A children's paradise: The Aziz Nesin Foundation
The Aziz Nesin Foundation has allowed more than 300 disadvantaged children to start a new life and stand on their own feet.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 28/08/12
"Welcome to Children's Paradise" reads the sign hanging at the entrance to the Aziz Nesin Foundation, where disadvantaged children receive a second chance and the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Aziz Nesin (1915-1995), or Grandpa Aziz to the children, was a writer, humourist and intellectual who authored more than 100 books. Devoting the last years of his life combating religious fundamentalism and free speech, Nesin established a foundation in 1972 to care for disadvantaged children and integrate them into society.
"Aziz Nesin felt that this project was his duty. Although he lived his childhood in very poor conditions, he had no problem of receiving an education, so it was a matter of honouring his debt to the society," Suleyman Cihangiroglu, the foundation's general manager, told SES Türkiye.
The Catalca-based foundation hosts 42 children and has provided for nearly 300 children since the early 1980s. The children are provided with shelter, off-site education and training from elementary school through high school. They have gone on to become teachers, lawyers, physicians, artists and staff at the Nesin Publishing House.
One of the unique aspects of the foundation that distinguishes it from state boarding houses is that graduated children do not break ties with the foundation once they leave.
Cihangiroglu is a concrete example. He arrived at the foundation in 1991. After graduating from Mimar Sinan University in 2001, he eventually started to work at the foundation as a general manager.
The foundation gives children a variety of skills including lessons in organic farming, performing arts, swimming, cooking, piano, sewing, singing, cleaning, construction, ceramics and carpentry. As part of the community lifestyle, they prepare breakfast together and dine around long tables.
Four women mentors also play a "mother role," supporting the children and caring for their needs. One, Yasemin Yilmazer, has become a kind of guardian angel for the children.
"It's a great honour for me to look after the heritage of Aziz Nesin. My mission here is to enrich the children with almost every kind of social activity and prepare them for every aspect of life. So, it is not only caring, but also life-skills we are providing for them," she told SES Türkiye.
For the children, the foundation offers a new family, instilling them with a sense of purpose, duty and discipline, as well as a common community spirit.
Irem Teker, whose mother is schizophrenic, came from Mersin when she was 4. Now 17, Teker hopes to become a chef.
"We learn a real and strong way of living together and helping each other. When I become a cook, I don't want to earn a lot of money. What would make me happy is to go Africa and prepare meals for needy people," Teker said.
Umut Baser, who arrived at the foundation eight years ago, said that his life at the foundation has been a unique experience. "I had never been to a movie, or seen a taxi before I came here. I even learned how to swim here," 16-year-old Baser told SES Türkiye.
Baser, who would like to become an architect, said that at first he didn't understand the strict rules at the foundation, which prohibits chewing gum, drinking tea and limits watching television to only one day a week.
"But now I'm aware of the benefits of all those restrictions. In fact, we have been living in a very democratic environment. We even have 'wish boxes' where we can put in our expectations like going to bed at 10pm or going to a specific movie tomorrow," he said.
The foundation receives funding through rental income, donations and the royalties of Nesin's books.
Cihangiroglu said the support of Turkish citizens has been a critical part of the project. "We even have supporters in remote Anatolian villages, like teachers or farmers, who send 5 liras a month from their limited salaries," Cihangiroglu said.
Among the immediate projects the foundation hopes to implement is an Art and Philosophy Village similar to the Nesin Mathematics Village founded in 2007 by Ali Nesin, son of Aziz Nesin, in Sirince in the Aegean region.