In June 2011, Özyeğin Foundation started the Ravanda Basin Rural Development Project in the 8 impoverished villages of Kilis Province (Gökmusa, Yeşiloba, Dutluca, Sabanlı, Belenözü, Bektaşoğlu, Koçcağız, Aşağı Kalecik). The selection criteria for selecting Ravanda Basin to launch the 5-year project include poverty rates in the villages, the existence of a large youth population, and the willingness of the local government to support the project.
In terms of socio-economic indicators Ravanda Basin is one of the most impoverished areas in Turkey. Musabeyli and Polateli districts of Kilis rank 844th and 822nd out of 872 districts in the country in terms of socio-economic development. There are 285 households in Ravanda Basin and the total population is 1306 people . 47 % of the population is under the age of 20. The average number of persons per household is 5. 38% of women over the age of 15 are illiterate . This rate is 14 % for men of the same age group .
Both absolute and subjective poverty rates are high in Ravanda villages. The average household income is lower than the amount necessary to lead a fullfilling life. The average monthly income per capita in Ravanda is $ 131 (the median monthly income is lower, $ 71). 54 % of the households earn a monthly income that is below the hunger treshold of 332 TL (for a family of 4), while 87 % of the households earn less than the povert threshold of 956 TL.
78% of Ravanda population works in agriculture. The main economic activities in the villages are grape and olive production, and animal husbandry. However, use of agricultural technology and marketing of local produce are still very limited in Ravanda.
Olive Orcharding: Improvement of the existing olive orchards in the villages through planting of new trees and increasing the productivity and quality of the produce is one of the main economic activities undertaken by Özyeğin Foundation in Ravanda. A total of 6,200 olive trees were distributed to 81 households. The farmers were encouraged to plant their new olive trees on the previously unused infertile and rocky pieces of land to recover these barren fields and open them to farming. All of the olive producers received training on the proper methods of planting and pruning olive trees, and setting up orchards. In order to protect the quality of post-harvest olives, the farmers were introduced to using crates instead of traditional sacks to store and carry their produce. Leader farmers in Ravanda attended site visits and field trips to various olive orchards, cooperatives and olive oil factories in Hatay and the Aegean Region.
The Fodder-Processing Unit: In the Gökmusa Village of Ravanda a fodder-processing unit was built to eliminate the need of the farmers to travel outside of Ravanda to get their fodder prepared. In 2013 the unit was used to process 7 tons of fodder and select 25 tons of grape. Thanks to the efforts of a group of students from Özyeğin University-Young Guru Academy and the sponsorship by Fina Energy, the unit now has solar panels on its roof to generate renewable energy for its electricity needs.
Sheep and goat farming is common in Ravanda villages. In order to increase productivity and ensure the quality and hygiene of goat’s milk, 2 disinfection machines were purchased to regularly disinfect 280 animal barns. Disinfection of barns has significantly reduced miscarriages in animals. 34 barns were modernized. Automatic water fountains were installed in 4 barns. Water ducts were built in grazing land for animals in 2 villages. 65 women received training on milk hygiene, hygienic cheese making and brucellosis. The full-time vetrenarian employed by the Özyeğin Foundation visits the villages regularly to perform animal examinations and provide the necessary course of medical treatment.
Vetch Production: Ravanda farmers have been encouraged to plant vetch to meet their fodder demands locally and thus reduce input costs. For the first time in 2012, 40 farmers were given 10 tons of vetch seeds to plant in addition to technical support and training. The harvest resulted in 100 tons of fodder. Since then vetch farming has become popular among Ravanda farmers.
Machinery and Equipment Supports: 17 farmers acquired a hand tractor, a pulverisator, an olive harvesting machine and a milking machine.
Özyeğin Foundation has been attending to the infrastructure and superstructure needs of Ravanda villages with the full and active participation of the villagers. As a response to the urgent needs and demands of the local community communal fountains and bathrooms were built in 2 villages.
