Video – A Chaotic Little Haven – Reflections on SPI & Istanbul

Elika Rad volunteers

I’m writing from the rooftop of one of the highest points in Istanbul; a café that overlooks Sultanahmet Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s capital district Fatih and Bosphorus. What was once the center of the great Ottoman Empire, there is much to be said about this incredible piece of earth, from its theological to historical origins. Neither belonging completely to East nor West, Turkey is an eclectic melting pot of various cultures, religions and philosophies of life. And how wondrous it is to be witness to and experience these multiple dimensions of humankind, all co-existing symphonically. Perhaps this is what Turkey owes its magic to, and why I feel the presence of divinity -in all its equipoised magnificence- more so than any other land I have paid visit to.

It is my final day in Istanbul. I’ve spent a week here, but it feels much longer. In some measure, it has to do with the partial familiarity that Turkey gives me; a handful of its smells, tastes, sights and colourful characters remind me of Iran. The rest, I give credit to the number and intensity of my experiences. I couldn’t have imagined that I would learn the lessons I have in the short span of seven days.

In the time leading up to this trip, friends were made of out strangers and vice versa. And this theme had continued on into my travels. Considering my transient presence, people I hardly knew gifted me with a support and companionship I didn’t deserve. There is a purity and generosity that many of the Turks I’ve come across possess, on account of this warm character I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and have done so in as much safety and comfort as a traveller can be given.

I had my first taste of what life is like for some of the refugees in Turkey from a visit to Small Projects Istanbul, a fantastic little organisation dedicated to rebuilding the lives of displaced Syrians, as well as Palestinians, Iraqis and Egyptians. The space SPI works within is a modest basement, a slightly chaotic little haven for those who don’t truly belong here. Hearing of the current living conditions of the refugees and the unwelcome reception they receive by many was unsettling to say the least. But also seeing how hard a humble organisation like SPI works in spite of these hurdles –which in many ways, are far bigger and more powerful than it is– is nothing short of inspirational. I sincerely enjoyed spending time with the volunteers and the children. I went home that night a little emotional and a little more prepared for the next step.

If there was anything that stood out to me most during my visit to SPI, it was the women. They are awe-inspiringly resilient. Vivacious. Smart. Creative. What I see myself being. A strong woman. The time I have spent alone so far on this trip has helped my developments in becoming a stronger woman. Time which has given me a little more independence in my solitude, a little more confidence in my choices and a little more trust in myself. The simmerings of self-transformation are within me, and I am very much looking forward to what is to come.

I can not help but feel that something so much bigger than myself is continuously watching over me, and has been from the moment I decided to undertake this journey. I must thank my friends and family for their continued intentions of protection and growth, for I know they are carrying me through my travels. Thank you, and please keep me in mind. It is only the beginning and I still very much need your invocations to continue to get me through these next 5 weeks.
Tomorrow evening I head to Izmir, a seaport in Turkey’s west by the Aegean Sea. From there I will meet some Syrian families and immerse myself a little deeper into the world of the displaced.

Until next time my dear friends, Elika

Written By

Elika Rad

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ESL Teacher - Refugee Advocate - Volunteer

Facilitator

Bashar Akaak

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Digital Communications and Information Strategist

Facilitator

Aline Joubert

Media Relations Coordinator

Collaborator

Lauren Simcic

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Communications and Fundraising Coordinator - Lauren is from America's Midwest and lives in Istanbul. She's passionate about travel, capturing those experiences through photography, and a good cup of coffee. In Chicago she worked as a Business Liaison for refugees new to the United States. Lauren uses her role at SPI to spark dialogue on the process of creating a sense of home and finding opportunity when displaced, in Turkey and beyond.

Video By

Simon Fox

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Organisation Photographer and Videographer - My name is Simon Fox and I am a native Seattleite and a third generation photographer, my grandfather being one of the early filmmakers for Disney's nature documentaries. I grew up surrounded by cameras and am currently making my way in the world as a freelance video journalist. Living in Istanbul I have met many incredible people but nothing compared to the community I have found at an NGO here in the city that helps displaced people, mainly from Syria and Iraq, continue their lives. They are my friends, brothers, sisters, teammates, teachers, and as of recently, my students. Using photography as the medium, for the last three months I have been teaching a group of teens basic photography combined with positive philosophy.

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