Global Reach: Grantee Partners

Sulukule Volunteers Association (SVA)


Sulukule is a neighborhood in the Fatih district of Istanbul , with a history of nearly 1000 years , one of the oldest Roma settlements and officially under UNESCO protection. In 2006, it was declared an ‘urban renewal site’ and a majority of the destruction area took until 2009, with minimal resettlement and land rights for existing residents (a majority of

which are Roma) and no regard for the protection requirements of UNESCO. 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.

Children are at high risk in this neighbourhood. Crowded, single parent and economically challenged households are mainstream, many of which had or have had one parent in prison. This of course also affects children’s school attendance and performance in a country where educational achievement is already a challenge. On the overall, students in Turkey report a low sense of belonging at school and high levels of truancy in PISA 2018. Low per-student spending, underdeveloped targeted funding practices and the relatively high cost of school education to households pose challenges ineffectively supporting disadvantaged and other vulnerable students. According to a more recent OECD report
(2020), although student performance has improved in Turkey, a smaller share of students achieve baseline proficiency (PISA level 2) in reading, mathematics and science than on average across the OECD. In addition, they note difficulties of transition to high school as 8th grade students are required to take two high stakes exams which determine track of education. Unsurprisingly these issues are magnified in low income neighborhoods such as Sulukule. School attendance is often inconsistent and the connection between school and child/family is weak.

In addition to the weakness of the school system, evidence points toward the negative effect of poverty on a child’s brain development thus 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 activities (Phys ed for example) 2) Many have behavioral problems, affecting school performance 3) Teachers and administrators are not well equipped to deal with children and lack non-academic programming skills; and 4) Parents lack skills and support for helping their children. Physical activity and other extracurricular activities can teach children critically important life skills such as collaboration, sharing, cooperation, effective communication and problem solving, team work and self-control (especially management of emotions). They also can help prevent harmful behaviors (drugs, theft, violence etc.) and 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. With EMpower’s support, SVA has been developing new programing to develop models that incorporate well-being programs (emotional, behavioral, physical) for children (10-14) with positive results.

COVID related restrictions have created even more hardship for this community. Parents have lowered or no income as a result of the pandemic, and In an already challenged educational environment, children who were engaged and attending school were disrupted, with very limited if at all any online education engagement (due to space, equipment) even though the Ministry of Education is making great investments in this area. Many lost touch with peers and teachers and others forced to work. Both due to COVID as well as increased hesitancy of schools to cooperate with local NGOs like SVA, reaching children in schools has not been possible, and even if schools do reopen, not for the foreseeable future (due to restrictions on who can enter schools). SVA rightly took a decision to use this time to undertake an extensive research study on how COVID affects families and children in their community; and also able to move in to a much bigger space where they can comfortably serve their community.


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 4th grant to Sulukule Volunteers Associations (SVA) is supporting the organization to continue implementing their wellbeing program for 200 children (10-14).

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

Connect with EMpower

Stay up-to-date on the latest EMpower news, highlights from our grantee partners, upcoming events, and more.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Make a Difference with EMpower

Our Board Directors and the Leadership Council underwrite all of our Management, General and Fundraising expenses, so 100% of your donation goes directly to empowering marginalised young people.

Make a Donation

See more ways to make a difference