Posts Tagged ‘Street Children’

Goodbyes have never been my forte. I’m a crier plain and simple. Goodbyes for me are often punctuated with tears, sniffles and the occasional snot bubble. Saying goodbye to Istanbul and the people I have come to care for there was no exception. I never expected it to be so hard to leave. Perhaps because I never expected to love Istanbul as deeply as I do. Istanbul has changed me, taught me, and helped me to grow. Saying goodbye left my heart aching and my eyes puffy and red. I will be forever grateful for the experiences I had and the people I met and loved.

Returning to Los Angeles has been difficult. It really hit me for the first time as I was standing on the curb at LAX, waiting for my friend to pick me up, that I am not in Istanbul anymore. It hurts my heart. The pain of leaving the city that I have come to love so dearly to return to a city that I have never liked leaves me feeling a deep sadness. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at a clock and expected to here a Call ring out across the city or the Ramazan drums booming up and down the streets. I miss Istanbul something fierce.

I take comfort in the fact that I know in my heart that this is not the end for Istanbul and I. I will return and when I do, it will be to stay. And I remind myself that returning to Los Angeles gives me the opportunity prepare for that reunion. Goals have been set, actions are being taken and inquiries have been made, all in the name of going home to Istanbul. It will happen. My heart tells me so.

The Blue Mosque. One of the most heavily touristed mosques in Istanbul that is still used as a place of prayer.

Istikal. The major shopping promenade located in the neighborhood of Taksim. This was taken around 2am so it was unusually quiet. At anytime during the day there are thousands of people walking up and down this street.

This is a hot air balloon located in Kadaköy on the asian side of Istanbul. It takes you 200m into the air for a panoramic view of the city. Unfortunately it was too windy to operate during my time in Istanbul.

One of the things  I love about Istanbul is that the city is filled with music. This guy was performing on the street in Ankara.

One of things I don’t like about Istanbul is the disregard shown towards the disabled. Often disabled people are used as “props” on the streets (frequently by friends or family members) in order to beg for money.  This blind man was sitting alone, outside of a bar off of Istikal, drinking an muttering to himself. Nobody seemed to even notice that he was there.

I saw this little girl as I was sitting in a sidewalk cafe drinking tea. Unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to catch a shot of her face. She was adorable. This was taken without me even looking through my camera. My camera was sitting on the table in front of me when I clicked the shutter.  I know it’s not sharp, but I still like it.

View of Sultanahmet taken from a ferry crossing the Bosphorus.

Another shot taken from my perch in the window of my hostel room.

The Bosphorus.

The Boy and I on our last day together. Tearful goodbyes followed.

Museum of Ethnography in Ankara. Playing with Depth of Field. Also might want to note that this pocketwatch was behind glass.

Ataturk’s Mausoleum in Ankara.

My classmate and friend Liv.

The cistern in Sultanahmet.

A playful little girl. She got a little freaked out when she noticed I was taking her picture.

More fun with depth of field at the Museum of Ethnography in Ankara.

View from Galata.

The AyaSofya. Once a mosque. Now a museum.

Museum of Ethnography in Ankara.

Heart Balloons.

AyaSofya

The Galata Tower

I shot this around 2am on a side street off of Istikal. Not sure what this little boy was roasting. He is one of thousands of children seen working the streets in Istanbul at all hours of the day or night.

I just liked the color of this boat.

The changing of the guards at Ataturk’s tomb. This is the only time you will see the guards move. Once they are in their stationed spot, they remain perfectly still. I was told that they even inject some sort of drug in order to stay so still…

Along the coast of Asia.

Take from it what you will…

A couple of Muslim women enjoying the breeze on the Bosphorus.

My heart belongs to Istanbul.

Peace and Love.

I interviewed the head of the Children of Hope Association, here in Istanbul, today. Children of Hope is an organization, here in Istanbul,  that works to help street children get off the streets, reunited with their families and integrated back into society. I have been researching this piece for the past couple of days and today was the day to put that research to good use! The man that I interviewed is named Ferat (pronounced Fer – ot) Şahin (pronounced Sha – een) and his story was simply incredible.

Şahin took over as the head of CHA approximately a year ago when the organization’s founder, Yusuf Kulca (the man I had originally planned to interview), retired. Şahin lived on the streets of Istanbul from the time that he was 7 years old until he was in his twenties. During that time he struggled with drug addiction, wound up in jails, witnessed violence and watched his street friends die from drug overdoses and violence.

When I interviewed him today, he spoke of a time when he and a friend were sleeping on the streets during the winter time and it was very cold out. When Şahin awoke, he tried to wake his friend, but his friend had died during the night from the cold. It was at that moment, said Şahin, that he “woke up”. What he meant by that was that he woke up to the way he was living and the hardships he was enduring on a daily basis. He had decided that it was time for him to try to change the circumstances of his life.

