The Cyprus Friendship Programme is a long-standing organisation that has been actively working for many years, specifically targeting teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 who attend high school.
Hilmi Arıca, a camp coordinator of the Cyprus Friendship Programme (CFP), was interviewed by Voice International, discussing the organisation’s 15-year commitment to fostering friendships and bonds between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on the island. We’ve talked on topics such as the CFP’s summer camps, highlighting their efforts in bringing people together and promoting unity during the interview.
Hilmi Arıca’s involvement with bicommunal organisations began when he was selected to join the CFP Troodos camp in 2016. The following year, he had the opportunity to travel to Oregon, California, and stay with a host family, where he participated in leadership workshops and spent an entire month bonding with a Greek Cypriot counterpart. Since then, Hilmi has remained an active volunteer, serving as a camp coordinator at CFP and actively participating in various bicommunal peace organisations.
Firstly do you want to tell us a bit about the organisation, in general?
The Cyprus Friendship Programme has two different branches. The first branch is known as the “Year One”, where we are organise a bi-communal camp in Cyprus, mainly in Troodos. The second part of the programme is the “Year Two”, where we send a number of kids to states such as Oregon, Texas, and other states in the United States, where they spend a month with a Greek-speaking or Turkish-speaking Cypriot, as pairs.
How can teenagers apply?
Teenagers can apply through our website by filling out the application form. The application period begins in December and the deadline is usually around the middle of February. We ask applicants to answer several essay questions to assess their knowledge. Afterward, we invite them for an interview, which typically takes place in March or April, depending on coordinator availability. Within two or three weeks after the interview, we inform the applicants whether they have been selected to join the CFP camp.
If someone is not selected, can they reapply?
If they are still eligible according to the application criteria, they can reapply the following year. Alternatively, they may remain on our waiting list. For instance, if a teenager is unable to attend the camp due to being abroad, we call someone new from the waiting list.
What happens in “Year Two”? What are the criteria for sending them to the USA?
To be eligible for “Year Two”, teens must attend and successfully complete the “Year One”. However, it’s important to note that not every teenager who participated in “Year One” will be selected for “Year Two,” and they may not be with the same camp pair. In “Year Two,” they must submit a new application and participate in an interview again. Based on their performance in both stages, they will be selected. Having an additional year of high school is an advantage, as we expect them to promote our programme in their school. The number of participants in “Year Two” depends on the availability of host families. I have to mention that we choose host families because we believe that our teens will have the chance to broaden their perspectives and exchange culture, customs and tradition with American families, who generously open their homes to our teenagers. Each pair of teenagers (one Greek Cypriot and one Turkish Cypriot of the same gender) stays with a host family for a month.
What do they do during their stay?
During their time in the United States, they participate in workshops organised by professionals. Each state has a coordinator responsible for organising workshops for our teenagers. The host families also take them to different places, providing opportunities for shared experiences and exploration. For example, during my time in Oregon, we attended various meetings organised by Rotary Clubs, We also learned more about the programme and the island. This experience allows our teenagers to develop leadership and public speaking skills, share their experiences and spread awareness.
How many applications did you receive this summer?
This year, after the COVID-19 pandemic, we received the highest number of applicants. We received over 250 applications for the Troodos Camp and we are going to make two camps at Weir Camp and Rocky Point of 100 teenagers. These camps are located around 200 meters apart, so they merge during larger activities. As for “Year Two,” we are going to send around 20-30 teenagers or pairs. The numbers vary each year depending on the applicants and the availability of host families.
Isn’t 100 kids in one workshop a large number?
Yes, it is a significant number, but we have volunteers who support our coordinators, as well as an ample number of coordinators. We create small groups known as home groups, with a maximum of 10, 11, or 12 campers in each group. The leader of each home group serves as a helper. Last year, we had around six coordinators and 10 helpers.
Why are teenagers the driving force for promoting and strengthening friendships and communication between the two communities?
