Happy Birthday Ezgi!

DogumgunuHere is another birthday and another generous individual who asked nothing but donations from her family and friends to make an impact in Turkey. Melody Ezgi Gulcan used her birthday past Fall to raise money for educational opportunities. With matching gifts from her employer, Ezgi’s birthday wish turned into a reality as she raised enough to support both Nesin Mathematics Village and Cagdas Yasami Destekleme Dernegi.

Why did you decide to give up your birthday?

In the last years, I realized the thing that makes me happy the most is to share and to make little things better.

Why did you pick education to make an impact?

Education is my top priority, especially women’s and girls’ education. I am a math person and I do follow Nesin Mathematics Village closely. That’s why I chose these two organizations and I’m confident that the money is going to make a difference in the lives of many children.

Why did you choose TPF to realize this project?

TPF is the organization that connects nonprofits in Turkey to donors in the United States through a very rigorous vetting process.

What was your birthday wish this year?

To be able raise some money for the two organizations I chose.

What’s your favorite birthday cake?

A friend of mine made a mosaic cake for all my guests this year and it was delicious! I also love chocolate cake.

What was the best birthday gift you ever received?

One friend donated a significant amount to Cagdas Yasami Destekleme Dernegi. That was the best one so far!

Chocolate Coins.

tpffoto2Irem was only six years old when her mother abandoned her. As she didn’t have any relatives, she found herself in an orphanage. She still remembers her first day vividly and how her eyes were swallowed from crying. It took her sometime to adapt to her new environment. She was well fed and safe but she felt something was always missing in her life. She felt rejected. She longed for a family who would love her no matter what just like the other children she played with outside the orphanage.

Two years later, Irem’s life changed completely with a bag of chocolate coins. In the beginning it was like any other day. She was introduced to a volunteer visitor so that she can meet new people and socialize. Since it is traditional to bring children gifts, Irem’s visitor, Nesrin, had a huge box of chocolate since that’s what Irem always asked for. As Nesrin approached Irem with her gift in her hands, Irem told her that she didn’t want just any chocolate, she wanted chocolate coins. While all other visitors she had met before ignored this specific request and offered her the chocolate they bought, Nesrin didn’t. She went out and searched all over Canakkale for chocolate coins until she found one. When she returned back to the orphanage with a dozen chocolate coins , Irem’s face brightened with happiness. That’s when Nesrin realized that she wanted to give Irem more than a bag of candies, she wanted to give her a home. Despite the contradictions with her family and friends, Nesrin made the decision that changed her life and requested to adopt Irem. And when Irem was asked if she wanted to go with her, she didn’t hesitate for a second before shouting “yes” in joy.

As Irem moved to her new home, both she and Nesrin realized that life could be so much more. Irem blossomed with the care and love she was surrounded by. Her grades improved remarkably and she no longer had neither anxiety nor speaking difficulty. As Irem transformed into a new person, so did Nesrin. She was experiencing motherhood for the first time in her life and discovering a whole new world with Irem. And when Irem called her ‘mom’ for the first time, Nesrin cried with happiness. Today, Irem is a freshman at Okan University on full scholarship, a licensed sailor and a volunteer for animal shelters and nursing houses.

There are over 15,000 children under legal protection in Turkey. And all of them have the same potential as Irem to excel in life. However, they face many challenges  during their childhood such as discrimination, lack of opportunities and being stereotyped by the society. These children have no father or mother to protect them or to love them. The life becomes more challenging after they leave the orphanage:  15 percent ends up committing suicide, 15 percent become sex workers and 20 percent get involved in criminal activities. To change these numbers, Abdullah Oskay, an orphan who experienced these challenges from first hand, founded Hayat Sende Youth Academy Association.

Founded in 2007, It’s Your Life Youth Academy’s mission is to transform Turkey’s state care system by encouraging government institutions to develop effective strategies, policies and adoption models. In addition to promoting foster care, they provide professional and life skills workshops, language and technology courses to children living in government institutions. So far, they touched the lives of over 25,000 children including Irem with their programs. They also have awareness building programs and work to change the bias on children under state care by sharing true success stories, like Irem’s. To provide children under legal care an opportunity to become change makers, take a look at Hayat Sende Youth Academy Association’s projects.

The Ones Who’ll Change the World.

Meet Busra and Eray. They are in their early 20ies, passionate to make a meaningful difference, persistent to solve problems, hungry to learn from others and not afraid of failures. They are the fellows of Entrepreneurship Foundation who convinced us with their exceptional nature that they will make a mark on our world just by continuing to be themselves.

Born and raised in one of the poorest towns of Ankara, Busra loved her hometown, Beypazari like no other because that’s where she learned to be kind, respectful and to share what she had with others in need. Values she adopted at an early age, plus her unusual personality started to surprise people since her childhood. First of all, she was fair and never hesitated to raise her voice for what she believed in. Secondly, she was so determined that even though she was an average student, she became the second person to get into Ankara Fen Lisesi, a gifted and talented high school program, from her town while everyone said she couldn’t. In addition, she was curious to question things people usually didn’t. Like why her father still worked as a mineworker.

Since she was a little girl, Busra wanted to become a doctor to find a cure for a deadly disease so that she can help many people at once. But after reading the bio of Steve Job’s, her perspective on life changed. She realized that making a cure available for everyone is as important as finding a new one. Inspired by him, she decided to become an engineer and started her studies at the Bilkent University. She was one of the few female students in the engineering program with a scholarship. During her time in college, she came across a motivational tweet about dreaming big and never giving up on what you want in life. It was a tweet by Sina Afra, who spearheaded the spread of entrepreneurship culture in Turkey and established Entrepreneurship Foundation. Inspired by his tweet, Busra  applied to become a fellow at the Entrepreneurship Foundation and discovered a whole new world that changed her life.

