Kindness has butterfly effect.
It starts with baby steps and turns to a big march one day.
An Act of Kindness: Book Markers
Merve Çirişoğlu Çotur started making bookmarkers with her friends while studying at Bosphorus University in 2011. These college mates had a cause to produce markers, which were a labour of love. Through the sales of markers they would raise funds in order to do charity.. They have donated 360 liras that they have initially earned from the sales to the surgery of three cataract patients. It was hard to believe. Once Merve’s father who found his daughter and her friends busy making bookmarkers made a remark with the implication that they should not entertain big dreams. Nonetheless they made it at the end. Young and passionate they have promoted their charity efforts via social media and inspired others to join in. Hence their humble efforts turned to a movement of kindness in no time. They have raised funds to sponsor twenty-one cataract surgeries thus raised awareness across the campus.
After hitting a benchmark in fund raising these charitable young college students decided to do something about two hundred million children who lost their parents to various causes across the world. They have started regularly sponsoring the living expenses of hundreds of orphan children. All this happened thanks to their hand made bookmarkers of a few bucks. They have earned the support of tens of thousands of people.
The book marker project that spread like a wildfire raised 130.000 Turkish liras and funded the establishment of an orphanage of 46 children in Malawi, fourth poorest country in Africa, and a school in Patani. They could not foresee how far their charity project that gradually grew bigger could go but they always put their best efforts to take it one step further while also studying in college.
Their third goal was to open a three-storey orphanage of 170 children in South East Asia, Iyilikhane Bangladesh Orphanage. “The Iyilikhane project is our sincere answer to the question of “what can I do” about all the suffering that we witness in the world” says Merve who sat down with her friends and drew a road map for long and short term plans to address the underlying problems of orphan children.
Merve explains how their small steps for this cause turned to big goals along the way:
“When we first started it in 2011 with so little resource we called it “book marker project”. As 20-year-old college students six years ago we have carried out several charity projects. When we heard about cataract operations on patients in Africa we felt like “we should also do something but what.” Hand made bookmarkers idea was born like that. I have been drawing since I was small and I always was keen on arts. So I wanted to make use of my skills for charity. It is a way of paying back what God has gifted me… Why should I not give charity out of my abilities? First I illustrated 80 bookmarkers and sold it in our small circle of friends. And then friends’ friends came in to buy my bookmarkers and it just spread like that. We opened social media accounts to promote our sales and posted them in English too. So it reached out to bigger number of people. After setting up a website exclusively for our charity projects we stepped up our game. I can say that we have been working day in and out for 6 years. Initially we used to cut out our hand made bookmarkers with scissors and colour them with pencils. They were sincerely done amateurish products. Later the demand grew bigger and bigger and we expanded our sales to 64 cities across the country in a mere 10 months. So we digitized our production and started creating bookmarkers with a professional finish. We have also expanded our product range and started selling badges, key chains, notebooks etc. Our customer profile were largely students thus out products cost a few bucks.”
Merve explains how they initially aimed for sponsoring only three cataract operations on African patients and ended up funding 21 operations, which then inspired them to expand their scope of charity projects. While dreaming about bigger dreams orphans and their problems come to mind of these young charitable college students.
No Suffering No Blessing
When Merve and her friends achieved to raise 2.600.000 Turkish liras they were able to fund the living expenses of orphans, whom they have volunteered to sponsor, from Turkey, Middle East, the Balkans, Southeast Asia and Africa.
She tells us her plans to travel to Africa to meet the orphans there when the construction of the orphanage that they have sponsored finishes soon. Three years ago Merve and her friends have founded “Iyilikhane Association for Solidarity with Orphans,” an organization exclusively to help orphaned and needy children.
When Merve and her roommate Meryem launched their charity project of handmade bookmarkers they were only two girls in this. However, it soon spread out to thousands of students through the word of mouth. By the time Merve and her friends started noticing random people on the street wearing their handmade badges and key chains it was a well-known charity project among students.
“We tried our best to cover the production costs through our sponsors to make sure that all the proceeds from sales would go to funding orphans. It has served as a great source of inspiration for us as well as our customers, who were able to donate three liras while also receiving a little something in return. Hence our hand made bookmarkers functioned as a tool to encourage students to do charity and acts of kindness.
In six years it is inevitable to face stumbling blocks down the road. It is also hard to manage human resources. Thankfully we have a clear mind of our mission and vision. After all we are working for orphans. Like old people say “no blessing comes without hardship.” We have to overcome hardship to attain blessings. I believe we have made it this far thanks to this mind-set. While we were initially trying to raise 360 Turkish liras our recent funds have reached 2.600.000 Turkish liras, which shows that there is no loss in charity work. Our Lord has blessed our efforts and we received in abundance after overcoming the obstacles on our way. Indeed our efforts were blessed thanks to our pure intentions.”
Merve tells us that they have over two thousand volunteers not only in Turkey but also abroad. The volunteers especially from Turkish expatriate communities in Europe are a great motivation for her. They no more are alone in this. They have followers and supporters from Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Cyprus, Germany, Austria and many other countries.
‘Next Time Let’s Meet in Paradise”
Merve and her friends would like to focus on charity work at home after completing their orphanage projects abroad. They note that there is an increasing number of Syrian and Turkish orphans in Turkey would like to do something to help them out.
They have so far worked in collaboration with other charity organizations, as they do not have teams on the ground. So they would donate their funds to various foundations and organizations, which will in return deliver it in aid to the poor and needy. After setting up their own teams of charity workers they have started off their first independent project in Skutari, Istanbul where many orphans live in this one neighbourhood. It took them several months to sort out these children’s problems and help them in the best way possible not only physically but also in terms of psychological support and counselling.
Merve Çirişoğlu Çotur describes their unending tasks: “The feedback we used to receive during our charity work in college was a great motivation for us. Once a friend of ours opened booth in Ankara. After discussing it among each other a passer-by couple donated the girl’s wedding band. So we have received emotionally loaded donations as such. It was lovely to receive positive remarks for our sincerity. Meanwhile the kind of love and warmth we receive from the orphans on the ground is unmatched. When we visited the school we have funded in Patani we had the chance to meet many orphans. When we were leaving one of the orphan children gave us a big hug and said “next time let’s meet in paradise.”
Now I can pray for my siglings in Patani and in Africa name by name. It is an incredible feeling to pray for and to be prayed for.
Malawi orphanage cost 130.000 Turkish liras while Patani was 300.000. Back then we were seniors in college. Our treasury yielded 500.000 Turkish liras. Our feeling was that “our work is done” and we thought, “we should have a break.” However when we visited Patani and hugged our brothers and sisters there the only thing that came to our mind was “what should our next project be about?”
As Allah commands in Chapter 94, “Therefore when you are free from thy immediate task, still labour hard” this is exactly from where our blessings come from.
Born in 1990, Merve Çirişoğlu Çotur, a Maths graduate from Bosphorus University stepped up her drawing game, which she used in designing and illustrating book markers, and started doing MAs in animation at a college in London. By learning storytelling through animation picture and illustration Merve is preparing to portray the issues of orphan children from conflict areas in a different light.
Who knows what she has in store for her future charity projects…