Meet Ilknur and Gülefer: Girls with Goals
by Damla Ozdemir
For a few months now, I have had the privilege of knowing two bright, young village girls from rural eastern Turkey. Ilknur and Gülefer are such a delight to talk to, mainly because of their relentless hopes for the future and their love of the country that they call home, despite the challenges that they have faced throughout their lives. There is no doubt that they have had setbacks, but they serve as an inspiration to all of us who feel that we cannot lift ourselves up or make a change. In essence, these two teenagers, who have entered my life quite recently, embody the idea of going through everyday “like a girl.”
Not only were Ilknur and Gülefer very excited to communicate with Duke students, but they also seized the opportunity to practice expressing themselves in English during this interview, which is something that we have been working on.
I want to make this piece a platform for their voices to be heard outside of their villages, especially since they have never been physically far from their respective bubbles. We all live in bubbles, of course, but we also share experiences with girls like them, halfway across the world—yet just one click away. Through the act of reading their thoughts, perhaps we will become more conscious of our own.
What is the shape of your day?
Gülefer: “I wake up at 7:30 am and prepare for my online classes. Then, I have breakfast, and when my classes end, I do homework, study, and read my books.”
Ilknur: “I wake up in the morning thinking about what I have to do during the day. I plan my daily responsibilities in my head and write them down on paper. Then I have a nice and healthy breakfast. I prepare for online lessons, but I am in favor of face-to-face education. The information we learn in-person becomes more permanent, and we also have a more pleasant time. I have to concentrate in order to be sufficiently active and to listen to the lectures, so I need enough regular and balanced sleep the night before. After the lessons, I repeat the topics I was taught that day and do my homework. Later, because it is good for me to take care of my siblings, I braid my sisters' hair. That makes me very happy, and them also. When it comes time to sleep, I take my book and read it in bed. This is my day. I always smile at the end of the day because life is beautiful when you smile.”
What are your academic goals?
Gülefer: “I want to improve my German and speak English more fluently. My current goal for the future is to become a psychologist.”
Ilknur: “In the future, I want to be a prosecutor, improve my English, be able to speak German as well, and learn more computer science. I want to be of use to people who need help.”
What is your favorite school subject?
Gülefer: “I most enjoy my English and literature classes.”
Ilknur: “My favorite school subject is Turkish Language and Literature. I enjoy the topics in literature class and it instills a habit of reading.”
What motivates you?
Gülefer: “My efforts to become successful motivate me.”
Ilknur: “It is remembering the things I have accomplished before that makes me stand up when I fall. I motivate myself with what I have accomplished while doing something and let go of the thought that I cannot handle this thing if it is something I normally cannot do.”
What do you think you couldn’t do without?
Gülefer: “I don’t think I could do without my books.”
Ilknur: “I can't do without books. Literature adds a lot to me and gives me a different perspective. When I read, I feel like a director making his own movie. Also, art is an important part of my life. I love engaging in artistic pursuits and I am also interested in the visual arts, which is my hobby. Art is really a necessity in my life.”
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
Gülefer: “When I grow up, I want to be a woman who has a strong career and can stand on her own two feet.”
Ilknur: “I want to be someone who does what she loves when I grow up. I love and agree with Aziz Sancar's words and way of thinking. For example, this statement by him impressed me: ‘We are not superior to everyone, but we are also not inferior to anyone. Let's take pride in ourselves so that others will respect us. I do not believe in intelligence. Most people believe in intelligence, I do not. It is labor that separates us from each other. I believe in working…’ I view him as a role model because he also grew up in a village, but his current situation is very good due to his efforts.”
Are there issues with female rights in your village?
Gülefer: “In my area, the biggest problem is a lack of education. Most females here are illiterate, and this is seriously sad. Also, we don’t have an Internet connection in my village, so this is a huge disadvantage for students who cannot connect from home during the pandemic.”
Ilknur: “There are problems with women's rights in my village, but not as many as in the past. The villagers have negative views towards education. This prejudice starts with grandparents at the very beginning, and children who grow up in this sort of negative environment resemble their older family members, and they do not want to study either. They do not see the fruits of learning, neither in their family nor in their community. Actually, they are hardworking and devoted. They just need a little enlightenment.”
Is there anything you would like to say to university students in the U.S.?
Gülefer: “I don’t have much to say to you, but I hope that I will also go to the U.S. one day!”
Ilknur: “I have the following questions for university students in the United States: Do you have problems with women's rights around you too? If so, have you ever objected or tried to prevent these problems? What do you think about being involved in the arts? Is there a place for art in your life? I am curious about the USA, especially its universities. What kind of education system do you have? What kinds of foreign languages do you learn? These are the main questions I have for you that I’m curious about. Also, if one day you end up in Turkey, I think you should enjoy it and travel all over, because in my opinion, Turkey is a beautiful country. Each location is filled with unique wonders, so I hope that you get to experience them one day.”
What is your favorite quote?
Gülefer: “Strong is the one who knows her weakness better than anyone else; stronger is the one who can dominate her weakness.” - Confucius
Ilknur: “Although I love Aziz Sancar a lot, I like Rumi’s quotes more. My favorite saying of his is this: ‘Appear as you are. Be as you appear.’ People must really present themselves as they are, not like anything else. If we present ourselves as other people, we can't be happy, simply because we become a stranger.”