CELAL KARADOGAN

Turkey,

Bringing a fresh new alternative to Turkey’s segregated approach to disability and youth, Celal Karadogan creates spaces and experiences for youth with and without disabilities to overcome their barriers, to experience the power of solidarity and to realize their full potentials, both physically and mentally. In his club, disabled youth find opportunities to lead active and meaningful lives, while youth without disabilities develop empathy and the ability to live with differences.

This profile below was prepared when Celal Karadogan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.

INTRODUCTION

Bringing a fresh new alternative to Turkey’s segregated approach to disability and youth, Celal Karadogan creates spaces and experiences for youth with and without disabilities to overcome their barriers, to experience the power of solidarity and to realize their full potentials, both physically and mentally. In his club, disabled youth find opportunities to lead active and meaningful lives, while youth without disabilities develop empathy and the ability to live with differences.




THE NEW IDEA

Turkey’s approach to disability remains plagued by a culture that pities and objectifies the disabled, which results in segregated and charity based interventions, and a lack of role models to challenge existing stereotypes. Youth emerges as both a critical life period and important societal group with the potential to break this vicious cycle, yet without interventions that integrate and empower the youth and disabled, this opportunity goes amiss. 

Celal Karadogan aims to turn the double disadvantage of being disabled and young into an advantage and a tool to develop empathy among all youth in Turkey. In his Youth and Disabled Sports Club, Celal runs a comprehensive support program including sports activities, socializing opportunities, education support, career guidance and mentoring, targeting both disabled and non-disabled youth. 

The program and Club serve as a unique space free from prejudices and social barriers, where everyone can be equal yet different. A physically disabled boy teaching others basketball or a girl with learning disabilities tutoring a friend become usual, defying the stereotypes and notions around what disabled youth can or cannot do. As a result, youth without disabilities develop empathy and ability to live with differences, while disabled youth find opportunities to lead active and meaningful lives.

Celal is currently spreading his approach and work so that more empowerment spaces such as his club exists for disabled and non-disabled youth. He is consulting country level youth and disability organizations, while also forming a network of disabled sports clubs in 110 locations across the country. Celal’s ultimate goal is to mainstream disability in not only youth organizations but in NGOs from all fields, be them youth, environment, women’s or human rights focused.




THE PROBLEM

Although youth is a period full of possibilities and opportunities for one to grow, for disabled youth in Turkey it becomes a period where they first experience exclusion and disappointment. It is during youth that most disabled fail to continue their education or find a job, get detached from social life and give up ambitions for a degree, job, partner or family. Disabled youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are especially neglected, kept locked in their homes as passive beings. The result is what is called “a sleeping giant”, a mass of disabled and young people who have low levels of education, no income other than government support and no hopes for the future. 

Government and civil society approach disability with charity oriented, short term campaigns, which fail to address the problem at a systematic level. Even worse, many disabled organizations promote a pity culture based on creating a guilty conscious at the expense of creating a public image that disabled are needy and weak people. Turkey’s bourgeoning youth movement turns a blind eye to disabled youth, occasionally running charity campaigns and showing no concern to include them in their activities as active contributors. With the lack of opportunities to participate in life, disabled youth are also left without good role models they can look up to. 

The result is disabled and non-disabled youth growing up and living totally segregated lives, alien to one another’s circumstances. Moreover, catalyzed by the lack of good role models, the disabled youth also start to live in a self-fulling prophecy where they feel and perceive themselves as useless and passive individuals, internalizing learned helplessness. As such, the persistence of a culture that pities and objectifies the disabled, the prevalence of segregated and charity based interventions, and the lack of role models to challenge stereotypes keeps preventing disabled youth to become active contributors to Turkish society.




THE STRATEGY

In his sports club based on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, Celal runs a comprehensive support program that targets the physical and mental wellbeing of youth and supports them socialize, go through their education and take their first steps towards successful careers. His support program consists of sports activities, academic support and social activities that annually attract 1500 youth and children to the Club, where 10% consists of mentally or physically disabled youth. The Club provides a rich spectrum of activities ranging from intramural sports to training professional athletes for Paralympics, from big brother/big sister mentoring programs to foreign language courses. 

The support program acts as a medium through which Celal creates spaces and experiences for youth with and without disabilities where they can co-exist, leave prejudices outside and get the support they need to realize their full potentials in life. Having disabled youth as volunteers, sports instructors and tutors, Celal is able to create role reversals and experiences that deny existing stereotypes and empower both the disabled and non-disabled youth. His model allows disabled youth find opportunities to lead active and meaningful lives, while youth without disabilities develop empathy and ability to live with differences. The result is increased levels of empathy, social activism and self-confidence, both among disabled and non-disabled youth. Out of the 500 youth who attend Club programs on a daily basis each year, all participate in social projects targeting youth, disability or other groups such as women and elderly, while 30 go on to design and implement their own social projects. 

Having proven himself in his local town Adana, Celal now looks to spread his approach by increasing the number of youth and disabled empowerment spaces such as his Club. His expansion strategy is threefold: In order to create empowerment spaces for youth and disabled all over the country, he is partnering with some of Turkey’s largest youth organizations, including Ashoka Senior Fellow Ibrahim Betil’s TOG, to open up similar spaces in their university chapters at 110 locations across the country. He is also working with disabled organizations and disabled sports clubs in a network format, where he is implementing a capacity development program to support them in including and working with youth and young volunteers. Finally, he is acting as a watchdog for all youth programs delivered by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, making visible their failure to include disabled youth and securing quotas for their involvement in all future activities. 

Celal’s ultimate goal is to change the conversation on disability in Turkey. To this end, he looks to mainstream disability not only in youth organizations but in all civil society organizations, so that it becomes a cross cutting theme and priority in Turkey’s young but bourgeoning civil society movement. He is an active contributor and member of nation-level NGO platforms and is delivering awareness raising trainings to thousands of NGO members and managers each year. He also runs popular social media campaigns and surveys websites and publications of disabled groups and organizations to change their language and perspective to one that respects disabled people as different yet equal members of Turkish society.




THE PERSON

Disabled by polio as a child, by the age of 15, Celal Karadogan was accustomed to watching the football games in his neighborhood from the side of the field, until one day he was asked to settle a dispute between the two teams. This became the start of his career as the neighborhood referee, where teams would count on his honesty and communication skills to solve their problems. This experience made him realize early on that being “active” and “useful” was key to his development as a young person, especially as a disabled individual for whom such experiences were scarce. 

Celal grew up to be a wheelchair basketball player and even realized his dream to play at the European Championships. However, the championship was not only a huge defeat for the Turkish team, but it was also a moment of realization for Celal that the huge gap between the two teams was not only in sports skills. It was the result of a systematic problem, where disabled youth was not empowered physically, technically or mentally to be full individuals. He quit his career as a basketball player and resettled in his hometown Adana in 2005, with the aim to establish a sports club to train young disabled athletes. He first started organizing sports events in his neighborhood, and it was then that he realized there were no opportunities for youth – be them disadvantaged by their economic status or physical or mental disability – to even leave their houses, to use their bodies and minds actively, or to socialize. He managed to get a small space for his Club 2008, which he managed to expand to include a park, sports field and activity building by winning an award from the World Bank and an 8 day hunger strike in front of the local municipality. 

Since its establishment, the Club acts as a home for social, educational and sports activities that create a suitable environment for opportunities for youth to interact with one another and develop empathy, social consciousness and self-confidence. Today, Celal says the Club was the most meaningful thing he achieved in his entire life, and makes him prouder than any gold medal possibly could.




RELATED: