Although it is within walking distance from Istiklal Avenue, a “hip and happening” place known for its loud and proud nightlife, Istanbul’s Tarlabasi district is the center of deprivation, sorrow and helplessness.Research by the Department of Public Social Services highlights the severity of the issues embedded in Tarlabasi. The inhabitants of the district include ethnic minorities, victims of internal forced migration and illegal immigrants. Among the members of Tarlabasi’s community, 56 percent are unemployed, 90 percent of the women are illiterate, and 60 percent of the families live under minimum wage.”Their common ground is the culture they share, a culture of deprivation and poverty, under which they all live,” says Suzan Oktan, the Tarlabasi Community Center coordinator. Founded by Istanbul Bilgi University in 2007, the Tarlabasi Community Center tackles some of the issues in the Tarlabasi community. People who confront difficulties in government organizations, in hospitals and at the municipality come to the Tarlabasi Community Center, which provides them with the necessary assistance. Particularly targeting women and children, the center empowers children through dance, music, art and drama workshops while reaching out to women through literacy courses, seminars on women’s rights, and awareness-raising on the dangers of substance abuse. The center also works with professional volunteers to provide with weekly two-hour legal assistance sessions in family, criminal and inheritance law open to the community.The Tarlabasi Community Center has touched the lives of almost 1,000 people to date. “We never wanted to do something for them, but only with them,” Oktan says.With the support of Sabanci Foundation, the second season of “Turkey’s Changemakers” with Cüneyt Özdemir is televised weekly for 32 weeks on CNNTürk at 8:50 p.m. on Thursdays. The program aims to increase the visibility of unique individuals who make a significant difference in other people’s lives, raise awareness to the social issues and promote active citizenship. Nominations for “Changemakers” are open to public and available at www.farkyaratanlar.org. Produced by Dipnot Production, short films of the changemakers are aired on TV initially and shared through Facebook and Twitter afterwards.
Source:  Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review.