Sustaining Down Cafe – June 16, 2014

Making a difference doesn’t always require coming up with a completely novel idea.  After all, if there’s untapped potential to make significant impact, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel; or, as a Turk might say, amerika’yı ikinci kez keşfetme: don’t rediscover America.  This is manifested in the success and impact of Vefa Demirkıran, who founded the Down Cafe brand and model.  After a long, long drive through the beautifully expansive plains and stark mountains in Turkey’s southwest, we met him over a restoring breakfast at the Down Cafe in Ereğli district, Konya province.

The reason we were at Down Cafe was not so much for the food (though it was quite good); we were there because of who serves the food, works with meal preparation, cleans and maintains the restaurant, and handles the logistics of the operation (ordering, etcetera).  Except for a few individuals, Down Cafe is staffed entirely by individuals with Down syndrome or other mental illnesses.  Of course, you wouldn’t know it from the service, food quality, or the cleanliness recognition awarded to the restaurant by the local government, but that’s just the point; Down Cafe serves as a face-to-face testament to the abilities of individuals with mild-to-moderate Down syndrome.

The concept of employing individuals with Down syndrome in a restaurant or cafe setting is not brand new.  It certainly wasn’t an original idea of Vefa Bey; when he opened the first Down Cafe in Şişli (a neighborhood in İstanbul) in 2009, there were six other restaurants or cafes in Turkey that made a point of employing individuals with Down syndrome.  What makes Vefa Bey’s brand different is evident in the following statistic: Down Cafe is not only still around, but expanding, while four of those six have since closed or are likely to do so soon.

Much of what makes the difference between the Down Cafe and other similar ventures is Vefa Bey’s attitude toward the venture and his ability to cultivate and work connections.  For instance, before opening the first Down Cafe, he thought carefully about how to name and brand the concept, so as to be the most successful not only in terms of attracting customers, but in receiving support from both Turkish and international sources.  Along the same line, he told us plainly that in managing the venture, he keeps in mind his belief that “if this [Down Cafe] is a business, it’ll be run like a real business” [translation paraphrase].  This mindset is important when considering that Vefa Bey believes what’s important is not so much the idea, but being able to sustain the idea.

Vefa Bey hasn’t only sustained Down Cafe; he’s helped it thrive.  In addition to the original cafe in Şişli and the İstanbul Down Cafe food truck that soon followed, we were sitting at the Ereğli location (where Vefa Bey grew up, and moved back to to raise his children), and there are plans coming close to fruition for opening a branch in the city of Konya with the warm, strong support of the local government.  The local government has been one of the stakeholders with which Vefa Bey cultivated a mutually beneficial connection, and a strong one at that, evidenced by the District Governor of Ereğli’s presence at our table.  Vefa Bey explained that various policies and initiatives put in place by the local government have created exceptional opportunities for individuals with disabilities, such as classifying those workers at Down Cafe with disabilities as belonging to a protected work environment, which means that half of their salary is subsidized by the government.  The District Governor explained his vision to make Ereğli a model city for people with disabilities, in terms of both services and accessibility, but also opportunities for full-inclusion and involvement in society, epitomized by Down Cafe.  Seeing and hearing the local government’s genuine enthusiasm (and the District Governor’s long personal support), and learning about Vefa Bey’s contact with the Sabancı Foundation and others, it’s clear that Down Cafe is being well “sustained,” to say the least.

At the end of the day, though, its social impact alone makes Down Cafe  a social venture worth sustaining.   The testimonies from some of the waitstaff and explanations about societal challenges faced by individuals with Down syndrome gives the best insight into this impact.  With few exceptions like the Down Cafe, there are very few opportunities in Turkey for individuals with Down syndrome following their completion or aging-out of high school.  Vefa Bey characterized it by saying that the various institutions involved acted as though the lives of these people was over after age 18; after high school, they would end up being confined to their parents’ house, hesitant to go outside to join the rest of society – especially never alone – for fear of the ridicule that would accompany their visit to a public place.  Compounding this was the perception that people with Down syndrome need help (believing they are incapable of doing much of anything on their own); yet, there was animosity because of their receiving help in the form of disability compensation from the government.  As Hakan, one of our waiters, said, he was being insulted regularly by neighbors for receiving money from the government without working.IMG_2509

