SPI Director Karyn Thomas recently took a trip to visit supporters all the way in the Cayman Islands.
She was invited by John Gray High School teacher Edward Todd, who first connected with SPI in 2014 during a trip to Istanbul and has maintained the momentum needed to turn the spark of interest among students and teachers at his school and others on the island, into an established base of engaged supporters dedicated to sharing SPI’s mission.
Karyn used her time speaking to students and teachers at more than four high schools, Cayman Rotary, community organizations, and attending the Poinciana Arts Festival where short film ‘Bon Voyage’, featuring actors of SPI’s community, was awarded Best International Short Film.
During her week on the island, Karyn had many visits but took time to slow down and engage on a deeper level by sharing her experience in Yarmouk Camp that inspired the formation of Small Projects Istanbul, and what SPI has learned on the ground by working to build a hopeful community for those torn from their homes by war. Her talks were brought to life with a video portraying the programs and activities taking place at our Olive Tree Community Center in Çapa/Fatih, Istanbul, which schools around Cayman have helped to establish with donations.
Reflecting on the strength of the Cayman community to make a difference from far away, Edward Todd commented on how inspiration has been converted to action and caught fire. “It’s difficult to describe,” he said, “the fact that here in the Cayman Islands, the students gave the funds to Small Projects Istanbul to see and do all the wonderful things you will see on the video. Everything on that video started from a small seed. St. Ignatius, John Gray, everybody provided the support and the funds to help that seed grow, so you have actually made a difference to about 300 families at the moment and you are still doing that.”
Karyn reminded the community that the situation is beyond disaster, the largest humanitarian crisis since 1942 since the second world war. “It’s not like a tsunami where a few years later you heal, people start to re-marry and move forward – with a war it is a cycle – it’s been six years and it hasn’t gotten any better; it’s gotten worse,” she said.
Despite these odds, a simple gesture from Mr. Edwards helped some of Syria’s displaced in Turkey to get back on track. “Ted has seen that, he has seen the need and he has himself not wanted to turn back, but moreover he has been able to engage other people to get onboard and he’s taken the ‘I’ to the ‘we’ and that is a great gift to be doing that,” said Karyn. She told the students there were many moments of joy in the organization they had contributed to, including supporting women’s work, supplying food vouchers and propping up 300 children, as they get back to school and out of factory work.
Before Mr. Edwards contribution, SPI had been teaching on a rooftop, prior to that, a park. Karyn said, “..and he raised close to $4,000 USD which sustained us nearly 11 months, I think in a really small space [of time],” which allowed SPI to move into a more suitable facility to support its growing community and supportive initiatives.
“We are peace activists,” she said. “In that little underground cellar which you helped to create, we are making earrings and rings, and looking after children and helping women and children sustain their lives, as it’s very difficult [for them] to work in Turkey.”
She said she was grateful for the generosity and reminded them a little can go a long way, even from far away.
At high schools around the island, students read stories written by SPI’s youth of what it means to be a refugee in Istanbul. Reading these stories aloud evoked empathy from students who despite their distance, refuse to look away and ignore the crisis impacting students and families like their own.
Students at St. Ignatius High School read stories written by displaced youth at SPI – Photo credit: Cayman Compass
Since Karyn’s return to Istanbul, support has continued to come in sometimes surprising ways! Two pairs of siblings from the Cayman International School, inspired to take action, banded together to hold a lemonade stand together for three and a half hours (the first hour in the rain!) to raise funds for SPI. The oldest of the four young supporters are in fifth grade! One mother told us they came up with the idea for the lemonade stand, made signs, and distributed flyers at school to encouraged their classmates to stop by all on their own. They set up on a busy residential street and had lots of Cayman residents stopping by to learn more about SPI. Proof that no matter our age, means, or location, we can all make a difference!
Every day our community at SPI feels the dedication you maintain and are inspired by your care. Individual donors and communities acting collectively really can and do make a difference, no matter how far away.
Thank you to everyone in the Cayman Islands who helped Small Projects Istanbul raise awareness of the reality faced by displaced people in Istanbul: John Gray High School; St. Ignatius High School; Clifton Hunter High School; Cayman International School; Cayman Rotary; Poinciana Arts Festival; Cayman 27 News; Cayman News Radio; Cayman Compass; Cayman Islands Early Childhood Association; Camana Bay and many others.
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