Colorful Stories

  1. The 30ieth Time’s the Charm

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    tpf colorfulA Colorful Story by Amber Deniz Kale
    It was my 30th interview. After studying art in college and media in grad school, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in life. So instead of focusing on finding a job, any job, like most of my peers did, I decided to take some time off hoping to find what makes me happy the most. For almost two years, I did my best to work in various fields that I had interest in. I tried publishing, events management, art galleries… I even worked as a baker for a year just because I had sweet tooth and I liked to spend time in the kitchen. But none of these had me jumping out of bed with excitement. Right when I was about to give up on my ‘dream job’ and settle for a position in an art gallery, I came cross the Turkish Philanthropy Funds – a community foundation with a particular focus on Turkey.

    On the day of my interview, I showed up 45 minutes early. As I waited outside the building, I did my best to calm down and not get my hopes up. I was 19 years old when I left Turkey to study abroad. My first stop was Paris for college and then, New York for my masters. As the years passed by, I always found a reason to stay here but that didn’t change the fact that I deeply missed Turkey. Yes, I had made New York my home but Turkey was still a big part of my life.

    Turkey wasn’t the only draw to TPF. The organization did a lot of work on gender equality. As a woman born and raised in Turkey, I’ve experienced gender based discrimination and harassment. I was only 15 years old when my mother gave me a pepper spray so that I can protect myself as I went to my high school. No need to say that my little brother never needed any protection when he went out. Even though the fact that I had to carry a pepper spray with me bothered me, I considered myself lucky. There were thousands of women all over Turkey who didn’t have the same privileges and suffered from severe violence. As I had enough of reading such incidents in the newspapers every single day, I decided to do something. I dedicated my graduate thesis to women who experienced violence at one point in their lives, interviewed them and made a short documentary telling their stories hoping to raise an awareness on the issue.

    As I met with the small but efficient team of TPF, I realized that I had finally found where I belonged. TPF’s Program Associate whom I met on the phone, greeted me with a big smile when I entered their office. As I followed her to the meeting room, I was introduced to the other team members, TPF’s CEO and COO. As soon as we sat down, they started to talk about the organization and their work in Turkey, how they granted over $15m to their partner organizations on the ground only in 8 years. While I was waiting to be asked where I see myself in the next five years, I found myself asking about the details of their projects. When all team members excitedly started to talk at the same time to tell me about different projects, it dawned on me that at the end of the day nothing mattered more to them than the fact that they were able to make a difference in the lives of many in Turkey. As I listened how they empowered the victims of the mine explosion in Soma or provided scholarships to underprivileged children, I could tell that they were a part of TPF not just because they needed a job, but because they truly believed in its mission. And that was enough for me to cross my fingers to get a call back.

    When I was offered with the position, I was over the moon. I’ve been here for a year and a half and since my first day, I’ve been mesmerized by the amazing community that I found myself in. A 5-year old who donated her books to her peers in need, a couple who gave up on their birthdays to gift education, a son-in-law who established a scholarship fund to honor his mother-in-law, an architect who started a Giving Circle to provide relief to Syrian refugees, an IT professional who introduced TPF to his company’s matching gift program, a Board Member who ran to raise funds for his home county, a couple who sold their home to give back to Turkey…There is so much to tell about this generous community that I can turn this piece into a book. I’ve met hundreds of people from various backgrounds, with different motivations to make a change in Turkey since my first day. And what’s more amazing is that this community of change makers is growing every single day.

    As we celebrate TPF’s 10th anniversary this month, there are no words to describe my gratitude to everyone who is a part of this big family. You are the reason that I’m excited to go to work every single day. You are the core of TPF, our source of energy to take the next step. Whether you are a donor, a supporter or a partner organization, you enable us to make a change overseas and touch someone’s life. Thank you for being with us along this journey. To many more 10 years!

  2. The Amazing Family I Married Into.

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    IMG_5823A Colorful Story by Ozlem Solu

    Would you believe that my life changed on an airplane? It was just like in the movies. I was flying to the States for the first time in my life to visit my son, Deren who was studying at Washburn University in Kansas. It was a long flight and I was very excited to see my son for the first time in months. Movies and sleep kept me occupied to a point. To pass the time, I started talking to the person sitting next to me. It turned out that my companion for the flight, Turhan needed someone to talk to as well but for a different reason- he was returning from his father’s funeral in Istanbul.

    As we started to chat, I discovered that his family had a remarkable history. His paternal grandfather, Şerafettin Solu was one of countless heroes who fought side by side with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk for many years including the Turkish War of Independence. His tales of war and swords remaining from those days are pride of the Solu family and their joy. His maternal grandfather on the other side was one of the very first accomplished doctors of the Republic of Turkey who was committed to rebuilding the Turkish society right after the Independence War.

