'Father forest' walks through turkey's woods, educating people about forest fires

 
29 March 2017

published by https://www.dailysabah.com


Turkey —  For Veysel Sorhun, 50, being a devoted volunteer who raises awareness of the importance of forest protection and prevention of forest fires is a part of his daily life. Having organized over a dozen 'training walks' for his cause, Sorhun has defied the odds of his own physical disability by walking a distance of over 16,925 kilometers and sharing his personal stories of love for Turkey's forests across the country. Now, with summer just around the corner, Sorhun is preparing to greet campers, picnickers and forest goers for his 16th walk from İzmir to Kastamonu in a journey that will cover exactly 1,050 kilometers.

Inspired by his harrowing experience as a forest fire survivor in the Bornova district of İzmir some 30 years ago that left a profound emotional effect on the physically disabled man, Sorhun decided to volunteer to help prevent forest fires and to protect national forests by organizing walks across Turkey. Now, he embarks on the "16th Turkey One Tree, One Drop of Water" training walk in İzmir on May 4.

During his 1,050-kilometer walk through the provinces of Çanakkale, Bursa, Yalova, Kocaeli, Sakarya, Bolu, Kastamonu and surrounding districts, Sorhun will distribute leaflets and flyers to locals to draw attention to climate issues, including forest fires, drought, global warming and climate change.

Sorhun spoke to an Anadolu Agency (AA) correspondent, saying that he was brought up in an orphanage and was completely healthy until eight years of age, stressing that he received a late diagnosis and the wrong treatment for a dislocated hip, an ailment that left his right leg 15 centimeters shorter than his left one and resulted in a permanent disability.

After leaving the orphanage, Sorhun saw a large forest fire in the Bornova district while polishing shoes in İzmir on June 15, 1987.

"It was a massive fire. I was 20 years old. All the people in İzmir were alarmed that day. The blue sky became black. I left my shoe dye kit at one of the shops and hopped onto the back of a fire truck. I went to the scene. It was chaos. I also heard that Manisa (a nearby province) was on fire as well. I went to Manisa on foot that day. There was no fire over there. I made my first walk that day, and I thought about it and I told myself, I may be disabled, but this will never be my excuse, and I can do something about this environmental problem. Then, I started embarking on these walks," said Sorhun.

Sorhun added that despite being disabled, it is not difficult for him to walk.

"I have been known as Veysel Sorhun, the physically disabled person who fights forest fires and educates people with his walks. I am a person whose name is featured in history books now. I usually stay in the forest during my walks. I sleep in the forest, and I put some lime and sulfur around myself at the bottom of a tree so that I am protected from dangerous reptiles. I take breaks in some facilities near the road if I can walk there from the forest. I walk at night, too. I tell people to be careful when they are burning stalks in villages. I tell them to burn them and check the process. I distribute leaflets to educate people by walking. I am the only one in the entire country doing this," Sorhun said.

He also finds his way without a compass, relying on the stars at night and tree moss during the day, saying that he has had many fond memories of these walks throughout the 30 years of his journey, while cautioning others that late night walks in forests are, of course, dangerous.

When he was walking in a forest in Datça, he saved a newlywed couple that had been captured by a robber who had stolen their jewelry from their wedding. Also, he came across then-governor Recep Yazıcıoğlu on a walk in Tokat.

Sorhun said he became a friend of Yazıcıoğlu and met him on two more occasions. Eventually, Yazıcıoğlu named him "Father Forest" (Orman Baba) and the name stuck. Sorhun, who met then-Forest Minister Nami Çağan on a walk to Ankara in 1999, said that he appreciated his efforts and sensitivity on the issue.

"Mr. Çağan gave me a plaque. After I left, he asked about me, and they told him that I am unemployed. When I returned to İzmir, I received a letter calling me to the district office of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Urbanization. They offered me a job in the office. I refused, as I would not be able to work in an institution for which I was a volunteer. If I accepted this job, everyone would have been on the roads pretending that they were volunteers and seeking jobs as a 'volunteer'," Sorhun said.

"The latest walk will be my 16th walk around Turkey, which will cover 1,050 kilometer, starting from İzmir to Çanakkale, Balıkesir, Bursa, Yalova, Kocaeli, Sakarya, Bolu and Kastamonu, including small towns. It will end in front of the Şerife Bacı sculpture in Kastamonu. Every year, I organize forest walks in April or May. I walk before the fire season so that I can warn people of the hazards of forest fires. Prior to my walks, governors' offices used to support and encourage me. However, for the last four years I have not received any support. Now, I need some clothing, camouflage, binoculars, a backpack, a first aid kit and so on. I am looking for sponsors. I don't want anything for myself; I simply want to do something for my country's future," Sorhun said.