“Now, I am working; I am earning my own money,” Hakan says proudly [translation paraphrase].  He uses his salary to help support his mother; he hopes to buy a house soon.  Eser, another waiter, wants to spread the impact; he hopes to be selected for a municipal position in which he would advise with respect to and be able to aid people with disabilities.  Eser also added that if Down Cafe didn’t exist, he’d hope to create some sort of network or federation to allow individuals with similar disabilities to share with each other and provide mutual support.  Hearing from Vefa Bey’s wife, we learned that the self-confidence of those who work at Down cafe has improved remarkably.  It was the situation that they wouldn’t go in to public alone.  Recently, a few of the workers (and friends) went down to a nearby mall alone, enjoyed tea in public, and paid with their own money.

Certainly much of this transition has to do with increases in the individuals’ self confidence; it feels good to make one’s own money, and to know that one is serving a productive role in society.  Part of the transition, though, is related to changes in the local society’s perception of Down syndrome and individuals affected by it.  Down Cafe has changed the attitude of many in the community about Down syndrome and people with Down syndrome.  As one of the most clear examples, after being featured in prominent advertisements for Down Cafe, one of the workers has become the hero of his village.

Sustaining is not always an important goal for every social venture.  Indeed, some believe that there’s a definite (and short) shelf-life to their idea, or believe that being continually in the “start-up” phase is beneficial.  With so much real impact already, though – changing the lives of individuals, affecting society’s perception, inspiring government to go even further to help – and such promise for even more impact in the future, Down Cafe is certainly an idea worth sustaining.

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Happy goats, under the microscope.

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At 11 am we had a meeting at Mutlu Keçi (happy goats) Primary School. We departed from Gümüşlük Academy in Bodrum to the school to meet teachers. We were so lucky to have parents, children and teachers all together there because it was the last day of the school year, so we found a chance to talk to both children and parents in addition to the teachers. The first student from the first grade told me that they can take drama classes, plant vegetables and explore animal species. Actually, before visiting the school I heard so many positive commentaries from Nick from Ashoka, and Lisa because she met one of the founders of the school. Nick told us in our meeting that in this school the most important thing is children’s wishes, creativity and the school is based on ideals such as democracy, human rights, independent financing and alternative education.  As we got there I was staring at the building, plants, children to confirm the reputation of this utopic place. Two children told us that the school that they were transferred from wasn’t like that and according to them, it was so boring to sit in the classroom, not to have drama, music and painting classes in their former schools. I don’t think actually that they didn’t have music and painting classes, but maybe the quality of these classes weren’t as high as they have here. Then again, that’s what they said.

After talking to kids for a while, we wanted to have a look at the classrooms and talked to two teachers. We saw there a banner like ‘’Private Yahşi Primary School’’ and asked if we know the school’s name correctly and the response was that ‘’Happy Goats’’ didn’t get recognized by the Ministry of Education because of goats’ being stubborn and getting perceived negatively in the society. As we stepped in the building, a billboard caught my attention on which teachers and children write their opinions, wishes and/or complaints and on the other side there was another board on which children write which classes they want to attend other than compulsory lessons such as Mathematics, Turkish, English etc. Up until that time all the positive signs were overlapping with what I heard about this place. We went upstairs to look at the classrooms. Even though the classroom were not well designed, I first attributed it to being the last day of the school.  After seeing other rooms I changed my mind and decided that they didn’t give much importance to design. Furthermore, we were told that the restrooms are gender neutral. At first I liked that idea but after discussing this with my friends I came to the conclusion that separate restrooms may make both women and men much more comfortable. Nevertheless, I saw their point to teach students gender equality. Not to mention, before visiting the school we all learned that one of the teachers that we would be meeting is transgendered and it sounded great to me because since I had never seen any transgender person as a teacher. The teacher acknowledged that in one meeting the manager of the school said that children learn in their daily lives that gender is something that can be changed but this sounded to me that having a transgender teacher is something to promote. He told us that he and his colleague are opposing something with the school management  such as teaching children songs that promoting militarism, nationalism, and traditional gender roles.

