Global Reach: Grantee Partners

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 eighth 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 third largest population of refugees in Istanbul, and as a result, Syrian children attend SVA programmes. Tensions among ethnic communities exist as Roma perceive 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 observed: 1) Even if children go to school, they have no access to physically and mentally/emotionally beneficial extra-curricular activities (phys ed for example) 2) Many children 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; and 4) Parents lack 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 encourage 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. SVA has been developing new programming to develop models that incorporate well-being approaches(emotional, behavioral, physical) for youth in underserved schools.


SVA 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 high risk of dropping out of school. Founders Aysun Koca and Cem Avci continue to play a hands-on role in leadership and programme delivery. They are well liked by the community and continuing to build the team they need to meet the increasing needs of the community. SVA works with children (mainly Roma, Kurdish, Turkish and Syrian ages 6-16) living in poverty, who have a high school dropout rate, and often are exposed to violence at home, and face discrimination in schools due to their ethnic background. Main results to date:

  • Developing afterschool study programmes

  • Implementing the Developmental Class Teaching Programme with UNICEF and Ministry of Education (considered among best applications of a program in Turkey)
  • Providing intense psychosocial support and activities (art, photography, rap, rhythm, well-being, life skills, etc) to keep kids in school and support personal development and social adaptation
  • Mobilizing university youth volunteers to deliver programmes (approx. 400 in total)
  • Developing new programmes for at-risk children in education (workshop and report on “The Education Rights of Under Risk Children”, created a platform of organizations working on these issues)

Current Grant:

EMpower’s 3rd grant to SVA will support the delivery of a programme for 240 vulnerable children (10-14 age group, estimated 25% recurring) that will improve physical and psycho-social wellbeing to support continued enrollment and increased performance in school.

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