Born in Ankara, Eray moved to Istanbul with his family when he was seven years old. Since his parents are bankers, he always thought he would become one, too. However, things started to change for him when he was in 11th grade at Robert College. For the first time in his life, he started to think seriously about his future and what he really wanted to do with his life. He wasn’t sure which profession he would like to have but he knew what kind of a person he’d like to become – he wanted to be someone who touched people’s lives. Hoping that a broad program would help him to figure out the career path he’d like to move forward, he started to study management at Koc University. Hungry for more in terms of improving himself, he took the lead in gathering his like-minded peers who want to make a difference with their ideas and founded the Entrepreneurship Club in his freshman year. His adventure on innovation continued as he joined the Entrepreneurship Foundation as a fellow and founded Lala Education with his friends – an app designed to help high school students studying for college exams in Turkey. The app analyzes test results to advice the subjects students needs to improve. Lala Education is one of the 29 start-ups established by Entrepreneurship Foundation fellows that received angel investments.

Busra and Eray come from very different backgrounds but have the same passion of making a change. Their lives wouldn’t have been coincided if it wouldn’t be for Entrepreneurship Foundation. And, they are not the only ones. Founded in 2014, Entrepreneurship Foundation gathers college students who have the characteristics and skills to become entrepreneurs. Since their establishment, they received over 14,000 applications for their fellowship program. Candidates go through a serious process of six phases before they are admitted to the program. They submit their resumes, school reports, information on extracurricular activities and a videos explaining their motivations to become a fellow. And then, they take personality and visual IQ tests to make sure they fit the characteristics and skills of an entrepreneur. Depending on the results, they are scheduled for a Skype interview and then, face-to-face meeting.

Once they are granted with the fellowship, their unforgettable journey of 12 months starts. Young minds with amazing potential meet under one roof to be inspired to realize their dreams, to make an impact, to touch lives and to give back. They meet in person with entrepreneurs from all over the world who used to be just like them once. They listen their motivations and the stories behind their successes. In addition to networking opportunities, fellows participate at various workshops to improve their skills and build lifetime friendships along the way. They discover that nothing is beyond their grasp as long as they believe in it even though they don’t have a specific idea that they’d like to focus on at the moment. Being a fellow at Entrepreneurship Foundation is so much more than having a creative idea. It’s about having the skills and the desire to make a change in the future. To encourage entrepreneurship culture in Turkey, take a look at Entrepreneurship Foundation’s projects. You might be empowering the next Steve Jobs or Arianna Huffington without knowing it.

Journey Continues in Istanbul

darussafakaBy Goncagul Ay, Program Associate of TPF – Friendly faces welcomed me, smiling ear to ear at the Darussafaka Society. The name, “Darussafaka” translates to “clemency nest,” and you feel the compassion, kindness and generosity as you enter the huge school building in Sariyer, Istanbul. Darüşşafaka Society was founded in 1863 with the aim of providing equal opportunity in education to needy and talented children who had lost their one or both parents. As it was my first visit to Darussafaka Society’s office, I was impressed by the passion and hard work each staff member dedicated to Darussafaka’s mission.

Like any other country in the world, children in Turkey who lose a parent(s) at an early age are more likely to drop out let alone afford a good education. According to internationally accepted treaties, every child has a right to education regardless of their financial means and family circumstances. This is what Darussafaka Society works to accomplish – providing a top-notch education to children who otherwise would not have been able to go to school.

Darussafaka does this with the school they established. They invite students to take an entry exam at the age of 10. Students need to achieve a certain score to be admitted to Darussafaka Society. The Society provides full scholarship and boarding from 5th grade to the end of high school. In addition to scholarship and boarding, student’s daily needs such as clothing, accommodation, food, and health services are all covered by donations to the Society. The curriculum is in English while students also learn French or German as a second language. They spend weekends participating in sports and attending cultural and artistic events. They are encouraged to be creative and discover their talents. They are also encouraged to reach their fullest potential. Not surprisingly, Darüşşafaka graduates continue their education at the best universities in Turkey and around the world, and become successful professionals later on in their lives. Darussafaka turns the dreams of these parentless children into a reality, thanks to generous donors like you defending a child’s right to a quality education.

After my visit, we received a grant report from Darussafaka Society for a donation one of our donors made. Our donor was an educator and wanted to support college students with financial struggles, providing “equality in education.” It is with these site visits and follow-up reports, we can see and let our donors know the immense difference they are making in the lives of these children. The project our donor funded was one of a kind – providing scholarships to students who want to continue their education by attending a university. Project supports eight university students – Bahar, Besim, Muhammet, Sati, Serdar, Yasin, Fusun and Hayriye to attend university. The scholarship covered all the expenses including academic, housing and their daily needs. We are extremely happy to report that they are doing very well in school.

Given the opportunity, many of the children from Darussafaka exceeded the Society’s expectation and became remarkable, self-confident, and socially responsible individuals. The Society has been producing leading figures in Turkey from Prof. Dr. Rıdvan Cebiroğlu, Turkey’s first child psychiatrist; Osman Nuri Ergin, Turkey’s first city historian and many more. After so many years, Darussafaka Society continues their operations as a strong organization advocating for equal rights to education. Support their efforts.

The Amazing Family I Married Into.

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.