One of the teachers we talked to was complaining about not being able to keep up with the syllabus because some people consider being in this school as a leisure time activity but after her talking to the children about this problem, all the students put more effort on homework and class assignments but according to her, the problem is even the teachers’ not knowing the concept and mission of the school because they are only told what this school’ missions are not, but not what the mission is. It reminded me the definition of orientalism according to Edward Said that is the West’s defining itself as an opposition of the East. The teacher also acknowledged that one of the school’s five founding ideals is human rights and how it’s something not to single out out of because it is actually essential for every institution. Finally, I want to mention that teachers think that the seminars they were sent to was not enough for their orientation, because all of them were theoretic but all they need is something to show them how to apply the thing they have learned and heard. At the end of our interviews they told us that the managers will open three more ‘’Happy Goat’’ schools in İzmir, Bursa and Ankara but I am not sure if this beneficial or not because as we observed there are some conflicts, problems and confusion about this new system and it would have been better when the managers carry on by being sure that all the problems are solved and the system is ready to get spread to other cities in Turkey.

After visiting this school, I found out that everything is not as it seems and Mutlu Keçiler didn’t fit into the model I created in light of what I heard from others, especially the person  from Ashoka.  For that reason,  I would  suggest people to measure the impact of the projects to be more skeptical about social entrepreneurship and the change making process and detect the current situation by talking to different stakeholders associated with the venture. For instance,  almost everyone we talked for our field school mentioned about çöp(m)adam and how this project changes women’s lives, affects the entire society and the environment, and I didn’t get disappointed when I visited the atelier after talking to local residents, atelier workers and the founder because what was happening on the ground matched the way people described what was happening on the ground. Lastly, when doing research about a social venture, it is important to survey its entire map of influence to understand what kind of change is being effected.

Awed by Ephesus – June 12th, 2014

DSC02302Singing in the 3rd century BC amphitheater at the ruins of Ephesus – a city founded circa 12th century BC (in its Ionian form) on the Aegean – I was more than impressed; I was awed.  It wasn’t by the sound of my own voice (I’m certainly not that much of a narcissist).  It was instead that it sounded as though I was singing in my head, so clear and unadulterated was the sound – unlike I’ve ever heard before – even though I was singing in an open-air stone construction of enormous scale (estimated to seat 25,000).  No echo, yet no sound-loss nor dampening.  Truly amazing.  The Ephesians definitely knew acoustics.  With the amphitheater alone, I would have been immensely impressed with the Ephesians.

But that was at the end of our walk through Ephesus, and so much lay behind us that inspired awe of the people who inhabited and built the metropolis that at its height rivaled in population present-day Buffalo, New York (around 250,000).  Certainly, the Ephesians knew how to impress.  The Celsus Library is a prime example, with its already spectacular two-story edifice of columns and statues accentuated by Roman techniques in varying column size to produce the illusion of the building being even larger than it is.  Within (or rather, around) the same construction is another cause for appreciation of the Ephesians’ skill and knowledge.  The library is surrounded by one of the first double-walled constructions, designed to insulate the scroll collection within from extremes of temperature and humidity.  The Ephesians knew how to store and protect.

They also knew how to keep things moving and fresh.  Looking toward the base of one of the steppe, lightly forested mountains that characterize the area, I saw a few of the cisterns, situated in the higher section of the city-proper, along with the baths and government buildings (I doubt the state buildings’ high ground was a coincidence; again, they knew how to impress).  The cisterns were fed at different rates from various sources – which presents its own challenges – and then distributed to public fountains and buildings in the city (homes of the aristocracy, for example) through a subterranean piping system, with the mains following the street layout.  On the other side of the street was what I would consider the more important system – the sewers.  Draining not only the latrines, but several other input sites, the sewer system was not merely constructed; it was maintained. Man-holes evenly spaced in the road – identical to their neighbors except for iron rings in the centers – would be lifted up to allow the unfortunate laborer access to his site.

