Ali Gedik: The People’s Friend

About 60 years ago (his exact birthday is unknown), Ali Gedik was born the second of 11 brothers of an Alevi family in Kahramanmaraş, a village in Pazarcik, Turkey.  Then, in 1976, he moved to Austria to live with an uncle in Vorarlberg, am Bodensee, to help support his family. School was a challenge and for months he had a lot of difficulty until he met an interpreter, who helped him learn German and stay in school. Even so, is difficulties with the language and differences with his classmates made it hard to adapt. In the end, he decided to drop out and get a job. The translator helped him get a residence permit, and in May 1977, he went to work for a plastic bottle manufacturer,  the company where his uncle was working, living in a dormitory of workers. 

Nothing was easy for him. For a year and a half, he shared a 100 square meters with about 30 people, one toilet and one bathroom for all of them. Most of his income he sent to his family in Turkey. For 17-years in Voralberg, he worked at various companies, got married, and established himself. Thenin 1993, he decided to switch to social work, and move to Vienna.

There, he responded to a newspaper ad for a Turkish-speaking social consultant at ‘’Verein Wiener Jugendzentren’’ and was accepted, a job he held for 17 years. From there he served as assistant to a deputy in the Green party between 2013 and 2014, and in 2015, as a manager at a refugee shelter in Vienna’s 10th district.

Since September 2019, he has been working at Volkshilfe. Where he assists people sort out issues in their neighborhoods, to help them find the best way of living together, helping the different migrant groups communicate, and take advantage of the services of the Volkshilfe school.

In May 2021, he started seeing the negative social effects caused by the coronavirus, and launched a hotline, that he sensed was badly needed. A joint project of the Volkshilife, Samariterbund and Wienerpensionistinverband, the hotline is available in Turkish and manned by volunteers. The 12 Turkish speakers, who work from home, provide support to those who have become isolated during during the pandemic. 

A business associate he met in January 2021 was having problems and called Gedik to talk them through. After that initial conversation, they decided to organized help for people in extreme situations, and turned to the Winterquartier, a program of winter emergency shelters run by Caritas and the Red Cross in Vienna’s 22 district. Their goal was to provide meals to the homeless, to help them survive the cold weather and the soul-numbing isolation of the pandemic. At first two days a week, their program grew as other people heard about it, and wanted to help.  Eventually four more companies joined, providing many times the regular food supplements. 

Although this project came to an end in May 2021, interest in it continues. Over 20 more companies have applied for the next winter season at Winterquartier, with meals, supplies and staff. 

The companies involved are mostly run by migrants, showing that when the initiative is established and clearly explained, immigrants are ready to help people when necessary.

Ali Gedik was very young, when he first arrived in Austria and has come to love the country for all its qualities, the best but also the problems. 

‘’Wherever you go in the world, there is good and evil in every country,’’ he said. Through his work, he has joined the fight against racism and is working on various initiatives to address other threats internationally. Even though he does not live in Turkey, for example, he has been working on Turkey’s challenges to human rights, staying sensitive to both the country he came from and the one he has made his home.

Culture, as he well knows, is one of the best foundations for common ground, leading to  a joint concert for Austria and Turkey in Vienna in 2003, with Austrian artist Kurt Ostbahn and the Kurdish artist Sivan Perwer, opened by Federal President Heinz Fischer and political leaders from both countries. The goal was to bring people together and bring the problems of the Kurdish community into the public eye.

Part of what he loves about Austria is captured in popular expressions, like,  “Schlafen wir mal darüber” (let’s sleep on it), or “Schau ma mal” (Let’s give it a try).  And perhaps most important, “Jeder Mensch hat eine zweite Chance verdient” – Everyone deserves a second chance.

His favorite Turkish saying: Canim (lit. my life) which can be used in various contexts. For example, to a person you love to, you can say; you are “canim’’ or to a friend you say, canim, take care. Another is kendine iyi bak which also means take good care of yourself. It has real warmth and is a lovely thing to say. 

“Using this sentence tightens the relationship,” he says.  So, to Vienna, his chosen home, Gedik smiles, “Kendine iyi bak”.