We met up with Shahla Raza (one of the team members of TurkeyVolunteers.org) to ask about the new community center she is starting in Istanbul. Shahla and her team are doing some incredible work aiding families in the Balat community. We asked about her new community center and most importantly, how we can help.
A: So Shahla, what is Yusra Community Center?
S: Yusra Community Center is a resource and information center in the Balat neighborhood of Istanbul that serves people in need in the area. You can see our progress and get involved through our facebook page www.facebook.com/yusracommunitycenter
A: How did you decide to start this center?
S: When I first moved to Istanbul I volunteered with Small Projects Istanbul and also worked with a group of independent volunteers distributing basic needs to refugee families in Istanbul. While volunteering I realized that along with basic needs, the families we were serving needed assistance in settling down in their new environments. A lot of the children we met either didn’t go to school or had difficulties learning the new language. Many of the families live in cramped apartments with more than 10 people living in the same small space. There is a great need for the children to have space to play, or read, or explore their creativity. We also want to serve adults who need help finding information on housing, employment, or medical services. A community center that could fill these needs seemed like a good solution.
A: What is your goal for the center?
S: The center has two goals. We want to provide a fun learning space for children who otherwise have no access to recreation. We’ll have programs providing educational, social and recreational enrichment. And secondly we aim to provide assistance – legal, medical, skills training, language and literacy training, information services - to refugee families.
A: How many people are you hoping to support?
S: Through our current work in the neighborhood we have supported a few hundred families living there. We will continue working with these families and our doors will be open to everyone in the neighborhood and community.
A: If you could solve one problem for Syrian refugees through your center what would it be?
S: Children are the most vulnerable victims of this crisis. With no access to formal education, their schooling is at a standstill. These gap years can be disastrous for their futures. Apart from being uprooted from their familiar environments, dealing with long journeys to get to safer places, living in precarious conditions, being sent out on streets or to factories to earn their living, these children also have to deal with no learning environments or recreational options in their new lives. These are the children that are going to grow up to be future citizens of the world. If we don’t give them a stable childhood, their futures and the future of the world are going to be immensely affected. I hope, through the center, that we are able to provide them with a worldview beyond war and violence, and that they grow up thinking that the world can be a peaceful and beautiful place.
A: How soon will the center open and what are you working on now to get it ready?
S: Over the past few weeks we have rented out a former warehouse in Balat. We are working hard to renovate and get it ready. We have an incredible team of volunteers working on painting and plastering and making the place as welcoming for our guests as possible. Our aim is to open next week.
A: What is your greatest need for the community center right now?
S: Our greatest need at the moment is for funding to kickstart our programs and to keep the doors open (rent and monthly bills). Apart from that we need many things to set up the center - especially office, classroom, and art supplies. We are also accepting in-kind donations for our donation collection and distribution projects which will also run out of the center.
A: Where can volunteers find information on how they can help?