Man-holes aside, the roads themselves bear other impressive features.  Ephesus was built on a slope, falling toward the sea.  With a bit of water on the smooth stone slabs that served as pavement, every pedestrian and animal on the street would be literally falling toward the sea, were it not for the indentations made for increased traction in the center of the road.  Also in the sloped portion of the road – specifically leading up to the Hercules Gate that marks the separation of the government section of the city from the rest – were slabs that bore additional, larger indentations for mounting a light stand.  The light stand was for more than just convenience; it was a security fixture, both preventing someone from charging the state area head on (especially on horseback, as it obstructed the center of the road) and giving the sentries light by which to identify threats.  The Ephesians knew how to make the most out of their roads.

DSC02254The Ephesians also seemed to know how much they knew, and just how impressive they were.  Something, at least, must have inspired in them enough pride to erect a set of columns and entabulature inscribed with a message to the gods telling them to not interfere with the established laws of the city.  Emperor Trajan was honored in the Ephesian fountain dedicated to his name with his foot resting on top of the world (a round world, it is interesting to note), but even this display of supreme earthly power is more humble than an edict to the gods.  Although I don’t know whether the Ephesians felt as though their laws were violated, I suspect the pagan inscribers would have felt as though the Fates, especially, intervened in the lives of their posterity, in the life of their city.

After all, it is archeologists and historians, not sociologists and anthropologists, who have told us what we know of Ephesus for a simple reason: Ephesus is dead.  The city was abandoned circa 6th century AD when the port naturally silted over.  All the Roman technology, labor, and commitment to restoring their port; all the wealth, size, and power; all the magnificence, culture, and reputation of this once-thriving metropolis could not keep the river from carrying soil to their port by the sea, could not keep the mosquito population from booming, could not keep the malaria from decimating.  So, as I glance back at the grasses at the end of the road that once led to the sea, I marvel at the wonders of the ancients, but look onward to visiting an anthropologist’s field: a place that is alive.

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Çöp(m)adam- Innovation within the system

IMG_0528Going to çöp(m)adam today was a great opportunity to speak in-depth with its founder, Tara Hopkins.  We had had the chance to talk to her previously over dinner and were overwhelmed with questions to ask her and inspired by her answers.  Before talking to Tara we wandered around the neighborhood asking people if they could give us directions to the store. We found that a lot of the people living around the shop were not aware of its purpose or of its existence. A group of older women we talked with did not know about it; nonetheless they were making crafts and expressed to Cansu their disappointment at not being able to sell their products or make a living from them and therefore having to resign themselves to making them for friends and family members. This short interaction proved to us that there are still a lot of women in Ayvalık who could be potential beneficiaries of çöp(m)adam and that there is still a long way to go in terms of women’s development in Ayvalık. 

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As we arrived in the shop we asked a few follow-up questions we had come up with after discussing with yesterday’s group. Since they had covered a lot of ground with the ladies yesterday , our conversation with them ended quickly. For this reason we decided to focus the majority of our attention on Tara and her role and vision as a social entrepreneur. Through our conversation we were able to see her evolution and that of the business. We saw the evolution of the business from one where she was in control of almost every aspect of it to a business where the women run the books and manage the sales and she is just focused on color choice and outside marketing. Tara not only allowed us to understand her business better in this way, but later moved on to some more philosophical aspects of her train of thought, discussing with us how she worked within the system in order to create change. The way in which she did this was by working with a number of large multinational companies and their operations in Turkey in order to advance her business and the well-being of the ladies, even though she sometimes disagreed with the operations of these large companies and refused to consume their products. What was interesting about Tara’s approach is that she is very much an activist, she continues fighting for causes that she views as important, such as women’s empowerment and maintains the fervor that we have now as college students. Many of us lose that degree of passion over time as we become more entrenched within the system and find it hard to become disentangled from it.

