Music for Peace Foundation came to existence as we were thinking about the question; “how can we change this unjust world, what can we possible do?” My faith in music triggered this initiative. I can say music is an instrument that can realize my biggest dream; justice and peace.
Upon completing my university degree, I started to work in architecture and construction industry. But I haven’t been involved in any business activity in the last 10 years. Right now, I’m spending most of my time for foundation work. My role within the Foundation is to realize our vision, bring together the right people, and manage organizational coordination. There were days when I carried my instrument on my back, as well as checked on workers in the construction site. I can say I donated my time, ideals, and personal wealth to the foundation. When you deal with different issues in life and divide your time among different elements, you don’t get efficiency from anything. When it was time for me to take a radical step, I followed my adolescent dreams and started to work on musical education for kids in the neighborhood of Edirnekapi.
About 20 years ago, I had worked for the establishment of the CEKUL (Foundation for the Promotion and Protection of Environment and Cultural Heritage) for 1.5 years as one of the 25 founders. I served as the Secretary General for the foundation. This is how I entered civil society, learned about establishing and managing a foundation, and experienced working with others for a common cause.
Lack of justice, a hidden war environment, and lack of societal peace have always made me feel uncomfortable. Conflict and violence are not only present in a war, violence confronts us in different shapes; in a family environment, in traffic, at school, in a hospital… pretty much everywhere. Music for Peace Foundation came to existence with this motivation: “let’s do something to change the direction of where we’re going. Even if we can’t, we can at least give it a start.” Here, we are applying a holistic approach and accept “humanism” as our ulterior motive. This includes ecological consciousness, mutual respect among individuals, and integration of neighborhood residents into decision making processes. We would have partnered with other organizations if we had seen a similar approach but we wanted to create the change that we desire through the approach we envisioned. This approach was a trial and it was successful; it can be repeated, disseminated, and adapted elsewhere.
The architecture education I obtained was definitely useful in shaping the project. You can look at your society and city though the lenses that architecture gives you. We didn’t think about the project as a separate element from its environment. We tried to develop the project through understanding the dynamics of the environment. The Chora Museum is on one side and the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque on the other; plus the families who migrated here from Anatolian cities, add demographic and historical value to the neighborhood. As time passed by, we were convinced that interpersonal dialogue, which we were trying to implement, was in perfect harmony with the environment that we had chosen.
Residents were cynical at first. Making music in a conservative environment was not seen appropriate. Who were we and where did we come from? Right now, a conservative woman in veil sends her kid to get music education and she asks for advice from teachers to help her kid practice at home. A teacher, who spent his/her life in more elite neighborhoods like Nisantasi and Beyoglu, spends time with a conservative person, and neither of them judges each other. This is how we believe societal peace can come about.
We started music education with the accordion. Because accordion creates a possibility for multiple sounds music education, thus it can be carried to streets and played everywhere. It is nice to create a music band and bring it out to streets to reach people, but it’s not enough. Within that band, every kid needs to develop his/her own self-confidence, become sensitive to social problems, and acquire skills to act as a leader in other initiatives. Only then, music bands can reflect the energy created by these kids to the listeners and influence them. We’ve been giving music education to kids in the last 7 years with this holistic approach and we can observe the transformation.
We don’t show these kids issues that are the bottom of societal peace like how its tought at schools. Instead, kids see the various personal interactions and lifestyles and learn something from it. We are trying to create a living space here. We’re looking into ways to enhance this space. We’re saying this is a common space that should be protected and enhanced by everyone. When you hand a classroom to a 12-year old, she/he understands the value that’s been given and takes on the responsibility. The transformation is obvious. Before, kids used to show their affection by using violence. We somehow changed that. Now, without our interference, they can all affect each other and their environment.
We never adopted a hierarchical structure or a top-down approach. The interaction with the neighborhood residents and their engagement with our work is the base of our work. It’s impossible to engage them in activities which they don’t accept, believe or don’t feel like doing with us. Without their involvement, our work would have been incomplete. We ask families, children, local business people and residents for their opinion.
When children give concerts, shuttles are organized for families to watch their performances. Something that might seem ordinary to you may actually change their lives. In order for this to become normal, people from different backgrounds have to share a seat and watch a concert together. I don’t accept the “I can donate but can’t share a common space with them” approach. To break this understanding, you have to change your life and relationship approach. It was easy for the neighborhood to accept classical music, but it’s harder for power holders to come to this point. If you pay attention, you can see that the people who play classical instruments and people, who watch these concerts, are actually the same people. This should not be a show given by a minority group to a minority group. This is what we are trying to change here.
We preferred to keep our philanthropic activities private for years. But in reality there is a cost associated with managing the school at which we provide complimentary music lessons. Talking about these issues seemed like undermining the work that we were doing and so we tried to cover all the expenses ourselves. But there came a moment in which I had to say, “I’m paying for these from my own savings.” It’s not enough to start an initiative by trusting support given by other people; people have to contribute based on their own conditions as well. I believe by channeling almost everything I had to the school, I can be an example for others.
We have never carried a fundraising campaign before. First, we wanted to implement the principles. By achieving this at the end of our 7th year, we can now ask for project based sponsorships. To make the income stream of the foundation more sustainable, I established a bottle recycle company. Although I had stopped my business activities, I decided to use my last funding as an investment to support the foundation activities. In line with our target, we are also establishing an economic enterprise under the foundation. One of the things that make classical music “elite,” is the high price of musical instruments. To solve this, our foundation will sell musical instruments at a better market price. With these economic enterprises, we will not only ensure the financial sustainability of our economic enterprise, but we will also implement different tools that collectively serve the foundation’s mission.
Today, 700 kids (aging between 7 and 14), are getting musical education on a regular basis; and the total number of students reached so far is 3000. Aside from playing instruments, subjects like solfége, harmony, musical history are being taught at the foundation and elementary school buildings. The Music for Peace Foundation has partnered with the El Sistema students from Venezuela to create the “Venezuela – Turkey Children’s Orchestra,” consisting of 200 kids. Within the scope of the project, teachers from the Music for Peace Foundation went to Caracas and completed an internship there. In 2013, joint concerts were organized in Turkey and Venezuela.
If there is such a thing as consciousness, then people have to do something to bring justice. The biggest security comes with providing justice. If everyone does something, the world can change. Creating an initiative like this is more valuable than leaving an apartment for your kids.