A Colorful Story by Nick Porcaro
Nearing retirement, I had for a number of years felt the need to give back for the opportunities I have had. In 2007 a Special-Needs High School in Massachusetts had been trying to expand their campus without success due to design and budget constraints. I offered to donate my services and after several months of rework the groundbreaking got underway. This experience pointed my thoughts of giving back toward education, then my questions became what to give, where and how?
In 1965, I was awarded one year Fulbright Scholarship for senior study at METU (Middle Eastern Technical University)’s School of Architecture. That year I had many wonderful experiences and made many wonderful friends, least of which was Ayşe, my loving wife of 50 years. A few years later by invitation I returned to METU as an architectural design instructor. This allowed me to spend a lot more time with Ayşe’s family. During that year my father-in-law, Esat Egesoy, a professor of Mathematics at Ankara University, using no reference to English taught me not only the Turkish language but most importantly the nuances of its inseparable culture. A gift I still treasure today.
Prof. Dr. Esat Egesoy was the first member in his family to receive a complete education. Born on the island of Cos, which was ruled by the Ottoman Empire until World War I and coming from a Turkish family, Esat’s parents didn’t see a viable future for him on the occupied island. So at the tender age of 11 they sent their son to a boarding school in Izmir. Education changed Esat’s life in every way. To be able to change the lives of others, he became an educator himself. His biggest dream of building a school for needy students was sadly curtailed as he died of heart failure at the age of 53. So the “what” became clear to me – I would give back in education in his honor – but where?
With TPF’s guidance, especially Haldun Tashman’s, I met with the Governor of Adapazari. He pointed me to Caykisla, a small village outside of Adapazari, famous for its cuisine. At that time, in 2007, the population of Caykisla was around 1500. Most of them were Bosnian immigrants who settled there during the Turkish War of Independence and made their living by farming. Caykisla had only 72 houses, mostly dirt roads and no post office and it was one of those unfortunate villages seriously hit by the 1999 earthquake. During my visit, I learned that its only school was never rebuilt but temporarily and hurriedly replaced by using crude metal construction after it was demolished by the earthquake. The original school building was totally destroyed and its metal replacement was grossly inadequate and in poor condition both physically and environmentally. Over-crowded classrooms, one cabinet for a library, poor ventilation and a host of other health and safety hazards were the norm. Despite all these negative aspects, students were full of life, curious and eager to learn. After witnessing these heartbreaking conditions, it was easy for me to decided on the “where.”
I received an amazing amount of enthusiasm and support from the Governor to the local Adapazari Ministry of Education to the village officials and families for our project. Since my savings were not sufficient to finance the engineering and construction of a new school, I opened the ”Porcaro Education Fund” at TPF and began soliciting more funds. I spent a year traveling and speaking about this project all over Turkey and U.S. I was fortunate to meet two twin sisters: Nesli and Asli Basgoz in 2008. Nesli is an infectious disease doctor who lives in Boston while Asli is a corporate lawyer in Istanbul. The Basgoz sisters lost their mother, Bedia Basgoz in 2007. Bedia Basgoz put a lot of emphasis to succeed through education so when they heard about the project, they joined me as equal funding partners. The Esat Egesoy Bedia Basgoz Ilkogretim Okulu was realized. Together, we met so many generous people while promoting our project. Some people donated funds while some donated their works. Our construction contractor donated many extras, the construction engineer donated their services, the Hendik Nursery donated 110 trees and in order to complete the final funding required to start the project, the local Ministry donated concrete.
When I first decided to realize my father-in-law’s dream, I thought I was alone. But along the journey, many others who believed in the power of education joined me. Together, we created not only a school, but also a future for Caykisla children. The school we constructed ground-up stands as modern, safe and earthquake-proof structure not only for the children of Caykisla, but for the two nearby villages as well. So the “how” was realized by early 2010 with an unforgettable dedication ceremony provided by the local Ministry.
But that’s not all. Sadly, no student from these villages ever attended college. We were determined to change this. Since the school’s completion in 2010, we have been funding a scholarship program for after-school college preparation study for 10 to 15 students each year. Last year several of these students entered college. This program is administered by TPF in the US and TEV in Turkey. In addition to Nesli, Asli, Ayse and I, we receive generous support from others for the continuation of the program.
Today, the school is sited on one acre; is a two-story structure with an elevator; and has eight large classrooms, a library room, a science and teachers’ room and a kindergarten classroom. It serves three villages and is populated with 250 bright and eager students. What’s missing and needed is a lunchroom and a gymnasium. This is the “what’s next” in Esat’s and Bedia’s dream.