This is the story of Garen and Kaan, who have come together through the Best Buddies Turkey which aims to create opportunities for individual friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Their story proves that real friendships have no barriers.
Here is the article Kaan Demir wrote for Special Children Education and Solidarity Association’s e-journal :
“GAREN HAS SHOWN ME PURE LOVE”
Until 2 years ago, all I did was to play basketball. I started taking part in civil society initiatives and this was a defining moment in my life. Social Responsibilities Club in my school has been active for over 10 years. I looked up to the members and wanted to learn more about their work. After asking them, they told me about Dreams Academy. So I visited there and did the works I had never tried before; took care of people who developed differently and took courses with them, mopped the floor, cleaned the windows, baked cookies. That day, on my way to my dorm, I decided that I wanted to be with them.
I heard about Best Buddies Turkey Project in 9th grade but I thought I wasn’t experienced enough. I mean, spending time with them under a trainer’s watch isn’t the same as meeting up with them alone and organizing what to do. That’s why I participated in the project in 10th grade. If you are wondering about Best Buddies Turkey; it’s a project founded in USA in 1989 to fight against discrimination of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and help them socialize. And now, they continue their work actively in 48 countries with new projects as a non-profit organisation.
Alternative Life Association has right to carry out this project in Turkey since 2010. If you want to participate, you’ll have to take two courses. First one is about the right approach to the disability subject and the other is leadership seminar. After these steps, introduction meetings are held in the rehabilitation centers which have agreements with your school and then the project starts.
During the project, you’ll have to meet twice a month in person, make contact once a week. These details are the things you can find online, that’s why I want to talk to you about my personal experiences.
MEETING WITH GAREN
I saw Garen at the matching ceramony for the first time. I wouldn’t think he was a person with disability. He was really warm-hearted and sincere. First, we met at an shopping centre. Until the end of the first two months, we could talk for maximum 40 minutes. He used to eat the same thing every meeting but he still would be hungry. After I got used to that, I started taking double hamburgers so I could share with him after he finishes his meal. He would ask “Who’s going to eat this?” and I would answer “We will, together”. So I would cut it in half and shared with him. After finishing the first half, he would ask the same question again and take the other half as well. The day would end when Garen told that he was tired. It was difficult at first but we became true friends. Our meetings lasted for almost 3 hours as we get used to each other. We played basketball, went to amusement parks and cinema.
As a result of autism, Garen has a few obsessions like infinity, death and the number two. For example, he would ask me about the second one of twin daughters who were born on 2.2.2002. I wouldn’t understand him, but I wanted to. That’s why I started to join his sessions with his psychologist. That’s not a thing a buddy should do but I wanted to really understand Garen, so I couldn’t help it.
When I was having difficulties, I found a solution for his questions like “What is death?” “What is infinity?” I would ask him to ask me these after our 82th birthday. So I could delay the answers. Then he started other questions: “I want to talk to you about something but how long do I have to wait until 82?”
He has his own language. You can’t understand his writings but his codes are actually meaningful to him.
One of very surprising features of Garen is he remembers what happened in exact dates, like 25 May 2007 or 13 April 2009. He memorizes everybody’s birthdate.
It took a long time to understand Garen but it was worth it. I believe we have a very stong connection. Being a volunteer made me a different person and Garen has shown me pure love.
FRIENDSHIP LASTS FOREVER
After the project ended, we continued to meet with Garen. After 8 months, we came to a point that we were a part of each other’s lives. He has his mother, his coaches and teachers but I want to be there for him, too. We all need people like us around. After a long day at school, Garen clears out my negative thoughts from my mind and eats all my food.