I had only been in Istanbul a couple of months when a friend introduced me to Tarlabaşı Toplum Merkezi. I still didn’t know the city well and, walking from İstiklal across Tarlabaşı Boulevard, was amazed to see landscape change so quickly from shops, bars and tourists sipping lattes to run-down houses, small bakkals and children playing football in the street. Istanbul is many different cities at the same time, with areas so different from each other side by side, physically close but in many ways worlds apart. Like most newcomers to Istanbul, I had been warned about the area but I wanted to find out more for myself, to get to know more about this mysterious city and, if possible, to do something useful.
And so one afternoon I found myself in this tall, skinny building full of colour and music and children’s laughter. I was immediately impressed by the atmosphere of the place and knew that this would not be my last visit. I started giving English lessons for the children who came to the centre, a much different experience from any teaching I had done before. In comparison to the indifferent, self-conscious, too-cool for school university students I’d previously taught, these children were energetic, enthusiastic and always, always wanted to give the answer, whether they knew it or not. With a variety of ages and levels, teaching wasn’t an easy task but it was always fun and always interesting. We sang songs and played games and it was wonderful to watch the children realise that they could unravel this language of pop songs and movies.
With such stereotypes and prejudice about this area that this centre has had such success in bringing opportunities to the women and children of Tarlabaşı and representing the area in a more positive way. The centre is a place that allows children to be children, to discover their talents and interests without the worries and concerns that many of them face in their daily lives. It gives them a chance to learn about things in a different way than their dry school curriculum, to express themselves through art, drama and music, to make new friends and to take pride in themselves and where they are from. I hope that the centre will continue to give these opportunities to the people of Tarlabaşı for as long as they are needed.