With the start of a new year, many of us are looking to turn a new page and do something new, productive and positive for ourselves and for others. In this day and age there are a number of excellent causes to call your own, but one of the deepest crises in human history has been unfolding just on the other side of Turkey's borders. As a result, Turkey has taken the brunt of the crisis hosting, 2.8 million Syrians forced to try to forge a new existence in their neighboring country. As a result, there are a number of organizations based in or operating in Istanbul that work to assist and ease the transition for refugees residing in Turkey.
HumanwireHumanwire is a U.S.-based NGO with branches in Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon. They work to connect donors in the US with families in need, which is done through their website Humanwire.org. Owen Harris, one of the vocalists and accordion player for the band Country for Syria explains, "We interview families, create a profile for them with their needs, and set up a campaign and donation page so that donors can share it with their friends and raise money. Then Humanwire teams on the ground in the Middle East deliver the money and help the families communicate with the donors, take them to the hospital, register them for school, and provide whatever services they need." To find out more, check out: www.humanwire.org.
Small Projects Istanbul"Helping those displaced by the conflict in Syria rebuild their lives," is the focus of Small Projects Istanbul, an initiative started up by Australian expat Karyn Thomas in 2013, is a foundation that provides assistance, courses and workshops to displaced Syrians in Istanbul from their Olive Tree Community Education Center located in Fatih.
In addition to initiating community programs and sponsoring scholarships, the Small Projects Istanbul team, which consists of a significant number of expats, offers daily programs packed with activities and classes. Their handicraft workshops have led to the formation of the Olive Tree Craft Collective in which 70 plus Syrian women are making jewelry for sale, such as their Drop Earrings not Bombs line, which you can check out at www.dropearringsnotbombs.org and visit www.smallprojectsistanbul.org to learn more about this active organization whose work is anything but small is assisting refugees and especially Syrian women in establishing a way to create a livelihood in Turkey.
Hayata DestekFounded in 2005, Hayata Destek, aka "Support to Life," is a humanitarian agency founded with the principal objective of working with disaster-stricken communities to help them meet their basic needs and rights. Operating at the grassroots level to improve the quality of lives of those in need, with a priority for at-risk and marginalized populations, Hayata Destek also has a community center in Istanbul in the Asian side's Koşuyolu. Their focus is disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and emergency response especially through promoting community participation in Turkey and the surrounding region. Since 2012, supporting Syrian refugees settling in Turkey outside of refugee camps is their focus and they operate community centers in regions where they have predominantly settled that provide psycho-social support services and skills development training aimed at personal development and enhancement of communal and social skills as well as a cash assistance "e-kart" program to support the local economy. To find out more, check out: www.hayatadestek.org or www.supporttolife.org.
Project LiftThe brainchild of Emir Özsüer, who in 2014 at the age of 16 wanted to do something for the displaced Syrian refugee children in camps and those trying to carve a life for themselves in Istanbul, Project Lift is a foundation that provides creative arts therapy to displaced urban children refugees teaching them the coping skills to overcome trauma and adjust to their new lives away from home. Joined by a skilled team of Turkish and expat therapists, Project Lift now offers five-day intensive workshops in different districts throughout Istanbul offering art, music, movement and dance therapy. Visit www.projectlift.org.tr to learn more.
Yusra Community CenterShahla Raza, a filmmaker from India, started Yusra Community Center in the Balat neighborhood of Istanbul in April of last year as a volunteer-run organization that provides information and assistance to persons in need. It has supported more than 70 kids through offering art, language, computer, pre-school and photography lessons and occasionally even serves up fundraising Indian feasts all of which have been featured on TRT World.
AD.DARAD.Dar is a volunteer-based community center, which helps Syrian and Palestinian families, young adults and students to rebuild their lives here in Turkey. Currently, AD.DAR runs a preparation school for children, Turkish and English language classes for adults, children art classes, a crafts group and book club for young women, film nights, and a theater group for young adults at their center located across from the British Consulate in Beyoğlu. Check out www.addarcenter.org for more info.
WahaWaha is an initiative launched in Istanbul in 2015 by Syrian and Swiss nationals to promote the work of young artists from the Middle East. The website works as an exhibition site for a group of very professional, talented artists from Syria. Check out wahaartinitiative.wordpress.com to see their work.