I started my internship at the Maya Foundation nearly directly after my semester abroad. I got to know the NGO Maya Foundation due to a seminar where I attended in order to become a volunteer. The Maya Foundation is generally working with many volunteers because their projects demand to do so. If you want to become an intern at Maya you have to be a student in your Master’s Degree or close to finish your Bachelor’s Degree, and be able to work in English. Furthermore Maya asks for your CV and a Motivation Letter, and to commit yourself to the NGO for at least six month.

To give you a better understanding for the work of Maya I want to make a brief summary about Maya in general and the projects I have been assigned to in particular:

The Maya Foundation was established in September 2015 with the aim of making the world a more desirable and safer place for children and youth aged between 6 and 18, supporting children’s mental, physical and academic development, and of building a future where children can express themselves freely, think creatively and reach their full potential.
The vision of Maya can be described as the following: the dream of a society of healthy individuals who enjoyed their childhood and youth freely, safely and productively. The mission is to improve the quality of life of children and youth aged between 6 and 18 and also help them reaching their full potential. The values are the Protection of Children’s Rights, Respect for Human Honor, Respect for all Cultures and Differences, Focus on Children and Youth, Scientific Methodology, Cooperation an Volunteering, Transparency and Accountability.

Maya is carrying out several different projects. Me personally I was mainly involved in the “Hold my Hand – Project Lift” project. This project focuses on traumatized Syrian children between 6 – 12 years by providing trauma informed interventions, in the form of creative art therapy modalities, through five-day workshops. The therapeutic creative arts workshops utilize expressive art, music and dance movement therapy methods as a psychosocial support modality. The art workshops are orientated on the Skills for Psychological Recovery Model (SPR) and take around 1 hour per art session.

During my first days at Maya I was mainly introduced to the material on which the concept of Project Lift is based. So I read and summarized a lot about the Social Recovery Model, Trauma, the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey and the idea and implementation of Art Therapy.

I was working in a team with around 15 female clinical psychologists/therapists. One of the therapists was my supervisor. We had regular meetings where we talked about my tasks, my wellbeing and how I am doing at Maya. After the first period of my internship, my supervisor asked me to write a reflection paper about my work. If I would have to describe my internship as a whole, I would split it into the time at the office and the time in the field.

The office was constructed as an open office. Every member of the NGO spoke Turkish and English but all of them were Turkish citizens which mean that I have been the only foreigner working there. That was generally not a problem but my only very basic knowledge of Turkish limited my social interaction with the team, for example during lunch time. But it hasn’t really been an obstacle for my work in the field or office because the “working language” was English. While I was working in the office I assisted the therapists with their daily work and therefore every kind of task. At some days I was supposed to create Excel Files to get a better overview of the treated children, at other days I was solving statistic tasks in order to evaluate the gained data of a project, or interpret behavioral observation charts, and so on. So somehow every day was challenging because I was handling such various tasks and before solving them I had to get acquainted with them. But yet I enjoyed to get challenged because I have learned a lot of new skills, especially when it came to dealing with Excel, SPSS (statistical software) and evaluation of data in general. And of course the situation by itself has improved my problem solving skills.

For most of the time of my internship I was required to assist in the office – to be honest that made me a little bit sad, because the work in the field I have definitely enjoyed the most. On the other hand this means reality. Every single project has to be developed, implemented and evaluated – and the process of the development and the evaluation takes much more time than the implementation. Furthermore every project is also a new challenge for the whole team, so I felt in good company with my feelings of being overwhelmed from time to time.

Now I want to talk about my experiences in the field.

One of my first field experiences took already place during my first week as an intern. I participated at an event which took place in the frame of the community day. The community day is the last coming together after completing the trauma rehabilitation workshops. The aim of these day is to engage the children in cultural activities of the city they live in, practice newly acquired skills outside the therapy sessions and being aware of limits and boundaries of self, others and the environment.
This time the community day took place in a cinema with approximately twenty children and four therapists and around five volunteers. Between the volunteers were always people who were capable of speaking Arabic and English, so that they could translate. Most of the children were speaking fluently Arabic and some Turkish and English. But to ensure a communication without too many misunderstandings it was necessary that the children had the possibility to communicate in their mother tongue. Therefore, ideally, every therapist could always easily reach a translator or volunteer to assist her.

During this first experience in the field I was mostly following the other volunteers and tried to observe the scenery. It worked out pretty well and if I felt unsecure what to do or had a question I could always find someone to help me. In total this day wasn’t really a challenging task because the children were pretty calm and enjoyed to watch a movie in a cinema. A lot of them have never been to a cinema before. But I remember this one boy, he was very small. In the middle of the movie he became so anxious that he started crying and screaming and was not able to calm down anymore. Therefore around three people were needed to take care of him. At this point I somehow realized that these children experienced situations that were beyond my power of imagination.

After this first field work I have spent a long time only at the office until a new project started. The new Project was the pilot project for the Trauma Informed School Project. It was implemented in three Temporary Education Centers, where Syrian children ages between 7 -12 were receiving education. The aims of the project were to reduce trauma symptoms of Syrian children who experienced traumatic events such as war, loss and immigration, to increase children’s cognitive readiness to be educated by enhancing their emotion regulation skills, to develop their coping skills and promote solution-based and proactive behaviors instead of resorting to violent behaviors. In line with these goals, interventions focusing on transforming school environment to a child-friendly space, psychosocial support for children and training and supervision support to school personnel (teachers, administers, employees) about child protection policy and positive discipline methods were provided.

To serve the aims of the project Maya provided the therapeutic creative arts workshops, which I have mentioned at the beginning, at the Temporary Education Centers. In order to conduct the workshops we were always working in a team consisting of therapists, translators and volunteers. The workshops took place during the school routine of the children. We entered the classrooms as a team with all our art materials and occupied the children for around 60 minutes. My task during this time was to help the therapists to conduct their sessions. That meant to take care of children who are extra hyper active, to distribute the materials, to guide the children to the toilet, to assist them with a task, to calm them down, to call a therapist if a child seems to be in trouble (e.g. experienced a flashback), to pay attention to the time and to assist the translators. It is important to mention that the children who were participating at these workshops were usually victims of traumatic experiences and therefore struggling with the regulation of emotions. When I’m talking about “struggling with the regulation of emotions” I mean that they often acted aggressive, lethargic, passive, attention seeking etc. So it’s a totally different thing to work with traumatized children than working with “healthy” children. To sum up it was somehow very exhausting, often sad but at the same time also satisfying. I felt satisfaction because of the progress that became visible in some children while the time was passing. Furthermore it gave me a big pleasure to see them enjoying the art workshops and simply just to see them happy. In addition to the art workshops that were held with a large group of children, Maya provided individual sessions with children who presented an especially suspicious behavior. I was also allowed to attend the individual sessions as a silent observer. In total I spent around 5 weeks in the Trauma Informed School Project.

After 5 month with Maya my supervisor left the Foundation. She was replaced by one of the therapists of the team who I already worked with several times. Insofar it wasn’t really a problem for me, but of course I felt sad about it because my former supervisor and me had a very good relationship.

I extended my internship at Maya in order to also follow the next Project. That is the Project where I’m still working at the time. It’s a Center in an area of Istanbul where many Syrian refugees are living. The center provides again therapeutic art therapy sessions. Again I had many different tasks there, like helping to develop the materials and activities for the sessions, building the center and now assisting the Therapists during the therapeutic sessions.

On paper my internship will be finished this week, but in practice I will stay at Maya as a volunteer for once or twice a week, because I’m really convinced of the effectiveness of their work and also feel as an highly appreciated part of the team.