In the heart of Çapa, The Olive Tree Community Center provides free supplementary education services and community support – primarily to those displaced by the Syrian conflict.

Since 2011, Istanbul has become home to over 600,000 Syrians and Palestinians who have been forced to flee the conflict in Syria, and numbers continue to grow daily. Many of those affected are children, the majority of whom have been out of school for several years or more. Despite the ongoing efforts of the Turkish government to respond effectively to this humanitarian crisis, there is a resounding gap between the needs of these individuals and the services currently available to them.

Language Programs

Turkish Class

There are currently 40 students enrolled in our Turkish language class and 20 taking part in our intensive remedial Turkish class four times per week. The course has been a critical support to students as they prepare for and enter the traditional Turkish classroom, setting them up for academic success against the odds. The classes also aid in social integration as students gain confidence to engage with Turkish peers and classmates. When the language barrier is overcome, the differences between the community and the local population start to fade, affording families and individuals with the opportunity to thrive in mainstream schools, workplaces, and greater society.

“Language is a very crucial tool to expand the way we perceive our world. What we aim with our Turkish language program is to give a start to the new language so that these people, who entered to a new world can find the chance to widen their existence in this new settlement.”Naz Sağlam, Turkish Program Coordinator

German Class

As families flee war in Syria they begin their search for a new home. Families often arrange for one member to continue on to Europe, to secure a long-term solution through family reunification in countries offered more support. One of these destinations has been Germany. In anticipation of this next stage for some families, SPI provides German Class to help them get ahead while they still reside in Istanbul.

English Language Classes

For similar reasons our English language classes remain an important staple of our weekly schedule. As an international language, English reading, writing, speaking and listening skills are critical for students intending to further their educations or succeed in the business world. SPI also provides English classes to primary and high school aged children to develop literacy skills, foster creativity and cooperation. English is a tool our students will take with them and use no matter where they ultimately call home.

“I try to make my English classes a place where every kid, no matter what age feels welcome and comfortable and a place where every student, no matter their level, learns something. Part of the reason I enjoy my class so much is that in addition to the familiar faces there are new ones all the time. I like the way the kids who are regulars teach the new ones the routine and help them out. My biggest priorities are on creating a cooperative environment and having fun because when you have both of those things learning comes naturally” Maggie Montgomery, English Teacher

Arabic Class

Arabic classes are held at the center on weekends and are import for ensuring native language literacy in reading and writing as well as a way to maintain language and culture despite having been uprooted from home. This course offering allows students to connect and hold close the customs of home.

Technology, Art, Music and Dance Classes

Computer Class

Computer skills are important for the emerging workforce and are also important tools for communication. Computer Class exploits technologies like Skype for multiple uses, from calling old neighbors now scattered across the map, to teaching Arabic to students abroad in order to make an income.

At SPI we are always in need of computers and electronic devices, new or used. The presence of a cell phone or laptop can make the difference between isolation and social thriving.

Music Class

The music programme at SPI continues to develop with the addition of new music teachers from the Borusan philharmonic orchestra and University of Marmara. Sara teaches a recorder group on Friday afternoons, and Amy and Berna teach drumming on Saturday afternoon for older children. The volunteers are always looking to expand the programme as other expertise joins the team. There is an established keyboard group and the music program hopes to bring the drumming and recorder groups together to perform as they develop their skills. Music serves as a form of theraphy for students through creative exploration and cognitive development.


Capoeira4Refugees is an organization developed to use non-traditional techniques for therapy and conflict management skills. The class merges music, sport and play with the goal of strengthening resilience in individuals and promoting social cohesion among our community members.

Photography Class

Photography Class was launched in Fall 2016 by Simon Fox, a videographer supporting our media and campaigns.
The program has been modeled around The Viewfinder Project which uses photography as a tool for emotional exploration, discovery of surroundings and an opportunity to alter or reframe the world around us. Working with his students, Simon teaches technical skills, perspective, and provides constructive feedback. Students are given new challenges each week and spend time together and individually searching for the perfect shot.

Educational and Social Development Programs

Early Childhood Development Program

The Early Childhood Development Program is a no-cost service to SPI families. Led by our Children’s Activities Coordinator Abdulwahed and a number of dedicated volunteers, the program provides a safe and positive environment for our youngest community members to learn and grow together. Whilst their mothers take part in the craft collect, the active minds and bodies of their children are stimulated.

Homework Club

Homework Club is a weekly program led by Selin Hirgur and a small group of volunteers work with students to build greater understanding of current course materials. The club invites elementary and middle grade students to join in group and one-on-one tutoring sessions in language, math, science, and other core subjects. The program helps students gain comfort in asking questions and greater confidence in taking control of their learning.

Social Sessions

Since October 2015, Sunday evenings have included an adults social group, usually ranging from 12-20 attendees and comprised equally of those from the Syrian community and those of other nationalities. These sessions function not as a class, but as a time to build friendships, create understanding, and share experiences. Activities range from games of ‘Taboo’ and team challenges to discussions about topics such as family and self-care. Over time, deep friendships developed, and the sessions are often followed with games of football and group dinners.

“We’ve never really figured out the most appropriate name for this group—in my time facilitating it for the first year, I’d describe it as half friendship club and half group therapy. It’s a time to come together and share some laughs, but it’s also a time to open up in a safe space to talk about some of the more serious issues that many of us face.”Chris McLaren, Program Director

Field Trips and Excursions

In addition to the programs offered for children at the center—language classes, art, music, computers, and more—SPI recognizes the need for children to explore the world they live in and have new experiences. To date, SPI has organized excursions for children, such as a trip to the Prince’s Islands off the coast of Istanbul, a science fair, a dance workshop, a barbecue, an educational amusement park, and a computer coding conference. Many of these activities are made possible by the generous support of partners such as International Medical Corps.

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