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Education: A Promising Journey

Istanbul

As the only city to reside on two continents, Europe and Asia; Istanbul is unique in the world. Everyday millions of people living in Istanbul commute from one continent to the other for work, school and fun. I was one of those commuters when I lived in Istanbul. My parents lived on the Asian side of the city, which we Istanbullus call the Anatolian side, and my school was on the European side. Sometimes I drove with my friends and crossed the Bosphorus bridge. Other times I took the ferry to get to the European side. For anyone who hasn’t seen Istanbul, the Bosphorus strait offers a stunning view like no other in the world. The blue Marmara sea, the white clouds watching the European and Anatolian coastline, beautiful buildings from different eras – Byzantines, Ottomans, Turks, and of course the noisy seagulls which fly right in front of you if you are taking the ferry… No wonder why Istanbul is one of the top ten cities to visit in the world. Just crossing the Bosphorus strait is enough to make your trip unforgettable. Yet, it is easy to forget how unique Istanbul is due to its location if you are crossing the Bosphorus bridge every day for years. We Istanbullus start to take the beauty of the city for granted after years of commuting from one continent to the other. Now that I live in the United States, I appreciate that view and what Istanbul symbolizes for many different civilizations more. I carefully breath in that sea smell when I ride the ferry every time I go back to Istanbul to visit my parents. In fact, I take the ferry back to back several times so I can only concentrate on the view and remind myself how unique this city is and how lucky I was to live in Istanbul for 24 years…

In many ways, Istanbul is a microcosm of Turkey. First, like Istanbul, Turkey lies between Europe and Asia and it has been the crossroads for many different civilizations for more than 2000 years. So many cultures have flourished there and so many other foreign cultures have influenced the way people have lived in Anatolia because it has been the crossroads between two continents. Similar to Istanbul, the beauty and strength of Turkey lies in its multi-cultural past and present. Second, approximately one out of four Turkish citizens resides in Istanbul. When you walk around Istanbul, you come across people from all parts of Turkey. With its almost 20 million population, Istanbul is a microcosm of Turkey where you can interact with people from the east, west, north and south of the country. Finally, the history of Istanbul is very old and multifaceted like the rest of Turkey. You come across archeological ruins and architecture from many different civilizations both in Istanbul and in the rest of Turkey. Sightseeing in Istanbul and the rest of Turkey is similar to being a time traveler. You can travel from the time of Hittites to the time of the ancient Greeks, the Lydians, the early Christians, the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Seljuks, the Ottomans and the list goes on and on… It’s fascinating to travel in Turkey like it’s in Istanbul.

These are the important parallels between Istanbul and the rest of Turkey. Now here’s how the rest of the country differs from Istanbul. The rest of Turkey is not as economically developed as Istanbul. In my opinion, the saddest thing in life is wasted potential. Every time I visit Istanbul and chat with people from all over the country who now live in Istanbul, they tell me that they migrated to Istanbul because they couldn’t realize their potential back in their own cities, towns or villages. There were simply not enough opportunities for education and jobs. According to OECD’s 2012 report, Turkey ranks third highest on a scale of income inequality among its 34 member countries. This situation is not unique to Turkey though. Like many other developing countries in the world, there is a big social and economic disparity between the major cities and the rest of the country. So neither Istanbul nor Turkey is unique in this sense. What’s relatively more unique is that given its geographic location, incredible history and multicultural strength, there might be much more untapped resources in Turkey and hence more wasted potential compared to other developing countries…

The good news is a lot has been going on in the past several decades to develop the rest of Turkey. Social and economic programs targeting different parts of Turkey have been designed and implemented by administration after administration for decades. Some administrations have been more successful than others of course but still the awareness that gives rise to such efforts is there. Ok, here is the bad news. These efforts need to be accelerated and not only the governments but the private sector and the non-profit sector have a responsibility to act towards this end. The rate of migration to Istanbul and other major cities is still outpacing the rate of social and economic development in the underdeveloped parts of Turkey. Furthermore, the political problems in the Middle East are sending more and more refugees to southeastern Turkey and creating a dire situation that needs to be addressed more urgently than ever!

As important as it is to provide food, shelter and other basic necessities to people who are in need, it is more meaningful to equip them with the tools that can help them realize their potential in the long run. That’s why the Nobel prize went to an extraordinary individual who committed her life to improving access to universal education. During her speech at the United Nations, Malala Yousafzai said that just one student, one teacher and one book is enough to make a change. Surely, change that comes through education is slower but let’s not forget that it’s the most promising way to fix social and economic disparity in the world. The more people have access to education, the more they can improve their socio-economic situation. The underdeveloped regions of Turkey which are also experiencing the flow of refugees from the Middle East are in need of education centers that can equip them with the tools to improve their well-being. Strategic educational programs such as training centers that give technical training can be effective for eradicating poverty, improving socio-economic levels and eventually giving rise to more stable political climate in the region as well. There is a strong link between economic well-being, democracy and security. It might be a tough journey but it’s a promising one. HasNa wants to contribute to this journey by helping young adults who want to gain new technical skills. We are currently in the process of collaborating with business owners, companies as well as regional NGOs to determine the skills that are mostly desired and marketable in the region. We invite everyone to join us in increasing access to education and jobs in whichever part of the developing world you are passionate about. Let’s all contribute to improving education and job training in the developing world even if it is one girl, one teenager, one refugee, one adult at a time…

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