    With such ancestors, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Turhan’s father also made a mark on the world. Prof. Dr. Sami Solu, my father-in-law whom I never met but always admired since I first heard about him on that plane ride, was born and raised in Ankara. He became a doctor in Turkey and moved to the States after completing his studies. He specialized on urgent care and worked as an emergency doctor until his retirement. Even though he built his career abroad, he always kept Turkey as a part of his life and traveled there often. During his visits, he realized how the emergency care practice was a bit behind in his home country compared to the States. Determined to close the gap, he took the lead in establishing the concept of emergency room and the emergency call system, otherwise known as- 112, which saved millions of lives in Turkey. Along with his contributions in the medical field, Süleyman Sami established a trust with a mission to make his legacy live forever in a community foundation in the States. Sadly, he passed away before he could decide on which issues he’d like to support.

    The more Turhan talked about his family, the more I admired them. You won’t be surprised to hear that we got married a year after that plane ride and I moved to Michigan without hesitation. It was around the same time when Turhan and his siblings were discussing how to manage their late father’s trust. Since they moved to the States at a very early age and were raised there, they never had the connection their father had with Turkey and eventually, thought about giving back in the States. But after hearing about my father-in-law from them for years, I knew that I shared his attachment to Turkey. So I explained to them the social challenges that Turkey was facing and what we can do together to change these conditions. But most importantly, I introduced them to an organization that I’m grateful for beyond words: Çağdaş Yaşamı Destekleme Derneği. As a single mother, I’ve been through many obstacles raising my son and at times struggled to afford quality education for him. It was ÇYDD who gave us a hand during those hard times. Deren received a scholarship throughout his college education in Turkey from ÇYDD.  As an excellent student with top grades, he won a scholarship from Washburn University and completed college with triple majors. He is currently a graduate student as well as a teaching assistant at the Sabancı University. He also has been a volunteer member of ÇYDD for European Union Projects.

    As I can’t wait to see what Deren will accomplish next, I’ll always be grateful to ÇYDD for their support when we needed it the most. Inspired by our story, Turhan and his siblings decided to support ÇYDD with the Trust established by their father at a local community foundation. Since then, we’ve been providing scholarships to six medical students in the name of Prof. Dr. Süleyman Sami Solu. And it was TPF who turned this dream into a reality by working as a bridge between us, ÇYDD and SLO Community Foundation. I couldn’t be more happy that I took that plane ride five years ago, which introduced me to an amazing family that I married into.

  3. One in a Million.

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    A Colorful Story by NC Murthy

    As a very active businessman in his late fifties, I can easily say that I’ve been through a great deal in my life. But when I think of it, none of the things I have been through have challenged me as much as writing this story- the story of my beloved wife, Canan. Even though I know that I cannot fit our life together in a few paragraphs, and most probably I won’t be satisfied by the language as I try to find the perfect words to describe her, I will do my best to introduce you to an amazing woman who continues to inspire me every single day.

    I’ve met Canan in 1991 in Detroit at the company where we both worked. It took me only a few weeks to admire her independent, hardworking and honest nature. She came from a middle -income family, but never let limited financial means hold her back. As she believed education was the only way for her to move forward in life, she dedicated herself to her studies. She went to college at Middle Eastern Technical University, one of the best universities in Turkey, and came to the U.S. for the first time as an exchange student. She worked at three jobs to be able to afford her stay in the U.S. She completed her MBA at Butler University in Indiana. As a determined woman, she made her way up in the corporate world, where we met. As we worked together, we came to realize that we completed each other in many ways. We decided to become business partners, and started our own company together. In only five years, the IT staffing company we built together grew incredibly to $22 million in revenue at which point we sold it to a major public company. She was the source of our success.

    Our relationship, which started as colleagues, quickly turned into a lifelong companionship. We got married in 1993, and in 1994 we welcomed our only child, Arjun. We were so happy in our own little world that we did not see what was coming. Our life took a U-turn when Canan was diagnosed with ALS, a deadly disease you’ve probably heard of mentioned before through the famous ice bucket challenge or Stephan Hawking. We were lucky that we had the means to consult to the best doctors in the world. We traveled everywhere looking for a solution and tried everything from natural treatments to innovative therapies and stem cell transplants. I even took Canan to her home country of Turkey to get her blessed by the holy figures, but nothing we did was enough to beat ALS. We had to accept this disease as part of our lives, and had focused on doing our best to improve Canan’s quality of life.

