DO grad volunteers in IstanbulBy: Chris Greenwood, Loomis News Student Intern
A 2012 Del Oro High School grad’s spring break activities have proven to be life changing.
Taylor Cummings, 19, of Loomis, a freshman political science major at the University of California, San Diego, decided to spend his spring break in Istanbul working with disabled children as a member of the Break Away organization.
According to their website, Break Away is a non-profit group that helps send almost 15,000 student volunteers to hundreds of locations every year. Cummings took the 14-hour flight to Turkey, where he and a group of students accompanied by professors took in the sights that included a cruise on the Bosporus Strait, along the west coast of Asia.
Cummings said, "The entire week was a heck of an experience.”
But Cummings said he found his time at the rehabilitation center for disabled children “life-changing.”
The group spent three days at the Private Turkish Mothers Association of Special Education and Rehabilitation Center in Bakırkö, The center specializes in helping children with autism spectrum disorders and Down Syndrome.
Cummings' group took the children to museums, planted flowers in the center's garden and shared arts and crafts project with them.
Cummings said what really created a bond between the visitors and the kids was dancing.
"Istanbul is a super Westernized culture. The kids there know all about our music – like the Harlem Shake and Gangnam Style. They wanted to show us what they knew about American culture by dancing. Then, they wanted us to show them what we were about,” Cummings said.
The big difference for these children, as Cummings realized, was how they are accommodated by their culture versus the treatment those with special needs receive back in the U.S.
"The thing about the disability center that we went to is that they are extremely rare. There are only a few in the entire country. In addition, the kids only get two or three hours of education a day," he said.
Their surroundings also pose difficulty for them. Cummings said it’s "impossible to get around in a wheelchair. They have the guidelines and codes for buildings, but they simply do not enforce them."
Cummings said he made a special connection with a boy named Bekir. "He really liked to dance just as much as me and he was really outgoing.”
When the time came to leave, Cummings said it became emotional.
"Half of us were in tears when we left. I remember Bekir and I crying as we said our goodbyes, we both understood how special our time together had been."
Cummings believes because of the trip he has a new passion in life.
He said, "One of the members who went on the trip used to do in-home training for disabled kids that were out of control, and their parents were having trouble getting them to cooperate. That's something I'd like to pursue at some point".
Cummings said he’d like to return next year and work with the same organization.
"The kids and the staff at the center loved us, and we loved them," he said.
Cummings said through the trip he discovered, "Dance is a universal language. I think it's probably the greatest connector of people."
For more information about Break Away organization, go to alternativebreaks.org.