these schools. One parent from the schools was also involved in the African Union. This one parent played an important part in organizing a dialogue conference earlier in 2012, based on Fethullah Gulen’s ideas on civilizational dialogue. During a conversation with a minister, he highlighted these important concepts that he listened to at this conference that was held at the grand African Union building. This building was fantastic in architectural design as well as magnificent in size. It was donated to the Union by the Chinese government and estimated to cost nearly 200 million US dollars. I have attended about half a dozen of such dialogue conferences usually numbering 150-300 participants. This conference had an amazing number of attendees—2,500. Amongst them were heads of state and leaders from all walks of life. I further discussed this conference when I was meeting with one of the persons in charge of curriculum design in the Education Ministry. He said they were now considering introducing some type of dialogue subject that dealt with intercultural understanding for all K-12 and possibly in universities—even making such a course mandatory.
During the course of my African travels, I came across many amazing stories of those involved in Hizmet and those who are respectful of the services provided. And for someone like me who has been involved for more than 20 years now, I too was not only amazed, but many times moved to see such passion, selflessness, gratitude, perseverance, hopefulness, altruism, and fraternity between many types of people from all walks of life—whether they were poor and uneducated or highly schooled and in the higher echelons of society. All were thankful for their link to Hizmet; no matter how small or how great it was, people truly felt honored to be in the company of those who served.
And to me this was most humbling.