Paylaşmak mutluluktur – Sharing is happiness. That’s certainly the case for Sinem and Murat Asılcan from Istanbul. The two of them created a social project in the poor district of Balat in Istanbul and recycle objects that they then distribute to those in need. We visited the Hobbit House in Balat.
Sinem, Murat, your house is full of clothing, books, old pictures, plates…
Who brings you all of these things and what do you do with them?
Murat: Everything that you see here is used. Either we collect it ourselves or people bring us things that are broken or that they no longer need. We repair them and give them to poor children and their families.
Sinem: In the past months, we were able to distribute almost five thousand articles of clothing, toys and books per week to the children in the neighbourhood.
You bought a house in Istanbul’s beautiful old Balat district, a little bit away form the hub and bub of the big city. Why did you decide to come here with your project?
Murat: Balat is a very poor district. Many Syrian refugees and Armenians live here – and most of all, many poor children. We want to specifically support them with our project.
Most of the foundations and clubs that work similar to us usually only collect donations on holidays such as Ramazan Bayramı (the end of the fasting season – ed). or Kurban Bayramı (Eid al-Adha). Then they demand around one hundred fifty Turkish liras per child in order to buy them an entirely new outfit. They end up helping forty or fifty children that way. We want our project to appeal to the emotions of our fellow human beings. It is a sort of sustainable recycling project.
Hobbit House – How did you come up with the name?
Murat: Our house is so small that people have to duck when they enter. Hobbits are about one-meter-tall human-like beings that live together peacefully in quiet places. And more than anything, they like a good breakfast, just like us (laughs).
You take from those who have too much and give it to the poor. Are you like a modern version of Robin Hood?
Sinem: (laughs) Yes, people call us modern Robin Hoods. But we’re not really the Robin Hoods, those are the people who bring us things.
What do you need or what things should we bring to you?
Murat: More than anything we need baby clothes, toys and children’s books. Turkey has so many poor children.
What else do you offer in your house?
Murat: Aside from our public closet, we also have a public library. Children can come here and read, as well as eat or play. Everyone is invited to come to us and do something with the children. They learn a lot of new things and integrate themselves into society that way. Teachers also come to us and help the children with homework or do crafts with them.
Sinem: In addition, we also offer organic breakfast in our café. We only use homemade, fresh ingredients. Half of the money made in our café goes to our social projects. That’s how we were able to finance the sünnet düğünü, or traditional circumcision party, of one family’s son. Another family was able to send their child to school.
The Turkish media has reported on your street fair here in Balat…
Sinem: Yes, that was a special day! We organised the first street fair for the children of Balat. The entire day was made possible by the solidatiry of our neighbourhood – we didn’t spend a single kuruş.
Murat: One neighbour backed us with three hundred muffins, another brought dolls and games for the children. Ich wore a wig and clown’s nose, and we had a lot of fun. The kids did to, of course (laughs).
Tell us how your project began…
Murat: We started with the recycling project Bysatkurtul/Paylaşkurtul (engl.: sell and dispose/share and dispose). We went from door to door, asking people if they had old objects they would like to get rid of. Our idea was to create a new recycling culture: You can dispose of your old things by sharing them and thereby doing something good for others. Palayaşmak mutluluktur! (engl. Sharing is happiness!).
Sinem: Many people liked our idea of sharing and disposing and we quickly received support. Turkish media, such as Kanal D, Hürriyet and Akşam reported on us. They called us the “Recycling Couple from Balat” (laughs). Due to a lot of encouragement and the many helpers, we no longer have to ask for money for the things, we can simply give them too those who need them.
Where did you meet each other?
Sinem: We met each other whilst plundering (laughs), early in the morning at a flea market in Bomonti, the grounds of the beer factory. It was still dark and you could only see with a flashlight. Right when I wanted to reach for an antique necklace, a hand came and grabbed it. I let the necklace there and continued on. Later, I took a small break. I drank a çay, and the sun was just coming up. Then a man came up to me. He extended the necklace towards me and said, “Life is more beautiful when you share it. We should grab a çay together.”
There aren’t many social projects like yours in Turkey. Have you also encountered negative reactions?
Murat: Yes, large companies don’t like us. They want to sell their new projects. But we use old and used things. In the beginning we received thousands of calls. They wanted to convince us to stop. “Why are you using used things and not new ones?” they would ask us.
Sinem: People here stil don’t understand our modern idea of sharing. We live in the 21st century, but they still think quite old-fashioned here. Sometimes we thing that they are afraid of good new ideas (laughs).
What next on your agenda?
Sinem: We would like to travel around the world in an RV, collect things that people no longer need, and give them to those who do. In order to succeed, we’re still looking for supporters, for example a foundation
Murat: We would also like to move into a larger house. You see that our small Hobbit House is splitting at the seams. We’re also searching for sponsors that can support our project financially.
If you had one wish: What would be the best gift that someone could drop in front of your door
Murat: A Westfalia RV. They are really great (laughs)!
Text: Anna Kristina Bückmann
Photos: Ali Fuat Karasu und Bektash Musa