Music blared from loudspeakers, children danced and jumped about, and there were smiles all around, Anadolu News Agency reports.
For a minute, life seemed all good at this futsal ground nestled in the winding roads of Defne, a district in Turkiye’s Hatay province. That, though, could not be further from the truth.
Defne was struck hard by last month’s earthquakes and all the people at this small carnival of sorts were the lucky ones who survived.
Most are now living in tents or container cities sprinkled around the area, trying to survive and just make it through each day.
Such glimpses of unfiltered happiness on children’s faces in Defne have been rare, if not impossible, since disaster struck at 4:17 am on 6 February.
The ones who helped make this happen have travelled a long way from Istanbul, journeying through quake-hit southern Turkiye on a mission to spread smiles and help children be children again.
“You’ve seen it with your own eyes; everyone here has been forced to leave their homes. Their life is no longer what it used to be. We are trying to give them something of their old lives and show them we are with them,” Murat Demir, the group coordinator from Istanbul’s Bahcelievler Municipality, told Anadolu.
Demir and his team have named their project “Hayal Tamirhanesi”, which roughly translates to “Imagination Workshop”, and aims to heal some of the deep psychological scars inflicted by the calamity.
According to Demir, the idea is to get children out of the shell that almost all of them have been pushed into by this great tragedy.
“The children are a bit hesitant and nervous, at first, but they open up after a few minutes and it’s great to see them have fun,” he said.
There is an array of fun activities packed into a couple of hours, from sing-alongs to games, a jumping castle, puppet shows, food and a lot of cotton candy.
For the parents standing around, this was a rare moment of respite where they could stop – even if for a few hours – worrying about their kids and their mental health.
“Look at them. It seems they’ve forgotten about the earthquake. They are happy and excited. They are laughing and smiling after a month,” said Feriha Yurtseven, a Defne local, as she kept a close eye on her daughter.
“Hopefully, there will be more such events. The children need it. They were the most affected,” she said.
Gonul Cicekli and her nine-year-old daughter were drawn to the event by the music, and both were more than happy for the distraction.
“We just heard the music and came here. My daughter was over the moon when she heard the songs. She wanted to come right away,” she said.
As she spoke, her daughter ran up, a colouring book tucked under one arm and cotton candy clutched firmly in the other, her smiling face glowing with pure joy.
“Our children need to be happy. They need such positive things. We all need it,” said Flowers.