Çöp(m)adam & Social Change at Individual Level – June 10th, 2014

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It’s easy to come across as a lost and confused outsider when you’re at least an outsider on your first morning in a place.  So a group of we students acted on our way to çöp(m)adam, our social venture of interest in Ayvalık, a small and welcoming Aegean coastal town.  As we journeyed down the cobblestone street, passing lines of two story Rum houses – some freshly stuccoed, some long abandoned – and being passed by horse-drawn carts and mopeds, we inquired with local residents for directions to and anything they knew about çöp(m)adam.

If I were to tell you about çöp(m)adam only from what we learned from most of the residents, this would be a very short post.  There were exceptions – some individuals were very much aware of çöp(m)adam and what is done there, but more were unaware, and even the local, newly appointed muhtar  was in the former.  Admittedly, we only interviewed a few residents on our way (still, all of these were on the very street of which çöp(m)adam was at the end).  Yet, the more I learned about çöp(m)adam, the more clear it became that this widespread awareness of the venture itself is neither central nor necessary to its mission.

çöp(m)adam is a play on words in Turkish, meaning something like “Garbage Ladies.”  Far from merely collecting garbage (although a few indeed do exactly that), the women of çöp(m)adam create handbags, totes, aprons, and more from materials that would otherwise be waste.  The women work in various capacities; a few full-time and part-time employees spend their entire work day in the shop, using the sewing machines, hammers, and instruments, and making sales to those who stop by the shop’s quaint location next to a café on an intersection.  Most, though, are piece workers; they come to shop for the materials and a pattern to make a particular item, do the work outside the shop (usually in their home), then return to deliver the item.  Even with these differences in labor structure, some things are held in common between the women of çöp(m)adam.  All employees must come into the shop at least once a week to foster the building of a community of women and the spontaneous exchange of advice, stories, and information.  All employees must be women who have not worked outside the home for a wage before and have present economic need for a paying job.  This demographic is not hard to find in a town – in a country – where few women work outside the home, even fewer outside of a family business.

çöp(m)adam (and its employment guidelines) were the brain child of Tara Hopkins, an American expatriate with a spunky but kind personality.  The women who are a part of çöp(m)adam are far, far more than simply employees to Ms. Hopkins, in no small part because Ms. Hopkins crafted çöp(m)adam to be about far, far more than simply turning waste into salable items (which is certainly no small thing in itself).  çöp(m)adam – as the name and employment guidelines imply – is also (even, predominantly) about the empowerment of women.  From interviews we did with Ms. Hopkins and women in the shop, it’s clear that women are being empowered through çöp(m)adam.  One woman in her late fifties, when asked about the impact of çöp(m)adam, said (paraphrase), “My life changed.  I make my own money; I can be strong.  [My father would have given me money to buy things, but] it is different to spend your own money, that you have earned.”  Other stories were similar, though no less genuine.  We were told about women who were changed by new found independence and some control over their own life.  We were told about women standing up to abuse and oppression with newly gained confidence.  We were told about how ubiquitous low self-esteem was among women when they first came into the shop: “I don’t think I could do this,” a newcomer might say. “Sure you can,” would respond one of the veterans (who might have been just as self-abasing when she first came), adding “Let me show you.”  Ms. Hopkins has created more than simply a workplace; she has created a thriving community of supporters, advocates, and friends, many of whom have been in the same situations as those they are leading, that reaches farther and more intimately than she could as an individual.

Walking away from çöp(m)adam on that same cobblestone street, passing the same Rum houses and some of the same residents of this charming town, I realized what matters in the case of çöp(m)adam is not that everyone knows the venture’s name and its mission.  What matters is that real women are being affected in life-altering ways by çöp(m)adam, and real waste is being upcycled.  If efforts in social change – even systemic social change – are to be actual change at all, individuals must ultimately be affected.  At çöp(m)adam, the social change happens in the way the lives of each individual woman are shaped, and from there, spreads beyond those directly involved to affect the society.  It doesn’t matter whether the name “çöp(m)adam” is known; what matters is that some sister, some husband, some cousin, some neighbor knows a woman whose life has been changed by çöp(m)adam, and is inspired to change his or her own understanding, that even more lives may be changed.