I started to think about all the different ways that I have heard people describe that moment when we “wake up” to the reality of our lives and are essentially “saved” (for lack of a better word).  In my circle of friends, we call that a “moment of clarity”. Some people would call it “divine intervention”, others might describe it as a veil being lifted from their eyes. However you may describe it, Şahin had that moment when the circumstances of his life became to great to bear. Today, at the age of thirty one, he is the head of this organization, making a difference in the lives of these homeless kids, married and about to become a father. I think that is just remarkable -to have come from the dregs of society and do the work that he does now where he is really trying to make a difference in the lives of others.

Today, the future of Children of Hope seems bleak. They receive no funding or support from the government or the community. The work that CHA does is largely viewed as unimportant.  The few that do appreciate what CHA is trying to accomplish are not capable of giving the kind of money that it takes to keep and organization like this running. The social workers and Doctors and Therapists that work with the organization are either paid a little or do so on a volunteer basis.  All of the other members of the staff there are also volunteers.  The donations that do come are usually in the form of food (some of the neighbors in the surrounding community will bring meals for the children on occasion). To top it off, in the last 6 years, Şihan has been fighting the government to keep the land on which the foundation resides as the government wants to use that land to build a shopping mall.

This interview was nothing like I expected it to be (no surprise there).  First of all, I didn’t expect Ferat to be so young (he is 31 years old; two years younger than me!). Second, was the dramatic differences between the organizations I have visited in the US (my only reference point) and this one. The CHA home base is located in one of the poorer sections of Istanbul (which makes sense considering who they work with) and the buildings resemble something that you imagine seeing in a slum. A far cry from what I have seen in the states. There is also, from what I could gather, not a whole lot of structure for the residents. The basic agreement is that they can come and go as they please as long as they adhere to the agreement to not use drugs or behave in a harmful manner. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of working with social workers, police and doctors to ensure that these children have a fighting chance, but from what I saw, that was most likely done off of the CHA grounds. Regardless of the facilities or the way the program is or isn’t structured, the results are what are important.  Here they are: In the last year that have been 16 extra special success stories where the children have been taken off the streets, been gotten off of drugs, have received therapy, and have been helped to find jobs. These 16 kids are now grown, working members of society, married, and parents themselves. You might be saying 16 doesn’t sound like much, but I am of the opinion that every little bit makes a difference. Also in the last year, CHa has helped 145 kids find jobs and Şahin has removed 745 children from the streets. Not too shabby for such a small and financially limited operation.

In this line of work, what matters is the impact that can be had on a child’s life. Şahin speaks of his experiences working at CHA as a second chance at living his own life. “Today,” said Şahin, “when I look back, I think the best thing I’ve ever done in my life was run away from home and live on the streets, so that one day I could come to [Children of Hope].”

Peace and Love

We are three days into the Istanbul Project study abroad program and academia is in full effect. Between navigating a Turkish language class, an International Reporting class, a Multi Media class and trying to make a strong beginning with the stories I need to write, I am experiencing the familiar feelings of stress, doubt and, my favorite, brain-overload. The race to the finish line has started folks!

For my first story, I am writing a piece on Street Children in Istanbul. My hope is to be able to interview a few children that live and work in the streets in order to survive. Istanbul has a population of over 30,000 children that either work in the streets or live and work in the streets. These children can be seen all over the city, especially in the highly touristed areas, selling napkins, bottled water, “performing”, and begging. Some of these children have families that are barely surviving, forcing the children to work in order to supplement their families’ incomes. Others have no family, no homes, no means of survival and are treated as social outcasts. Similar to the homeless that I encounter daily in my own neck of the woods, these children are often abused, victimized, and struggle with addiction. As a mother, and a human being, I find these facts to be tough to swallow.  I look at my own son, who is 13 years old, and can’t fathom the idea of that child having to fend for himself in a world which can often be harsh and indifferent.

My research has led me to a man named Yusuf Kulca who lives here in Istanbul and who is the founder of a NGO called Children of Hope. Children of Hope, established in 1992, is an organization dedicated to rehabilitating Istanbul’s street children, reuniting them with their families (if applicable) and integrating them back into society. I am currently in the process of trying to get an interview (or two) with Kulca and at the moment, I am coming up on nothing but dead ends.  This is the real work in journalism. Writing and photographing is one thing, but I am quickly learning that the real work is in establishing the contacts needed to enable you to do those things. Establishing contacts and gaining their trust is everything in this business.

For tonight I have accomplished all that I can accomplish. T-minus 6 hours until I start it all over again.

Peace and Love