our story


Founder Karyn Thomas gets active in Damascus Syria since 2008, working with the Iraqi Student Project (ISP) (2008-2012) then began work in the mixed residential neighborhood of Yarmouk Camp populated largely by Palestinians, working with a local family to provide resources for English, storytelling, and art. This was the very first ‘Olive Tree’ Center for Children

Karyn bringing together volunteers and displaced chlidren to play games in the park

2012 -

Due to the escalating conflict situation in Syria, Karyn relocates to Istanbul along with her Syrian friends and the wider community - life is confusion, uncertainty, grassroots, rebuilding... There in Tophane, she opened, in collaboration with a Syrian partner, the Ad.dar-Small Projects Istanbul community organization. Here she built the elements needed to create the space and the program within. The program continued to build on English, art, and storytelling.

2013 -

Seeing how children and young people from Syria were missing out on schooling opportunities in Istanbul, Karyn uses her resources and contacts to support individuals and families to settle in their new home, access other opportunities abroad and move forward in their lives, and provides practical and fundraising support to urgent medical cases. Meanwhile, Karyn and her colleagues provided emergency housing to families in transition.

2013: Azzam, from Syria. SPI fundraised to get him a prosthetic leg so that he can learn to walk again

2014: After a fun day of art activities in the first SPI space.

2014 -

Karyn’s initiatives gain attention and momentum as many other expats, Turks, and Syrian community members seek to volunteer and support her activities. The first Small Projects Istanbul child-friendly space in Istanbul is established in Tophane where Karyn and a small group of committed volunteers provide weekend classes in English, Arabic, Art, and storytelling.

2015 -

SPI's first logo at the time of our registeration July 2015


With the support of a pro-bono lawyer, Karyn, and the founding SPI team carry out the legal process of registering Small Projects Istanbul as an official association in Turkey. In order to be closer to the community, a new space is rented within the Capa neighborhood, where many families from Yarmouk Camp are now living. The Olive Tree Community Center program begins to develop in line with a growing awareness of the community’s needs.

October -

The first activities of the Women’s Social Enterprise take place - eight women produce 200 beaded bracelets for a supporter. The idea for developing a livelihood and skills development program takes root and new partnership opportunities (with Grand Bazaar Jewelers, Bridge to Turkiye Fund, TWELV12) begin to open doors for sewing, knitting, metalwork, jewelry making and macrame workshops.

December 2015: kids trying to climb the wall and reach new heights on a field trip around Istanbul.

December -

By the end of the year, the Olive Tree Community Center is open 5 days a week, serving over 40 families with its growing weekly program of activities and directly sponsoring 15 primary school aged children to return to school.

2016 -

The Olive Tree Community Center continues to grow and is soon open 7 days a week. By April the community has outgrown the shopfront facility and it’s time to move to our second home, just down the road, into a cozy basement space!

April -

Life in the basement sees the community continue to grow. Within the bigger space, a variety of new programs can be offered for children and the women’s handicraft workshops really begin to thrive, including the beginning of the Drop Earrings Not Bombs initiative.

May -

Through the support of Grand Bazaar Jewelers, SPI participates in the World Humanitarian Summit, gaining visibility and support for the women’s products and the whole organisation.

June-July -

The programming team runs SPI’s first Children’s Summer Program, including the first week long visit from the Clowns Without Borders team, and introduces new and exciting activities to the program as well as running many field trips around Istanbul for the community.

August -

The beginning of our partnership with MONDO Estonian Humanitarian Aid provides the necessary support for SPI to continue to grow and develop.

September -

with the new school year approaching, SPI supports over 40 families to register their children in local Turkish public schools or Temporary Education Centers, helping to cover the costs of the school year.

November -

A new partnership with The World Bank Group enables SPI to develop the children’s Turkish language program and offer increased educational support to students through psycho-social support activities.

2017 -

The new year begins strong with a growth in the SPI team and organisational development. Now serving over 150 families, the programming, communications and administration teams have their work cut out for them!

March -

release of the #LiftUp Campaign sees a boost in public visibility and support for SPI

April -

A new partnership with Global Project Partners (GPP), provides the opportunity for new and exciting developments within the women’s handicraft program. Designer Ellen -- begins her work designing our new product range as the team starts the process of brand development ..

May -

After 14 months in the basement, it’s time for the Olive Tree Community Center to move again, with the help of partners GPP and MONDO, into a new facility to better accommodate and serve our growing community-led projects.

July - August -

The programming team delivers an exciting Children and Youth Summer Program, initiating a variety of new activities to fill our bigger facility including: increased IT activities, cooking activities, girl’s club, football games. The program includes our second week long visit from Clowns Without Borders. Including new childcare program - play for a day

The first image of our new products from the Muhra product range.

2017, September - October -

Handicraft trainings are complete and production processes begin with gusto in preparation for the upcoming Berlin Bazaar. Muhra is born, as the communications and marketing team continue with the branding development …

2017, November -

SPI has great success at the Berlin Bazaar, launching Muhra and featuring the DENB range to a whole new international marketplace.

Follow this space as we continue to work alongside our bright community toward enrichment, integration and opportunity.