Global Reach: Grantee Partners

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Sulukule Volunteers Association (SVA)


Sulukule is a neighborhood in the Fatih district of Istanbul and was declared an ‘urban renewal site’. A majority of the destruction area took place between 2006 and 2009, with minimal resettlement of existing residents (a majority of which are Roma). Families were displaced and uprooted, and many continue to live in partially destroyed homes under terrible conditions. Those left completely homeless had to re-settle with relatives or move to nearby Karagümrük, an area with similar poverty levels. The greatest impact has been on women and children. A high number of children were forced to drop out of school and enrollment decreased dramatically. While specific data is not available for this district, according to a recent OECD report (2015), in Turkey, the overall estimated dropout rate for primary school is 15% and 35% for secondary (middle) and high school. There are also many challenges in the transition to high school. In 8th grade, students are required to take two exams. Those with low achievement scores either drop out completely or must enroll in a school with religious education. Dropout rates and challenges are significantly higher in neighborhoods such as Sulukule and others in the Fatih district. An additional important contextual development has been the increase in Syrian refugees’ settlement over the past few years. The Fatih district is now home to the 3rd largest population of refugees in Istanbul, and as a result, Syrian children attend SVA programs. Tensions among ethnic communities exist as Roma perceives Syrians to have ‘taken their place’ in the community.

Much research and evidence points toward the negative effect of poverty on a child’s brain development thus negatively affecting their ability to learn and have healthy social interactions. SVA spent much of the past years making sure children could enroll/continue/complete school. Over time, SVA has observed the following: 1) Even if children go to school, they are void of psychically and mentally/emotionally beneficial extra-curricular activities (phys. ed. for example). 2) Many children they work with have behavioral problems, affecting school performance. 3) Teachers and administrators are not well equipped to deal with such children and lack non-academic programming skills. 4) Parents may not have skills and support for helping their children. Sports and other extracurricular activities can teach children critically important life skills such as collaboration, sharing, cooperation, effective communication and problem solving, teamwork and self-control (especially management of emotions). They also can help prevent harmful behaviors (drugs, theft, violence etc.). Sports encourages young people to channel their energy more productively, increasing their psycho-social development and self-esteem. This has a positive effect on school performance, increasing attention and learning ability, social cohesion, and support by teachers.


It was founded in 2010 as a part of the Sulukule Platform, created to advocate against destructive urban renewal projects that have since negatively affected the community. Since then, SVA has supported more than 650 children who are at a high risk of dropping out of school. Founders Aysun and Cem continue to play a hands-on role in leadership and program delivery. They are well liked by the community and slowly building the team they need to meet the increasing needs of the community. SVA works with children (mainly Roma/Gypsy, Kurdish, Turkish and Syrian ages 6-16) living in poverty, which have a high school dropout rate, and are exposed to violence at home and discrimination in schools due to their ethnic background. Main results to date:

  • Supporting more than 200 children to stay in/complete school, implementing the Developmental Class Teaching Program with UNICEF and Ministry of Education (considered among best applications of program in Turkey)
  • Providing intense psychosocial support and activities (art, photography, rap, rhythm, well-being, life skills etc.) to support personal development and social adaptation
  • Mobilizing university youth volunteers to deliver programs (approx. 300 in total)
  • Taking a leadership role in developing methods and solutions to working with at risk children in education (workshop in 2016 on “The Education Rights of Under Risk Children” , created a platform of partners)
  • Supporting children under risk to access education and ensure their enrollment and continued education in school
  • Providing social-cultural activities to further develop their psychological well-being and social adaptation
  • Assisting school management, teachers, parents, students and public officials to prevent school drop out
  • Providing nutrition, stationery and financial educational support to children in need
  • Mobilizing university age youth volunteers who deliver the majority of programs

Current Grant:

EMpower’s 2nd grant to SVA will support the delivery of a program for 68 vulnerable children (10-14 age group) to improve physical and psycho-social wellbeing with goal of their continued enrollment and increased performance in school.

You can support our work with Sulukule Volunteers Association (SVA) and our other grantee partners.

Our Underwriters pay for all of our administrative and fundraising costs, so 100% of your donation goes directly to empowering at-risk youth.