    I’ve mentioned earlier how extraordinary my wife was. Well, here is another story to prove that. After the ALS diagnosis, Canan lost her ability to speak, walk, and move in a very short time, but she never lost her essence, her strength, and her will to live. We continued her treatment at home and got her a state-of-the-art computer, which enabled her to communicate with us by moving her eyes. That was all she needed to keep spreading love and joy around her. She continued to be a loving wife and a mother. She always helped Arjun with his classes, planned every meal for our family, and continued to work for our business regardless of her physical condition. She even hosted Turkish dinners for Arjun’s teachers at home because she couldn’t go to parent-teachers conferences at school. She held onto life and lived 16 years with ALS while our doctors expected her to live three years. Her dream was to be with Arjun at his high school graduation. I couldn’t be happier to tell you that she succeeded. She was very keen to see Arjun as a businessman, as Arjun himself wanted to be since he was seven years old. Arjun graduated from Babson College, the No. 1 school for Entrepreneurship in the world. I am sure she is happy and smiling down at us when we purchased a chemical company earlier this year so I can teach Arjun business.

    Canan was a fascinating woman in many ways. She was incredibly hardworking, unconditionally caring, strong, and kind. She was one in a million. And not just to me. Everyone around us deeply respected and loved her. After losing her in 2012, Arjun and I wanted to do something in her name, to make her legacy live forever. As she was a strong believer in women’s empowerment, we built a kilim-weaving workshop in Van, Turkey in her name through TPF. There are no words to describe how we felt at the opening of the workshop when we saw her name on that building, which enables young women to have a brighter future. Now, Canan’s legacy lives on in each kilim these young women make.

  4. Friends and Mischief-makers for Life.

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    andreahmetA Colorful Story by Ali Üstay

    I met Andre at a dorm room over half a century ago. It was 1960 when we set our feet in Robert College as two 19-year-old freshmen. We were both placed to reside in Hamlin Hall. Soon after deciding who is sleeping in which bed, our dormitory became our home full of laughter and mischief while Andre and I, became friends for life.

    Andre was one of the best students in our class. He was also a passionate classical music lover, a history lover and a voyager. When he told me his dream of buying a motorcycle someday and traveling the country with it, I told him that under no circumstances, he would take this trip without me. Then, we put our heads together and started to plan our first road trip. Andre bought a “motobecane,” a small motorcycle, and we headed off to Bodrum from Istanbul in the summer of 1961. We rode during the day enjoying gorgeous sightseeing and made stops at the most beautiful towns of Turkey such as Kuşadası, Milas and Didim. In the evenings, we slept on the beach in our sleeping bags spreading garlic all over ourselves to avoid snakes and pests. Once we were even woken up by curious gendarmes in the middle of the night. But we made it to Bodrum. When it was time to go back home, we filled our only helmet with cherries and headed back to Istanbul as we collected the engine parts falling from our bike.

    Years passed, we graduated from college and Andre moved to the United States for his masters degree. Since Andre was a true bookworm, it wasn’t surprising for any of us that in addition to his MS in Computer Science from Princeton University, he received MBA and PhD degrees from New York University. As he started a family and a company in the United States, I did the same thousands of miles away in Istanbul. Regardless of which continent we resided in, we always stayed in touch and met for our traditional “raki-balik” dinners whenever Andre was back in town.

    Few years ago, around the same time of our 40th anniversary of our road trip, Andre and I were having dinner accompanied by two of our friends- Mete and Ilhan. As we remembered the old days with a smile on our faces, we found ourselves embarked on a new adventure- another road trip. Even though we were 60 years old, we were young at heart. We packed our stuff, found ourselves two Harley Davidsons and set off from Istanbul to Bodrum. It was another unforgettable journey. Once again, we enjoyed delicious country food, gorgeous scenery and friendship. After greeting the emperors in the ancient cities and singing “Carmina Burana” along the way, we completed our trip.

    Andre and I shared many passions in life- traveling, discovering new cultures, trying authentic food, riding motorcycles, playing backgammon… We were also both passionate about our home country and philanthropy. Can you think of a guy whose favorite song of all times was a Mediterranean anthem “Yasli gittim sen geldim”? That was Andre. He considered Turkey his home even though he lived in the United States most of his life. He strongly believed in giving back to Turkey. He was a true champion of investing in education. I was mesmerized when he donated $100,000 through TPF to TOVAK, a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve educational system that I supported to the fullest extent since its establishment. He was very happy that he found a vehicle such as TPF in the U.S. to help him with his philanthropic gift to Turkey.

