Small Projects Istanbul: Doing good for Syrians in Turkey
by Leyla Yvonne Ergil
ISTANBULAug 28, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Leyla Yvonne Ergil
Aug 28, 2015 12:00 am
Managed mainly by expats from Syria, Australia, New Zealand, Iran and the U.S., the Small Projects Istanbul foundation aims to provide assistance to displaced Syrians in various ways such as providing language training, initiating community projects and sponsoring scholarships. The foundation's new center will open on Sept. 19 in the city's Fatih district
Small Projects Istanbul is an excellent grassroots organization that provides language training, community projects and scholarships to assist Syrian refugees displaced by the conflict to remain self-sustainable in the city. Run by a group of volunteers, mainly expats, SPI is about to open their new center, The Olive Tree, in Çapa with an official grand opening on Sept. 19 and will also host a happy hour fundraiser in Cihangir on Sept. 4. Both will be an excellent opportunity to meet and mingle with wonderful people doing good work for a great cause that may even inspire you to join them.
Karyn Thomas, an Australian native who has lived in Turkey for three years, is the mastermind behind Small Projects Istanbul, which was inspired by her experiences at Yarmouk Camp – an area of Damascus populated by Palestinian refugees – in 2011 and 2012. Seeing how children and youth in Syria were missing out on schooling due to the war led Karyn to assist in the sponsorship of a 17-year-old Palestinian girl to finish her secondary education outside of the country. As Karyn shared the girl's story with friends and family, people from around the world made individual contributions to her educational fund. This bright, capable young Syrian woman has now received a full scholarship to go to college in the United States.This experience solidified Karyn's belief that grassroots projects can indeed be effective, and that individuals can and do make a difference; hence, Small Projects Istanbul was born. Their mission is to provide access to supplemental education that will assist students and families from Syria to succeed in Turkey and beyond, paving the way for better opportunities in the future. "The Future of Syria may be uncertain, but the future for students and families from Syria does not have to be," is their slogan, and their space is one of pure joy. It offers people a chance to hope, connect and lighten their heavy load as they learn, taking positive strides towards the future.
I had the opportunity to speak with SPI's director of operations, Kristina Delgado, an American expat herself. A New York native, Kristina came to Turkey two years ago on a Fulbright in Denizli, and now shared SPI's story with me. "SPI officially developed in 2013 after engaging in various 'small projects' to assist families from Syria who live in Istanbul. Since then, SPI's volunteer team has begun focusing its efforts on helping children and young people from Syria access education in Turkey," Kristina said.
"While the war rages on, SPI is helping stop the downward spiral into unemployment and poverty that curtailed education threatens to create for members of what is being called Syria's 'lost generation,'" she explained. This past year SPI gained official nongovernmental organization (NGO) status from the government, opened the community center in Çapa to address the current education crisis affecting Syrian youth and help entire families get back on their feet."We seek to address the crisis of education by providing supplemental education for children and scholarships for university and pre-university students who have been displaced by the Syrian conflict. Primary-school-age children legally registered as refugees in Turkey are allowed to attend Turkish schools for free, but most lack an adequate level of Turkish-language skills to make the most of this opportunity. SPI organizes after school and weekend classes taught by trained volunteers to help bring these children up to speed with their classmates. SPI also coordinates other enrichment activities such as art programs and outdoor play for children who would otherwise not have the opportunity to engage in such pursuits. We also provide Turkish classes for women and men to help them overcome the language barrier in Turkey and to find employment for sustainable futures," Kristina said.
Small Projects Istanbul now has The Olive Tree, which will make executing their mission easier. This center, which is where separate language classes are held for men, women and children, will also host art and community projects and will be a safe haven and place of belonging for all members of the Çapa community. They will be holding a grand opening on Sept. 19 that will be open to the public, Kristina said, adding: "And it will allow the greater Istanbul community to meet our beneficiaries and hear their stories first-hand. It will be an interactive and inclusive event for people to become familiar with SPI and see some of our amazing volunteers at work. We believe in the effectiveness of grassroots initiatives in transforming the lives of entire communities, and at the heart of that belief is our volunteer program. Our volunteers come from all nationalities; there are currently 11 active volunteers from Turkey, Syria, Australia, New Zealand, Iran and the U.S., and they do everything from teaching Turkish to holding fundraisers and providing general support when necessary."
At present, there are afternoon Turkish language classes held for children and weekend classes for men and women. "Right now, we are always in search of fluent Arabic speakers and committed volunteer Turkish teachers," Kristina told me, emphasizing that one of their focuses is increasing their Turkish volunteer base. "In addition to language volunteers, we are always looking for help to create fundraisers that allow this work to continue. We welcome the expertise and interests of all SPI supporters beyond the capacities that we've outlined above. To volunteer for SPI, you can visit our website and find the volunteer application on a Google doc that can then be forwarded to our email address: email@example.com," she said.
On Sept. 4, from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Small Projects Istanbul will hold a networking happy hour at Cafe Lumiere in Cihangir. "There will be a TL 30 [10.33] cover charge with snacks provided and all proceeds will go directly to continuing our educational projects in Çapa. We are hoping to draw a crowd of passionate and enthusiastic supporters from Istanbul who believe in contributing to this region's future by investing in education," Kristina said.
Maybe, you can be one of these individuals; because in these trying times, if we have it in us, then it falls upon us to do all that we can to help those whose lives have been shred apart by the crisis just over the border. Small Projects Istanbul is surely a great way to start.