This March IICS hosted more than 400 international teachers for this year’s annual CEESA professional development conference. It was such a major event that IICS was closed on  March 18th so that all IICS teaching staff could attend the workshops. As hosts of this conference, IICS provided significant logistical support as well as some of the finer details of the event. For instance, we provided the conference bags. And probably unlike other conferences, this event’s bag has a great back story: the design and production was managed by Grade 10 student Timur F. in collaboration with and in order to support Children of Hope, the community service project Timur has been involved with since he was in Grade 7.

Timur has been a long time member of the IICS community and service group Istanbul Street Children, which aims to raise awareness of the plight of street children and raise funds to support Umut Çocukları (Children of Hope), a local organization “providing material and moral assistance to children and youth whose family environment and circumstances caused them to end up on the streets to escape abusive environments, to escape forced labor, etc.” .

This IICS community and service group has experienced changes in membership over the years as the available time for C&S groups has changed. In some years, the group held a winter wear drive to collect warm clothing, bedding, and footwear for Children of Hope. Proceeds of fund raisers have gone to secure the purchase of a freezer for the Children of Hope. Each year the group’s International Day activities also raise funds for ongoing support projects for Children of Hope.

However, Timur found the available time in the school schedule was not enough for what they wanted to achieve. Already his is a difficult cause to raise volunteers for: there is a language barrier making it difficult for non-Turkish speakers. Additionally, Chldren of Hope are not children. The grim reality of their situations is often too emotionally demanding for students to engage with for extended periods.

Rather than lose hope, however, Timur took initiative. He created an MYP Exploratory group and After School Activity to provide structured time to devote to this cause. He spoke at assemblies to raise awareness and gather members. In 2015-16 the group’s student leaders were Yasemin A., Melda, Andrew, Kerem, Silvio, and Amelia.  Timur admits that managing a group isn’t easy and he and Yasemin have struggled to find a balance between plowing through to get objectives met versus being more collaborative to include more people, which requires longer timelines to achieve goals. They are still working to resolve this, just like many NGOs and service groups have to.

Children of Hope runs a production workshop which generates textile items and jewelry items for which supporters help provide both raw materials and sales outlets. With this system, Children of Hope generates meaningful employment as well as income for those who live at their dormitory in Bakirkoy. With this in mind, Timur proposed that the Children of Hope production workshop create CEESA’s bags.

Working together with Head of School, Ms. Jane Thompson, and IICS coordinator of this conference, Ms. Figen Underdown, Timur planned to use the money his group raised at IICS International Day to purchase the fabric for the bags. Though his idea was inspired, he learned some valuable project management lessons when faced with obstacles he hadn’t planned on. For instance, the working capacity of the Children of Hope workshop was not enough to turn around 400 bags in the allotted time because they still had to accommodate their existing work orders, and they couldn’t work 24 hours a day. So, Timur had to create a joint venture between them and another textile workshop. He had to outsource the screen printing. Both of these things created extra cost. He fortunately found a sponsor for the bag fabric, and decided to make the bags reversible with interesting contrast prints on the reverse side. The screen printer offered to print the bags for free, but Timur and Children of Hope insisted on paying a token fee, both to ensure better service and quality and to gain a possible ongoing provider for their future orders.

Even with all that, Timur had some hard bargaining with Ms. Thompson and Miss Figen, trying to get the top amount for the bags in order to raise more funds for his cause, but the 25TL per bag that he was asking was negotiated down to 15TL, as that was all the budget CEESA had to offer. In the end, Timur raised over 6,000TL for his cause and proved himself to be quite a manager! In any event, he gained incredibly useful real life experience and says he now knows what it feels like for his parents when doing business negotiations. Great job, Timur!

If you would like to support the Children of Hope project, Timur and team will be selling the extra bags they created at upcoming events. Stay tuned!