“It’s never too late to follow your dream.”
Ümmiye Koçak was born in 1957 to a farming family in Çelemli village, near the city of Adana in Turkey. She grew up in a large family of ten children, two parents, and two grandparents. Although she came from a farming family, and despite the poverty that surrounded them, she did not consider themselves dirt poor. Neither of her parents attended school – her mother could not read or write but luckily, her father acquired these skills from serving in the army. Ümmiye recounts that her mother may have been illiterate but she possessed notable attributes and a thinking approach that were considerably advanced compared to the mentality of Turkish mothers even to this day.
Ümmiye recalls that every house in her village had its own fruit trees – apple, orange, and apricots that she, her siblings, and her friends would climb. After picking the fruits, they would immediately hustle away to avoid being caught and when they did get caught, their neighbors would complain to her mother. Her mother was the only mother in the village who didn’t believe in spanking. “Children are supposed to eat fruit, it does not matter who the owner of the tree is,” her mother would say.
Of all the ten siblings, Ümmiye was the only one who attended elementary school. Her fondest memory of school was when she got a copy of Maxim Gorky’s novel “The Mother.” In the book, Gorky writes that “dreaming is for free.” These four words got engraved in Ümmiye’s mind and for the first time in her life, she realized that it is not wrong to dream big and aim high regardless of how humble your background may be. Armed with this realization, Ümmiye started writing stories and poems about her fellow villagers. She started observing them and started listening to their troubles. They became the heroes of her stories.
At age 19, Ümmiye married the love of her life and after the wedding, she moved to her husband’s village, Arslanköy. In 1980, she gave birth to her first son. Her life after the move proved to be somewhat difficult because in Arslanköy, the women were prohibited from venturing outside of their homes. Ümmiye was brought up with some level of freedom and she found this arrangement very limiting. Growing up in Çelemli, she stayed home but mainly to assist with household chores. Her mother still made all the decisions. She relates that her husband’s village did not practise a freer mentality when it came to women. It clearly suffered from the ubiquitous plights of Anatolian villages.
An opportunity for work came when the village teacher had a newborn and needed a baby sitter. Ümmiye took the job since no other woman did. A woman leaving home and having an occupation was considered taboo and was frowned upon. Notwithstanding the villagers’ disapproval and criticisms, she continued her baby sitting job. After some time, the villagers gave up and left her alone. Her husband appreciated the additional income coming in and her children always looked forward to her return to hear new stories. Later on, the whole village followed suit. Ümmiye had blazed a trail.
In 2000, a theater group came to Ümmiye’s hometown of Çelemli. This was the first time she’d ever been to the theater. Then at age 45, she realized that she could gather all the stories she’d written and roll them into a play, and so she did.
Her first play consisted of seven actors who spoke a lot of slang. Naturally, this created controversy and some of the villagers wanted to cancel the play. Instead of getting discouraged, she felt more empowered. She knew that initially, the villagers would be disconcerted but eventually, they would be entertained. Soon, the villagers started asking her to include them in her play – some were even on their knees begging her to give them roles.
One day, Ümmiye got a call from an advertiser who had written a commercial script based on her personal story and requested that she direct the commercial herself, just like she does with her own plays. Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo also starred in this commercial with Ümmiye. “He (Cristiano) spoke only English and I spoke Turkish, but we communicated with our eyes,” she remarks.
Since the airing of the commercial with Ronaldo, Ümmiye has gotten calls from people who wished to turn their lives around. Her advice to them is to stop complaining and to begin taking action, and to thank God they are healthy. She also tells them, “If you want to be happy, you should stop worrying about today, and start making room for tomorrow. Thank God you are alive. Be grateful.”
At 60, Ümmiye does not feel her age, “I am just at the starting point of a long journey.”
Cristiano Ronaldo and Ümmiye Koçak “Just Dream It”New Turk Telekom TV Commercial 2017
Watch commercial here: