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Opening My Eyes to Reality – A Community Ambassador Reflection

In Community-Ambassadors, Stories, volunteers by Melisa Gurkan

Have you ever thought how difficult it is to move to a new country, adapt to a new culture, and start a new life without any money, any job, any friends, or any family members to support you? For displaced Syrians, other middle easterners, and Africans, it can be very difficult to feel welcomed in an already problematic and isolated society.

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Turkey has the greatest number of Syrian refugees reaching around 6 million – half of whom are unregistered. To learn more about what is being done and what I can do to help, I visited Small Projects Istanbul (SPI), an NGO supporting those displaced by conflict in certain countries, to view life through the eyes of displaced women and children. SPI helps transitioning become easier. Not only does it provide a safe environment welcoming everyone, it also supports over a hundred families in need of jobs and education.

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Coming to SPI I didn’t know what to expect. As I neared the entry, a little girl walked up to me and started talking to me in a perfect Turkish accent. Only later did I find out that she and her family had migrated from Syria less than two years ago. She learned Turkish at SPI and had started school in the fall of last year. She will hopefully have the opportunity to create a bright future for herself with the support of the SPI now.

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Inside the small 3-floored apartment were several classes ranging from art, photography, music, computers, and women’s crafts. In the basement I heard little voices laughing and singing nursery rhymes. To my surprise, ten toddlers were playing in a room full of mothers and other women taking care of them. It was the Play for Day Program so mothers still working could drop their kids off and go to work.

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Later that day I went to a photography class taught by Simon Fox. There I met two boys from Iraq: Assad who was 16, and Yusuf who was 14. After class, the boys were given cameras and we were told to go out and take photos using the techniques we had learned during that class.

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Overall I was blown away with the transformations SPI has been able to make on the lives of so many families. SPI’s mission to help rebuild the lives of those displaced by conflict and support them with community development, education, and empowerment has inspired me to get involved. Visiting SPI was an eye opening experience that made me more curious and passionate about how I can help make a difference.

Written By

Melisa Gurkan

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