    We lost Andre after a long battle with a chronic illness in 2013 at the age of 72. There are no words to describe how I felt when I learned about his illness. Even though I miss him deeply, I know that he is at peace. His last wish was to come to Turkey as a Turkish citizen, something he wasn’t able to do after giving up his citizenship in the late 70s. Thanks to our friend Haldun Tashman, another Robert College alumni, Tahir and the support of the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles, Andre got his wish. He came to Turkey as a citizen and passed away few months later after his trip. l feel very fortunate that I was placed at Hamlin Hall 56 years ago where I’ve met the most kind, intelligent and fun person I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

  5. My Mother, My Muse.

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    A Colorful Story by Bercem Akkoç Alemdarzade

    Growing up, unlike most of my friends I never embraced a book character like Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennett as my hero. Instead, I had my mom, Nebahat Akkoç, and her entourage as my heroes as they mesmerized me with their courage and strength. They were a handful of women led by my mother, fighting to end violence against women in Southeast Turkey. I’ve always been fascinated by how they greeted each day with determination and hope as they stood against the injustices they had faced. They were the ones who taught me at an early age that if you want something in life, you have to fight hard for it.

    There are hundreds of women all over the world fighting for the same cause, what’s so interesting and different about your mother, I can hear you say. Let me tell you the whole story, which goes back to 1993. I was born and raised in Diyarbakir as the youngest child of the Akkoç family. Both of my parents were school teachers who fell in love when they were really young. As true sweethearts, my mother was only 18 years old when they got married. We were like any other family until the year I turned 14 when my father was killed on his way to home after work. The authorities couldn’t find who did it and my father’s case was filed as one of the many “unresolved crimes” in those years in Turkey. I wasn’t even sure what unresolved crime really meant at that time. I just missed my father and tried to accept the fact that he was gone. But my mother couldn’t accept that no one was found guilty for her loss, for her soul mate’s disappearance. She wanted an answer and did her best to get one. She went to the police station every day. She organized protests along with other victims of unresolved crimes. She lodged a complaint to the Supreme Court of Turkey. When that didn’t work, she made an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. That was a first in Turkey. She did her best to find the person responsible for my father’s death. She was detained 15 times in one year just because she raised her voice to ask the questions no one dared to ask at that time. As a teenager, I was terrified and constantly worried if she would not come home at night.

    It was 1994, a year after my father’s death anniversary. My mother came home to tell me the decision she made, which changed our lives forever. She was just released from another detention, in which she had a light bulb moment. She came to realize that there were bigger issues in the world that she cared about as much as my father’s unresolved case. She decided to devote her energy and dedication to one of those issues: violence against women. For over a year, she was mistreated not just as an individual but also as a woman. Just because she was so focused on my father, she didn’t even realize it. The moment she noticed this in her cell, she decided to act on it hoping that her efforts might change the mistreatment of other women. How? By establishing a foundation, which will fight with the mindset in Turkey instead of authorities. My grandmother was so happy with this decision. She wholeheartedly encouraged my mother to let go of her past and move forward.

    The next day at the age of 41, my mother got her first computer, turned our house into an office and set to work. First, she had to do a serious research about violence against women in Turkey and the reasons behind it so that she can decide which methods would be more effective. After a year of research, she concluded that 95% of women accept violence as normal. She also found out that there were limited shelters offer to women in Turkey. These two conclusions set her organization’s mission: raising awareness of women’s rights and establishing safe spaces for women in need. Her approach? Fighting violence with nonviolence and leaving identities behind. This has also become my mother’s philosophy in life. As a result, she decided to form KAMER as an NGO and kept it intentionally distant and separate from any political movement. That’s how KAMER came to life in 1997 in Diyarbakir.

    Right away we started conducting house visits, listened to the struggles of women face in our city and asked how we can support them. Each case and each woman are different while our mission has always been the same: giving women a voice. As we raised awareness of women’s rights, we’ve got enormous support and encouragement from the local women in Diyarbakir. They even helped us with moving to and cleaning our first office space, in which a truck full of garbage was thrown away. They kept us focused and helped us ignore the death threats we received through phone calls; and stand up to the attacks organized by men.

    Inspired by my mother and the courageous women under her wings, my brother and I, embraced human rights as part of our lives. I studied law and defended KAMER women in the courts for many years while my brother became a doctor and dedicated himself to saving lives. It’s been 19 years since my mother started uniting women under one roof to be ‘one’ against violence. Since then, we’ve increased our work area from one to 23 cities, reached out to thousands of women, gave a safe space to those whose lives were in danger because of ‘honor killings,’ encouraged women to seek justice in the courts, advocated for women’s rights and published a dozen of books to empower women and raise awareness on women’s rights.

    True, we still don’t know the person behind my father’s death but we know that we prevented many women from sharing his fate. This is my mother’s story – the story of a woman who dedicated herself to make a difference in the world with her optimism and determination. Here is to all unbreakable women around the world who inspire us each day as they raise their voices and fight for our rights no matter what.

    You can read more on KAMER here.