Our organisation focuses on peace, togetherness, and hope. The reason we target the age group of 15-18 years old (teenagers) is that peace represents hope for all Cypriots, and hope is inherently future-oriented. We believe that the future belongs to the younger generation and that they can make a difference if they have a solid foundation. Cyprus Friendship Programme provides teenagers with experiences to become good leaders, team builders, alumni, or peace ambassadors.
Why is CFP based on a camp?
We organise a camp as the foundation of our programme, emphasising communication, togetherness, and friendship. The camp helps build bridges and friendships among Cypriot teenagers. During the camp, we provide workshops to help them overcome any stereotypes they may have about the other Cypriot community. We give them time to interact with teenagers from the other community, break down barriers, and realise that despite their differences, there are underlying similarities that connects them.
What do you mean by “workshops”?
Workshops involve activities such as exploring the common history of the island. Cyprus has been divided into two parts, and we still have the Green Line. The official history taught in schools on both sides of the island presents different perspectives to our teenagers. We don’t provide biased or false information about history; instead, we present facts. Our teenagers take the pieces of information they have learned and create a puzzle, forming a line of common history. This is what we refer to as the “Walk of History” workshop. Through this workshop, we hope to learn lessons from past events and prevent them from being repeated in the future.
What about the volunteers? Can someone apply even if they didn’t attend “Year One”?
CFP is a 100% volunteer project. Volunteers primarily serve as camp facilitators but can also be helpers or invitees. Camp coordinators, for example, are responsible for organising workshops and bringing something new to the programme. Most coordinators are teachers who may also organise presentations in their schools. Helpers are responsible for a home group of 10 campers and have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills, potentially becoming coordinators in the future. We also introduce our teenagers to invitees who have made significant contributions to the peace process on the island. For example, we are inviting people from “United Cyprus Now” or other peace organisations to share their experiences with our teens. Volunteers who are interested in getting involved with CFP can contact the American coordinators, the director of CFP, or any other listed contact on our website, via email. The board of CFP will provide further information on how they can become volunteers for the programme. Although, priority is given to alumni who have already experienced the culture of CFP. During the selection process, we consider their experiences related to the culture of peace, their opinions about Cyprus, and how they can contribute to fostering friendship and togetherness among Cypriot communities through the programme. Currently, we are organising a camp for coordinators in Kormakitis, where alumni from both sides are invited. Though, the last one is still a new project.
How many volunteers are going to join the first camp and the second one in total?
We try to keep an equal number of Greek and Turkish speaking CFP camp coordinators. So let’s say in our camps we have around six camp coordinators. Therefore, we typically have around six camp coordinators at each camp. However, last year we held two camps simultaneously, which required approximately 12 coordinators. We have also changed the location to Weir Camp in Troodos, which is closer to the Plateia (Square) of Troodos. Previously, we used the old primary school of Agios Nikolaos, but it was not well maintained by the government, resulting in issues with electricity and water supply.
What’s the next step of being a facilitator?
Individuals should actively participate in the programme. The Cyprus Friendship Programme is a lifelong experience with various projects, including camps and activities in the Buffer Zone. Therefore, we need people who can organise and contribute to the success of these activities, workshops, and other initiatives. We particularly value individuals who come from the culture of CFP and have firsthand experience with the programme.
How do you keep in touch with them?
We keep in touch with volunteers through various means. We have their email addresses, allowing us to contact them directly. Additionally, we have an alumni account on Instagram and Facebook where we share updates and information about the organisation and its camps. We also use our official website, Facebook page, and Instagram account to stay connected with teens and volunteers and provide them with information about CFP and the opportunities available to Cypriot teenagers.
Why do you recommend CFP to our youngsters?
I wholeheartedly recommend joining the Cyprus Friendship Programme because the friendships they will form during the camp and beyond are invaluable, and the programme teaches teenagers how to be peace builders/ambassadors. It actually gives them the values of love, respect, and acceptance, which they can then share with their friends and communities. Cyprus Friendship Programme is a lifelong organisation, offering a foundation for personal growth and the opportunity to make a positive impact on society.