Turning Trash into Totes

Galen in Dedetepe

This morning we enjoyed our last breakfast at Dedetepe before heading to Ayvalık. Serdar and the whole Dedepete staff made us very thoughtful homemade gifts. They presented us with a rock from the İda mountains that had a stock of wheat and an olive branch tied around it. Wheat, which originated in Anatolia, symbolizes bounty and the olive branch represents a piece of the Dedepete land, as well as the spirit of the land. We left feeling very grateful for Dedetepe’s hospitality and innovative environmental practices. As the Eco Farm continues to go through a managerial transition phase, I am excited to see what the future holds for this venture.

The town of Ayvalık is situated along the Aegean coast and faces many nearby Greek Islands. Prior to the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the area was primarily a Greek Orthodox town. However, after the agreement, these residents were replaced by Turkish Muslims from Crete, Macedonia, and other parts of Greece. As we explored the area, it seemed that artifacts of the former community continue to lurk within the cobblestone streets of Ayvalık. Former houses have crumbled down to roofless, abandon, structures; Greek Orthodox churches have been transformed into mosques; and the eerie silence of the town makes one feel as though this place has a historical significance. The silence is spontaneously interrupted by passing tractors, mopeds, sedans, and occasional horse and buggies as well. As we walked around the town, the two characteristics that stood out to me the most were the abundance of cats along the street, and cultural norm of residents who peacefully sit outside their doorstep, simply watching the generally minimal street life. While there still seems to be lots of Greek architecture within Ayvalık, reoccurring Turkish flags and images of Ataturk remind visitors that the town is no longer Greek.

For dinner, we met up with Tara Hopkins, who is the founder of çöp(m)adam and an old friend of Lisa’s. çöp(m)adam hires local women, who have never worked for a wage, to make homemade bags, accessories, and other products out of garbage. Tara venture aims to address women’s unemployment, poverty, and environmental degradation. As it goes into its sixth year, the company has become well-known in Turkey. Tara’s energetic, passionate and humorous personality made for a very entertaining and thought-provoking dinner. As a former Sabancı University professor, she established Turkey’s first civil participation program at the university level, and continues to have an ongoing passion for local engagement and social impact. She explained the dangers of civil society when it becomes too “green” and controlled from the top of an organization or government. When starting Cop(m)adam she consciously decided to create a way in which social problems could be addressed on a grassroots level.

Tara also explained that social initiatives are often compartmentalized into different categories. However, Tara has creatively found a way to bridge three of these categories together. This idea reminded me of our conversation with Nick McGirl from Ashoka. He spoke to us about Dr. Frank Hoffmann who hires blind women, with very strong tactile senses, to perform mammograms. He too refrained from categorizing social initiatives when he bridged blind empowerment with women’s health. Entrepreneurs such as Tara and Dr. Hoffman inspire me because their ideas require an ability to see preexisting systems through a lens in which compartments do not exists, and they must creatively image how systems can be different. Many social problems are interwoven within each other, yet I think that it frequently requires unique visionaries to see these connections. Tara explained that, while one cannot address all social problems, several can become related to each other when he or she stops compartmentalizing.

çöp(m)adam sign 2014Tara has invited us to come by the shop tomorrow to speak to some of the women and learn more about their experiences as Cop(m)adam ladies. I’m looking forward to learning more about the company through their perspectives, as well as doing some Cop(m)adam shopping as well!

Buğday: Creating Social Change One Step at a Time

DSC_0034 Our experience at Dedetepe has been focused on coming closer to the environment and in becoming more aware of how we can change the way we live in order to practice a greener lifestyle. We spoke to a number of different people, starting today with Güneşin Aydemir. Our meeting with her was very inspiring because she told the story of Victor Ananias, a man who brought on a lot of change through his ideas about the environment. He started small and ended up sparking a movement that was the basis for Buğday, the extensive network currently in place that implements a lot of green projects throughout Turkey.

