Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Turkey's 'Garbage Ladies'

It's a warm July day in the small harbor town of Ayvalık, on Turkey's Aegean coast. A horse cart with wooden wheels clatters down a cobblestone street, past a bustling, sun-drenched workshop, its front door flung open. Inside, a half dozen women are hunkered down over long wooden tables, cutting, stitching and crafting. Using bits of thrown-away packaging and factory rejects -- leather scraps, swaths of felt, surplus canned-food labels -- they're transforming trash destined for the dump into colorful clutches, purses and wallets to be sold in trendy gift shops around Turkey. Even more remarkably, the women, most of whom have no more than a fifth-grade education, are also transforming their lives: For the first time ever, they're being paid for their work...

I met American expat Tara Hopkins not long after I moved to Istanbul, when she had recently founded Çöp(m)adam, a path-breaking social enterprise that combined women's empowerment with environmental responsibility in a way largely unknown in Turkey. I knew from the start that it was a great story -- one that finally found a worthy home this year in the U.S. women's magazine More. To write the profile of Hopkins and her talented team of "Garbage Ladies," I spent time at their workshop in the seaside town of Ayvalık, hearing heartbreaking and inspiring stories about the women, their families, and their new lives.

Read my article about Çöp(m)adam, "She Turns Trash Into Cash..." as it appeared in More magazine's March issue (pdf).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Making soup for Syria

When faced with almost 1 million needy people, a bowl of soup -- even a large vat -- doesn't go a very long way.

But Barbara Massaad refuses to let the daunting scale of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon deter her from doing her small part to help -- one bowl of soup at a time...

I first heard of the "Soup for Syria" project on Twitter and contacted Beirut-based Slow Food member and author Barbara Massaad about her plans to use a soup cookbook as a fundraising tool to help fight the growing food insecurity among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Though her project can only affect the lives of a small number of the now 9 million people displaced (internally and externally) by the Syrian crisis, her determination to do something was inspiring to hear in the face of so much hopelessness about the situation.

With Lebanon overwhelmed by refugees and now seeking to limit their number, and a potential drought threatening to worsen the already disastrous state of food production in Syria itself, anything and everything that can be done to alleviate food insecurity for refugees and those who remain in Syria matters.

Read the rest of my article, "'Soup For Syria' Dips Into Refugees' Culinary Lore," on Zester Daily.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Picturing Turkey's urban growing pains

From empty rural schools to blighted inner-city neighborhoods, there have been many victims, along with beneficiaries, of Turkey's rapid urbanization and recent economic growth. Frustration with the pace and nature of the changes, especially in Istanbul, helped fuel last summer’s dramatic street protests. The ups and downs of the country's transformation also sparked the passions of many of the talented students featured in the American Turkish Society’s 2013 Young Photographers Award competition.

Photo credit: Osman Demir/
Young Photographers Award
“This year’s submissions were striking in their melancholy air, and the focus on abandoned spaces, overcrowded cities, and the everyday difficulties – particularly for children and young people – more conspicuous [than in years past],” competition jurors Karen Haas and Anne E. Havinga told me in an email.

The work of the competition winner and two recipients of honorable mentions, as well as that of other participants that I featured in a photo gallery for The Atlantic's CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities), puts an important -- if often forgotten -- human face on Turkey's ongoing urban transformation.

Read my article, "The Hidden Side of Turkey's Urban Transformation, Told in 10 Pictures," and see more of these powerful photos on CityLab.