About 6 months ago, just before my first “travel anniversary,” I decided that I wanted to get involved with some kind of social project, particularly one that helps displaced refugees. My partner and I wanted to find an organization in Greece that would allow us to help — but it seemed fate had already made plans for us.
We couldn’t visit Greece when we had planned because of bureaucratic issues (paperwork, getting in the way as usual), and had to leave the European Union as a result. So on to something else, then.
After a bit of research, I quickly found an alternative: Istanbul. Turkey has the highest number of displaced Syrian refugees — over 3 million; it was the perfect place for us to lend a helping hand.
Small Projects Istanbul
Small Projects Istanbul was one of the firsts NGOs I spotted when I started looking for social projects in Istanbul, and it immediately caught my attention.
As a woman, I was especially captivated by their “Social Enterprise Project,” which empowers women to be independent through their work and helps them take control of their lives despite tragic circumstances. On top of that, they have amazing programs established that help kids, teenagers, and families get back on their feet and integrate into a new culture without losing their roots.
So what could we do to help?
We started traveling “full-time” a year-and-a-half ago after leaving our corporate jobs in the US. Because of our already-established travel plans and freelance work, we were only planning to be in Istanbul for two weeks. Most volunteer programs offered by associations and NGOs require a minimum of at least a few weeks (or months) of commitment, so what could we do to help?
Looking into SPI, however, I found that they offered an ambassador program that would allow us to help from any part of the world.
We soon became SPI ambassadors and quickly began to show their work around the internet, raising money through a GoFundMe campaign and ultimately putting together a fundraising event in my hometown of Vigo, Spain.
The SPI Fundraiser, in Spain
Within a couple of months, we were able to organize an event that over 100 people attended. We had a fun and special evening with the help of generous dancers, actors, performers, a DJ, a solidarity market, and monitors for the children. The event was a success; and, coupled with the GoFundMe campaign, meant that we were able to raise over $1,500 that went directly to SPI’s #rebuildinglives campaign.
So many ways to help… but here’s one of my favorites
While we’ve already established that there are so many ways to contribute to SPI’s incredible cause, one of my favorite ways to support them has been assisting in the selling (and buying!) of their products on Muhra.org — the social enterprise I mentioned earlier that has created meaningful work for refugee women, allowing them to earn a living making clothes and jewelry in an ethical and responsible way.
When you buy Muhra products, you’re helping families while simultaneously adding genuinely beautiful pieces to your wardrobe.
Meeting the SPI Family
After months of being associated with them, we wanted to finally get to know the Small Projects Istanbul family. So, at the end of the summer, we traveled to Istanbul for a few days so that we could see the fantastic work SPI (its volunteers, employees, and displaced individuals/families) is accomplishing.
In the few short days that we spent with the adults and children at the center, we danced, played, learned, and even had a photo shoot with some of their clothing! We’re truly grateful for the opportunity they gave us to be part of this amazing team, even if only for a short period of time.
They showed us that even when life hits you hard, with the right attitude and willingness, there’s always hope of starting a new.