By HUSNIYE GUNGOR
Education is a major element of economic and social development. Therefore, every state that defines itself as social needs to ensure equality of opportunity in education. While even the most developed countries in the world fail to provide this, there is a 159-year-old society in Turkey that has had equality of opportunity in education as a mission since its establishment in 1863. At that time, concepts such as every child’s right to receive the best education, social state understanding, and social responsibility did not exist as they do today. However, the Darussafaka Society was founded with these concepts as a mandate.
The society has provided education at Darussafaka Schools for talented but financially disadvantaged kids with deceased fathers or mothers since its founding. The society strives to raise these youngsters as pioneers who are lifelong learners, adopt universal values, are self-confident, and are aware of their social duties and responsibilities, according to Oguz Gulec, chairman of the board of Darussafaka Society, who is also a 1972 Darussafaka graduate.
After a 41-year professional career in leading companies in Turkey, Gulec is now supporting the society that helped him to be the person he is today by voluntarily chairing the Darussafaka Society, along with the board memberships and senior advisory roles he still has in the corporate life. However, to him, this is his full-time job, to work to ensure that Darussafaka students are equipped with the things they will need in the future.
TURKEY’S FIRST EDUCATION NGO
Darussafaka has been defending the right of every child to receive a top-of-the-line education since it was established as the first-ever non-governmental education organization in the history of Turkey, Gulec underlined. This in itself shows the progressive, visionary perspective of Darussafaka’s founders, he says. “Basing all its activities on the modern, rational, and egalitarian education model of the Great Leader Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Darussafaka uses its leading role in the education and civil society movement to ensure Turkey’s social development and for its children to have a better future,” he said.
Darussafaka Society provides education at Darussafaka Schools with intensive foreign language courses from 5th grade until the end of high school. Every one of the 1,000 students selected annually through a national exam receives a full scholarship and boarding opportunities for eight years. “We are proud to send all our students to the best universities in Turkey and around the world by raising them as individuals with the most critical contemporary competencies,” Gulec noted.
A MODEL FOR DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
Educating young people in the competencies of the 21st century will be Darussafaka’s main priority in the coming period, Oguz Gulec said. “That’s why we make 20-year to 50-year plans to ensure that our students are ready for the requirements of tomorrow. We will continue investing in digital transformation,” he stated.
Darussafaka Schools, indeed, is the first secondary-level school to have an artificial intelligence class, open a Techno-Entrepreneurship Youth Center, and organize a 3D Printing Workshop and Competition in Turkey. “We provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education and coding and entrepreneurship courses. We will enhance these, introduce new firsts, and become a model school for digital transformation in secondary education in Turkey,” said Ebru Arpaci, Darussafaka Schools’ GM, who accompanied Oguz Gulec during the interview.
“Darussafaka Society, which sets an example for sustainable institutions in Turkey with its 159 years of experience, owes its existence to both its valuable donors and the principle of ‘accountability’ that ensures it does not compromise its donors’ trust,” Gulec said, adding that Darussafaka has the highest corporate governance compliance rating in the civil sector. Its 2021 rating was 9.74 out of 10 according to Kobirate Uluslararası Kredi Derecelendirme ve Kurumsal Yonetim Hizmetleri A.S.
PARENTING A CHILD’S EDUCATION LIFE
The society has been supported by donations received from individuals, institutions, and organizations since the day it was established. Donations collected are used to cover all expenses starting with the education of nearly 1,000 students studying at Darussafaka for eight years. Moreover, the Darussafaka Society continues its scholarship support to graduates throughout their university education.
“In summary, we support a child’s educational life for 12 years, just like a parent,” outlined Zeynep Necipoglu, deputy chairperson of Darussafaka Society responsible for donations. “Therefore, it is very important that this support is sustainable. That is why the Darussafaka Society has been focusing on developing a regular donation program, in which donors can donate an amount they can afford in regular monthly payments. Monthly donation amounts range from TRY 10 to TRY 10,000,” she added.
Philanthropists can also donate products, services, real estate, securities, and bequests in addition to financial support to the Darussafaka Society. The number of bequests handed down to the society over the course of its history numbers 500, chairman Oguz Gulec stated. Some of the inherited real estate includes landmarks in Istanbul, such as the Sureyya Opera House in Kadikoy. “The Darussafaka Society works with a team of professionals to generate revenue for the school through these assets. It is also possible to donate by using Darussafaka merchandised products for their special occasions,” said Gulec.
ATATURK’S MOTHER WAS A DONOR
In addition to individual support, corporate collaborations are very important and valuable for the society, Gulec underlined. He points to the “81 Students from 81 Cities” project, which the Darussafaka Society launched in 2008 in cooperation with Turkiye Is Bankasi (Isbank). The bank provided the education costs of 81 children who passed the Darussafaka Schools exam from 81 provinces throughout Turkey for 8 years. “This project is one of the longest running social responsibility projects with the highest added value in the education field in our country,” Gulec said, adding that the collaboration of the society and the bank dates back to the 1939 Erzincan earthquake, when Isbank covered the cost for the children of 83 earthquake victims to receive education at Darussafaka Schools.
There are also famous donors in the history of the society, such as Zubeyde Hanim, the mother of the great leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who donated 20,000 kurus to the Darussafaka Society in 1921. Having always been a strict follower of what Zubeyde Hanım’s donation required, the Darussafaka Society holds Quran and Mawlid recitations, along with after-recitation prayers, every year on the day coinciding with the Night of Qadr for the beloved souls of its deceased donators including, in particular, Zubeyde Hanım, as well as the great leader Ataturk and his fellow fighters, Darussafaka founders, those who served for the Society, and all soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the nation.
“The tradition of providing Darussafaka students with seasonal fruit at any time is also an invaluable legacy left by Zubeyde Hanim. The school honors this legacy by always keeping fruit baskets in the school corridors within reach of the students,” Gulec noted. This example alone shows how Darussafaka puts loyalty at the heart of everything it does.
Speaking about loyalty, this author, as a 1994-term Darussafaka graduate, is writing this article in a hospital room as a blood donor for a school friend’s mother. She is having a heart valve implanted by a Darussafaka graduate professor. Writing this was not easy, not only because I had to work from a hospital, but also because I found it hard to be objective in such a personal matter, Darussafaka, which made me the person I am today.
ELDERLY SERVICES SUPPORT A CHILD’S FUTURE
Darussafaka Society maintained elderly care services for 25 years in four different residences to create sustainable resources for the education of its students. The society first established Yakacik Residence in 1997, then opened its Maltepe, Senesenevler, and Urla Residences. Today, nearly 500 donors, some of whom are foreign citizens living here or Turkish citizens who have returned to the country after living abroad for many years, live in these four Darussafaka Residences. Donors can choose from one or two-bedroom and standard flat alternatives, in which they can change the decor or bring their own belongings. Making a one-time collective donation to the Darussafaka Society and being over 65 is enough to benefit from the elderly services offered in Darussafaka residences.
ISTANBUL MARATHON TO RISE FUNDS FOR DARUSSAFAKA STUDENTS
Darussafaka Society will take part in the charity race portion of the N Kolay 44th Istanbul Marathon with its ‘We hurry to help education’ campaign on Sunday, November 6, as it does every year. The goal is to raise funds for the education of 150 students who started Darussafaka Schools this year. Darussafaka Society Chairman Oguz Gulec invites institutions and individuals who believe in equal opportunity in education to run for the society at the Istanbul Marathon. “Volunteers who want to participate in the marathon can get the necessary information from the darussafaka.org website,” he said.