National UN Volunteer Cagla (pronounced Challa) Cavusoglu began her assignment in Istanbul last September mobilizing young people in the information technology (IT) field to volunteer and train economically disadvantaged Turkish youth.
The free e-learning courses, offered by the Cisco Networking Academy, can be put towards certificates in information and communication technologies (ICTs). Once the youth complete the training, they are encouraged to become volunteer trainers.
Known as SPARK (Youth Movement in Informatics), the project has provided IT instruction to over 2,300 students, including teenagers, in Turkey since it began in 2006. UNV and Cisco have worked in partnership since 2000 to improve IT training opportunities for underserved populations worldwide.
In November, Cagla's duties expanded when SPARK for Women was launched to reach women, who form another often economically disadvantaged group, of all ages and backgrounds.
Now Cagla also recruits volunteer trainers and local women to respectively give and take the new course: IT Essentials. During one intensive week, participants attend 75 hours of instruction in IT, job-hunting and workplace survival skills.
We complement the hard skills training in basic and essential ICTs, with instruction in soft skills such as resumé building and job interview techniques, delivered by human resources experts and classes on labor law and their civil rights, given by lawyers, Cagla explains. The aim is for the women to improve their IT skills as well as their abilities to find and retain jobs in the labor market.
Those who graduate are encouraged to become volunteer trainers and share their new-found knowledge with more women.
It is early days, but 75 women have taken the full training session so far, says Cagla with some pride. There are also two sessions running right now in both Istanbul and ?zmir, with a total of 60 women enrolled. Next week, a session will begin in the City of Denizli.
The project faces some challenges due to inter-ethnic tensions in the Southeastern part of Turkey combined with prevailing cultural beliefs and practices.
Some families do not want their daughters to take part in projects they know nothing about, Cagla states. The women sometimes hold themselves back.
And given the ethnic differences between the instructors and the students, our trainers could use further soft skills training themselves, she reflects.
To meet the various challenges, we have to come up with new strategies to attract womens organizations and NGOs as well as for presenting the training to women.
-- Cagla Cavusoglu, UN Volunteer for Cisco Networking Academy
Cagla remains undaunted and enjoys a positive outlook on her assignment.
As a PhD candidate, conducting research in international political economy and development, I thought by working with this project I could combine and utilize both my theoretical and practical skills, Cagla says. So far, my hypothesis is proving to be correct.
After completing undergraduate studies in Turkey, her homeland, Cagla Cavusoglu attended New York University as a Fulbright scholar where she earned an MA in politics. Noting that several faculty members held adjunct positions while simultaneously carrying out UN, including UNDP, assignments, Cagla was encouraged to apply for this UNV assignment during which she is also working on her doctoral thesis.