Volunteering in Istanbul

We have been brainstorming ways to allow travelers to more actively engage with the community – i.e. facilitating ways and methods in which they can give back directly, in face-to-face scenarios. While researching potential non-profit partners for The Other Tour in Istanbul, we came across TOFD (Turkiye Omurilik Felclileri Dernegi, or, The Spinal Cord Paralytics Association of Turkey).

They dedicate themselves to protecting and improving the educational, occupational, legal, economic, social and cultural rights and benefits as well as ensuring employment, social integration and applicability of human rights for people who have suffered spinal cord paralysis.

Established an entity though TOFD is, it still has trouble finding volunteers to assist with their numerous projects, even for just an hour or two a day. Though we still have a few details to work out, it is our aim to bring The Other Tour participants to TOFD facilities to assist them for a short period on select tours.

One of the activities that members of TOFD engage in is Wheelchair Tennis. In spite of this program’s relative youth (it was created less than four years ago) many of the players already compete on the ITF (International Tennis Foundation) Wheelchair Tennis Tour. Today we attended the conclusion of a tournament being played here in Istanbul.

The players seemed to be more ready to see the fun in the game, likely because they realize that it is just a game. A release. An opportunity to engage with life, to enjoy something different. Being in a wheelchair clearly doesn’t define them, just as the result of the game doesn’t define the game. It was heart warming to see the compassion displayed by the players (and the fans) in between spans of increasing intensity.

We are currently in contact with other NGO’s located in Istanbul. Among those we are in the process of forming partnerships with are Istanbul’s Make a Wish foundation and SPoD. The Make a Wish foundation grants the wish of children who have ben diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions. Nihan Ozhusrev, the general manager of the Turkish Make a Wish wing, encourages volunteers regardless language, emphasizing the potential impact of bridging language and culture barriers. SPoD is Turkey’s principal LGBT organisation.

It only seems right to give back to the community that has made The Other Tour flourish, the community that we love. We go about these contributions in a few ways, though up until now we have chosen to remain discreet, as opposed to gloating, about them. We don’t see giving back as something that should distinguish us from any others; just an activity that, given our success, we are fortunate enough to engage in. 

If you aren’t planning on joining The Other Tour, but would still like to volunteer with TOFD, Make a Wish or SPoD during your stay in Istanbul, please contact us or feel free to contact them directly. If you are joining The Other Tour and you have particular interest in volunteering at any of the listed organizations, please let us know so that we can ensure you are on a tour where that is a possibility.