Victor’s work began as he noticed a particular system inefficiency, the fact that consumers did not understand the stories of those who produced their foods. In order to remedy this, he opened a store first, where farmers could explain how they produced their goods. He later moved on to a restaurant and finally created a group of people who helped him to  develop Buğday, his organization where Güneşin works today. Buğday worked in a number of products, focusing on a lot of grassroots initiatives and today helping with the creation of organic markets in Istanbul. Some of the grassroots movements coordinate the buying and selling of different crops and create monitoring  systems for farmers to be accountable to each other. Güneşin also mentioned the idea of creating prosumers and of erasing the difference between consumers and producers. Finally one of the most interesting things that she talked about was how new communities were created where parents could talk about alternative eating, education and medicine. Therefore creating new spaces for people to discuss and develop alternative methods for growth. This is an interesting concept, which we will continue to discuss as we visit the “Happy Goat” school and look into how social entrepreneurs have found alternatives to the traditional channels for poverty relief and “development”.

Demonstration in Zeytinli Village

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Today I woke up at 7:30 am and went to the hamam in the farm and had a shower. When I got there, I appreciated again the people who built this farm because by using only natural products they made an artwork which also can be seen from every part of the farm. Afterwards, after having breakfast, we went to Zeytinli for a demonstration against dams planned to be built in this village.Before going there, actually I was expecting to encounter several police forces (jandarma), so much local people from different age ranges to participate but I never expected  to see trade unions there and got surprised when I saw them there demonstrating because after the mine incident in Soma, Turkey, I lost my faith in them for not getting involved as much as they should. Seeing them there together with people that also came from other villages was a very good example of solidarity for me. Not to mention, it was very tragic for me to think firstly about police forces when it comes to talk about demonstrations. Finally, we gathered with others in a small home-like olive press store and thought that in Istanbul one of the healthiest things for me is olive oil but after seeing this kind of production style, I got alienated from the industrialized foods in big cities.

After meeting people there and joining in a big group of people in the village, we started to walk to the Kaz Mountain and while walking there I met one of my high school teachers and this was of course what I didn’t expect, so I was amazed. By the way, people came there really liked our banners and I was very proud of holding this in front of which people got taken photo. During the demonstration I talked to two men and the first one told me that in last 100 km they have already 3 dams and this village is self-sufficient in terms of having water. Yet, the Turkish state has been justifying this upcoming dam in the village by saying that the villagers don’t have enough water. At that time I recalled Levent Soysal who told us about ‘’ecologic justifications’’ of the state. The man who I interviewed said that they didn’t get informed about this issue well and one day workers came and gave a start to this project by putting maps and signs in the middle of a land in that village. He continued, stating that  most of the people in that village are very aware of this threat and actually do respect nature.

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After the demonstration, we visited a farmer who grows so many different vegetables. We bought what we needed from there  for that night’s dinner. I felt there the joy of experiencing slow food and I thought that I wish I could have a field like this. This night, the table was set really nice because of the birthday of Attila and the most interesting, enjoyable part of the dinner was talking about our experiences here and comparing Dedetepe with Istanbul. I talked about my first experience washing dishes during which I got the feeling that the dishes couldn’t get clean because of the detergent I used and the delicious, organic plums I ate which symbolizes the natural life that offers me healthy and delicious fruits.

Off the (Istanbul) Grid

 

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June 6th – Day 9 After only a few hours of sleep, today the group is headed to Dedetepe (hyperlink), an eco-farm located about three hours away from bustling Istanbul. After a week of exploring the city, three days at an eco-farm seems like a necessary vacation from the “global city” Istanbul has become over the past twenty-five years. Every person I have spoken to over the age of 30 describes Istanbul as an ever-evolving city. In 1985, the population of Istanbul was estimated to be just fewer than 2 million people. The Turkish government estimates that about 14 million people live in Istanbul, however most Turks I have spoken to posit that number to be around 20 million because of imperfect measuring mechanisms and the growing Syrian refugee population. People occupy every crevice of the city, from the European to the Asian side. This metropolis is not unlike many other cities in the world: a growing public transit system, supermarkets, malls popping up at every available corner, and small green spaces scattered throughout. It’s no wonder that Istanbul was the 5th most traveled city in the world last year, right up there with Paris and London.

