International Studies student Shannon Kay is currently working first-hand in Istanbul, Turkey, which as of February 2017 is host to more refugees than any other country in the world. This includes almost 3 million registered Syrians, with over 500,000 refugees trying to re-establish themselves in Istanbul, a city with a population of over 15 million.
Through a Monash Arts international internship placement, Shannon became co-director of Small Projects Istanbul (SPI) that mostly serves the Arabic speaking community displaced from Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen, through offering educational, social and livelihood support to families and children rebuilding their lives in Istanbul. We crossed to her for a live update.
Firstly, what brought you to SPI?
I am currently completing my final year of an Arts (Global) degree, majoring in International Studies, and focusing on anthropology, political science and history, with a specific interest in the Middle East. Through the support of Monash University, I was able to complete an international internship placement over January to April last year with SPI as part of my degree. It brought a new level of academic focus and direction to my work.
What is your role at SPI?
I have been volunteering as a co-director here since July 2015, during this time the SPI community and education centre has rapidly expanded and now runs a busy weekly schedule for a growing community of beneficiaries. We have also sponsored the enrolment of over 50 primary and high school students from Syria to return to formal education at local Arabic and Turkish schools.
Can you give us a snapshot of the scope of work you’re involved in?
- 20+ programs running throughout the week;
- 60+ children participating in weekly education and social integration activities as a pathway into formal education;
- 100+ women working in a handicraft collective established through SPI as a means to generate income and create social connections;
- 20+ children between 0-4 participating in early childhood development activities while their mothers are working in our handicraft program; and
- 30+ young professional Syrians having made social connections, extending their networks and finding employment through contacts at SPI.
And, we have just launched a new campaign!
Impressive. How has this work impacted on you and your perspectives?
Through my studies and work I have developed a deep belief and passion for the need for transformative change in our current world systems. I am attempting to enact these beliefs in my daily activities with SPI and in my life in general. This is not the kind of work that can be achieved in isolation, and I have been fortunate enough to meet and work alongside countless others who share my vision.
Personally I find this work both challenging and energising, and feel very privileged to have the opportunity to work so closely with a community of individuals whom I find extremely inspiring in their attitudes and wisdom throughout the hardships of their daily realities.
What advice would you give to current students?
I believe that individuals can make a difference, and grass-roots efforts like SPI do change lives. I challenge you to commit to one small change in your life. Be brave, see the power of your actions and inspire those around you.