The Tarlabaşı Community Centre is still looking for sponsors

For several reasons – some technical issues and a dire lack of time – the blog has been on hiatus for much too long, but what better reason to revive it than another plea for help for the embattled Tarlabaşı Community Centre ?

The centre was founded in 2005 as a project of the Istanbul Bilgi University Centre for Migration Research and was initially funded by the European Union. Later a private foundation covered the costs for keeping the increasingly popular community centre afloat, but with outside support finally trickling to a halt, the centre which had provided courses, creative workshops and psychological counsel for about 4,500 children and almost 2,500 grownups, finally had to close its doors and move into a much smaller space a few streets down from its former location.

However, there might still be a happy end: both residents and social workers want to keep the centre alive – all they now need is 60,000 TL (approximately US$ 25,000) to cover all its yearly costs.

According to a recent article on Bianet (Turkish), the Ministry for Family and Social Affairs had first offered financial assistance, but the promise was never held. Later the ministry proposed that the centre could continue working in the Social Services building of the Beyoğlu Municipality and that the ministry would pay salaries for four full-time employees.

Two weeks after the centre’s official request was sent to the ministry, the Family and Social Policy Provincial Directorate informed the Tarlabaşı Community Centre that they would carry out the proposed activities themselves, thus shutting down any hope for assistance. So far, the directorate has not made good on its promise, and most state-run social service centres in Istanbul provide only rudimentary social assistance like free lunches and pocket money for children of poor families and free bags of coal.

Ceren Suntekin, responsible for social services at the independent Tarlabaşı Community Centre, underlined that their project had a very different understanding of social work, and that the centre had quickly gained the trust and full support of the neighbourhood residents.

“Of course everyone was very sad. The centre has become such an important place for the neighbourhood. Support from both the children and the parents in the neighbourhood has been extraordinary.” And she added: “All along they have been asking what they could do to help us keeping the centre open and running.”

In November 2013, the centre finally had to move out of their old 400 m2 building on Kalyoncu Kulluk Caddesi – but they decided that they would not give up.

“We had to stop several of our music classes and other creative workshops, because we could no longer pay any of the teachers and because of a lack of space”, Suntekin explained. “It’s all a bit cramped now. But everyone loves the new centre, it is incredibly busy. And everyone keeps saying that it is better to have a smaller centre than to close down everything.”

The new home of the community centre is small – only one floor in a flat of 70 m2 – and there is now only one classroom which means that many activities had to be reduced, and some, like preschool classes, had to be dropped altogether. Grown-ups now come only in the mornings, while all activities for children have been scheduled for the afternoon.

And things have changed in Tarlabaşı. Much of the renewal area neighbouring the centre now stands empty and dilapidated. Only a handful of families still hold out against pending eviction orders, their court cases are ongoing. Most of the abandoned buildings have been looted for wood, metal and plastic, leaving most of them without windows and doors. Recently, some have been turned into makeshift homes by Syrian refugees – families who cannot afford to live anywhere else.

Ceren Suntekin explained that some Syrian residents have started to frequent the centre and for a while now, volunteer teachers offer free Turkish lessons three times a week. “They come here to learn Turkish so that they are able to look for a job, to make a living, to be less dependent”, Suntekin said. Over 600,000 Syrian refugees now live in Turkey, 100,000 of them in Istanbul, though many estimate these numbers to be much higher.

Some of the centre’s much needed support activities such as family counselling will be carried out outside of the walls of the centre. “We will increase home visits and help people deal with several issues in their own houses.” Several psychologists provide at no cost counselling for domestic problems such as parenting, violence, drug abuse and intra-family communication. Volunteer lawyers also offer legal advice to local residents.

But despite the reduced size of their project, despite the good will and the overwhelming support and solidarity shown by Tarlabaşı residents and volunteers, the centre is still struggling to make ends meet.

“In order to stay afloat, we need another 60,000 TL this year”, Suntekin said. Half of their modest yearly budget – for rent, amenities and the salaries of two full time and three part-time employees – is currently raised by Istanbul’s Bilgi University. Suntekin added that finding sponsors abroad proved difficult: “Maybe it’s because Tarlabasi doesn’t sound glamorous enough. Maybe the neighbourhood doesn’t sound good as advertising. But we know how important the centre is for the people here and for us. We will do everything we can to keep our doors open.”

In order to get in touch with the centre, please contact:

Adresse: Çukur Mahallesi Zerdali Sokak No.9 Tarlabaşı-Beyoğlu-İstanbul
Telefon: +90 212 297 23 05 or +90 507 253 70 97 (mobile)

Bank details for donations:

Account owner: Tarlabaşı Toplumunu Destekleme Derneği
Bank and branch: Garanti Bankası Cumhuriyet Caddesi-Taksim Şubesi (Garanti Bank – Taksim Branch)
Branch Code: 772 Account No: 6299673 IBAN: TR03 0006 2000 7720 0006 2996 73

For questions about the community centre, please contact:

Ceren Suntekin: Nurgül Öztürk:

For questions about the association, please contact:

Neşe Erdilek: Gizem Külekçioğlu

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