Is Istanbul an eco-friendly city? “Development” means that major cities must focus on growth in order to compete with cities internationally. Development is not synonymous with sustainability, eco-friendly, or simplicity. There might come a day when theories of development become more encompassing of these issues, but I argue that Istanbul’s continuous growth is happening in a manner that encourages building first, then questioning of environmental practices later. As we boarded the ferry out of Istanbul, we were making the conscious choice to leave behind the anonymity of city dwelling for the countryside- an entrance into an entirely different world.

Full Disclaimer: I do not like the outdoors. No, it’s not because I hate trees and green things and all that mother earth provides. I am severely allergic to mosquitoes, which has significantly affected my travel experiences. (One would think that I would have some sort of genetic protection from mosquitoes because my parents grew up in the Amazon). So my anxiety peaked as we entered Dedetepe. My first move was to apply copious amounts of Deet…and then take in our surroundings. Welcome to Dedetepe!

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You Can’t Sit with Us! #TurkeyEUrelations

20140118_EUD000_0June 5, 2014: Turkey-EU Relations

As a high school student, I participated in Euro Challenge , a high school competition where students dissected issues in the European Union and presented them in a skit-like format. As you can probably imagine, my team and I spent hours and hours memorizing facts about the European Union, from the European Steel and Coal Commission to the Copenhagen Criteria. Part of our studies included mock EU meetings, much like Model United Nations, where we debated how the European Union might debate world issues including the admission of new countries. Nine times out of ten, I chose to be Turkey because I was fascinated by the arguments associated with Turkey’s admission into the EU- and it was very easy to strategize against my peer countries because their reasoning mimicked commentary of current EU countries. I was very excited to go to the  Economic Development Foundation (IKV) where we were to meet with Melih Ozsöz, Deputy Secretary-General and Research Director at IKV.  In addition, Melih worked on the business and administrative side of çöp (m)adam, a social venture we’ll be visiting very soon! (Stay Tuned for details on that!) The IKV is the oldest NGO that works on the issue of Turkey’s potentially admission into the EU, and is the only NGO that works in all domains of the issue. The IKV is representative of all Turks, not just businesses. However, Turkey has had little luck in becoming a part of the EU over the last 8 years.

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In 2004, Turkey was elevated to a candidate nation for EU membership, which began the complicated process of “negotiations,” aka adopting 80,000 pages of EU law and regulation. These are divided into 35 “chapters” focused on everything from energy policy to human rights. Prior to this, the EU admitted Turkey to the Customs Union in 1996 and Turkey entered the Common Markets. Today, about half of Turkish trade is with the EU. However, joining the Customs Union did not help in accelerating Turkey’s goal of joining the EUFor further information on the historical quest for membership, check out “Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Andrew Finkel (and shout outs to Stephen Kinzer for letting me borrow his copy for our trip!).

The most striking aspect about Turkey’s potential membership in the EU is the number of stakeholders and interest groups in the debate. Melih introduced us to the multifaceted debate going on in Turkey and between Turkey and the EU. He said that Turks tend to blame the EU for the lack of progress in admission, claiming that Turkey is too Muslim and too large. On the other hand, the Turkish government does lack certain freedoms, especially concerning freedom of speech and expression that are non-negotiable for the EU. However, the Customs Union agreement in 1996 did benefit big business in Turkey, while agriculture did not experience the same growth. In addition, current issues in Turkey like the influx of 1.5 million Syrian Refugees, the treatment of the Kurdish population, and the Armenian question add to ongoing debates about Turkey’s ability to meet criteria for admission into the EU. In my high school class, the Armenian question often came to mind as a definite reason for the EU’s hesitation of admitting Turkey. After posing this question to Melih, he explained that the Armenian question is even dodged by the US.  President Obama often uses the word “atrocity” instead of the word “genocide” in order to keep up healthy relations with Turkey. In reality, Turkey’s membership involves far-reaching and complicated issues, from the 35 chapters to ongoing tensions with Cyprus (partly an EU member). With such amazing work happening at IKV, Turkey’s admission into the EU seems to be on the horizon.