Sponsored by a Fiba Group firm, Girişim Factoring, much-needed bus stops were constructed in each project village. The bus stops provide the villagers with a nice shade from the sun during the scorching summer months and protect the school children from rain as they wait for school shuttles in the coming fall and winter months.
Walls of village schools were repaired. An old building in Gökmusa Village was renovated and turned into a soap-making workshop for the women. A section of the building is used as a fodder processing unit.
Özyeğin Foundation has been implementing multiple projects specifically designed to strengthen the capacity of women, children and youth. A children’s library has been established in one of the primary schools. The kindergarten in the same school has been furnished in cooperation with AÇEV’s “Vodafone First Step Project.” All the village schools have received educational materials and stationary. In order to increase school enrollment rates in Ravanda 27 students have been registered for distance learning programs.
An introductory photography course was offered for young girls. The photographs taken during class were turned into an exhibition titled “Life in Ravanda. Another group of young women from Belenözü Village created a folk dance group and performed during the annual Ravanda Festival. Özyeğin Foundation’s Empowering Young Girls program was implemented in all project villages. School children received dental health education and dental health kits.
Ravanda Festival, which was first held in 2012, has become a traditional celebration of local culture, art and community. The Goat Beauty Pageant, the Best Kilis Grape competitions and children’s arts and crafts workshops prove to be the most popular events during the festival.
AÇEV Training: Since the start of the Ravanda Basin Rural Development Project a total of 140 women participated in AÇEV’s Rural Women’s Education Program and obtained their certificates. The program includes classes on communication with children, women’s reproductive health, nutrition, and women’s rights, and provides women with practical knowledge that they can use in their daily lives. The classes are supported by educational video screenings.
Soap Making: Özyeğin Foundation has been supporting a group of women in Gökmusa village to revive traditional all-natural olive oil soap making in Ravanda. A small workshop, fully equipped with the necessary tools and supplies, was built for women. Soap makers learnt to make soap using both “the hot and the cold processes” with guidance of a soap expert. They attended a whole year of trainings and site visits to other women’s cooperatives and boutique soap factories in Mardin and Hatay. The Marmara Hotels and Fiba Group became the first customers for the soaps. The women’s soap-making project is expected to expand with the addition of new producers as more and more marketing networks are established.
Handicrafts Project: In partnership with Fiba Retail and Shiva Textiles 50 women from Ravanda have been producing handicrafts to be sold at Marks and Spencer and GAP stores in Istanbul and Ankara. Thanks to this project, the majority of the participating women have earned an income for the first time in their lives. This project will continue in 2014 to further strengthen the economic capacity of women in Ravanda.
Ravanda Women’s Association: For the last two years women from Ravanda villages have been organizing with the constant support and encouragement of Özyeğin Foundation to establish a women’s association. As a first step, the women attended capacity-building sessions on community organizing. Some of the topics included, “the importance of organizing,” “mutual trust and openness,” “participation,” and “success and failure in community organizing.” Then, 17 members of the women’s group visited Yeşilpınar Women’s Association and Vakıflı Village Cooperative in Hatay. 2 community centers will be built in two villages, so that Ravanda Women’s Association, which will be the main strategic partner of the Özyeğin Foundation in Ravanda has the space to carry out its activities.
From the beginning of the project, each village has been regularly disinfected against mosquitos and flies. 10 shepherds and 117 students participated in environmental education classes. 50 farmers were given training on pasture improvement. A garbage collection area was built to safely remove garbage produced by households from inhabited areas. Organic waste composting demonstrations were carried out.
Özyeğin Foundation has been in constant dialogue and partnership with the GAP Directorate, the Silk Road Development Agency, Polateli and Musabeyli District Directorates of Agriculture. Other partnerhips in Ravanda include:
- In April 2012, a joint team of students from Özyeğin University and the Young Guru Academy came to Ravanda villages to conduct a research study to determine the feasibility of solar energy in the Basin.
- Leaders’ Quest, which is an organization that offers senior executives from around the world the opportunity to experience local cultures in different parts of the world, visited the project villages in Ravanda.
- Volunteers from Fiba Group companies visited Ravanda and gave workshops on different topics.