Often mistaken for the capital of Turkey because of its status as a financial and cultural center, Istanbul is the most populous and most exciting city in Turkey. Istanbul’s status as a hub center isn’t just a recent development; the city has stood at the center of many different empires throughout history making it a historically and religiously diverse place to visit. Remnants of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires can be seen all around the city.
Even though you’ll be volunteering in Istanbul, don’t forget to take time off to enjoy what the city has to offer, such as: hamams (Turkish baths), nargile (hookah/water pipe), cruises around the Mediterranean, and of course football.Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn.
Environmental: Whether you’re interested in conservation or sustainability, there will be a volunteering project for you in Istanbul. For those interested in conservation, Istanbul has some of the most beautiful wildlife due to its proximity to the water. Projects include turtle rescue, ocean cleanup, and more. On the other end of the spectrum, Istanbul’s great architecture and World Heritage sites often suffer from neglect due to the lack of motivation to keep a clean environment or knowledge of sustainability. Volunteers in Istanbul can help the city become a more beautiful and green place for all.
Teaching: A great way to make a difference while volunteering in Istanbul is to teach at various different levels. Many elementary schools do not have access to well-trained teachers, and the children often do not receive the education they need to succeed. There are also opportunities to teach adults and professionals looking to improve their English to expand their working skills, especially in the business center that is Istanbul. Both experiences will be rewarding no matter which you decide to pursue.
Healthcare: Turkey has a mixed healthcare system of both public healthcare and private medical centers. While most private medical centers are of good quality, the public hospitals are often substandard and understaffed - and are always looking for volunteers to help out. As a healthcare volunteer in Istanbul, you will be working on medical and social welfare issues. Depending on your interests and previous experiences, you will gain hands-on experience on what it’s like to work with and help underprivileged communities.
- NGO/Nonprofit/Volunteer History in Istanbul: Istanbul hosts the most of Turkey’s NGOs, and they can be great resources for finding volunteer opportunities. The most popular NGO causes in Istanbul are social welfare, education, culture, and charity. Unfortunately, there have been some recent transparency issues with some NGOs in Istanbul, so it is important to know what you are getting into an, ask questions from locals, and do research before you commit to anything.
- How to Save Money While Volunteering: Since Istanbul has recently become a very popular destination for tourists, it is easy to get caught in tourist traps. Keep in mind that you probably won’t be spending too much time in your room, so don’t spend too much money on accommodations. Also, if you are visiting popular places like Aya Sofya or the Blue Mosque, try not to eat at restaurants nearby since they will often be more expensive for lower quality food. Finally, public transportation is a great way to get around the city so if your trip is long enough, it may be helpful to get an Istanbulkart transit pass.
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Istanbul:
As with any trip, travelers should check in with their personal physician at least 4-8 weeks before departure. Recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, and MMR. If you are planning on being outdoors a lot or working with animals, it may help to take a Rabies vaccination before leaving. Istanbul is generally not a common area for malaria, but if you plan on visiting the southeastern parts of Turkey, you will need to take this into account. It is also advised that you bring your own medicine; it is often difficult to acquire over the counter drugs since they are no drug stores in Istanbul.
Istanbul is generally quite a safe city, but since it is a large city there are still some precautions that should be taken. It is important to be aware of purse snatching and taxi driver scams. Finally, traffic in Istanbul is hectic and chaotic, and crossing the street can be a dangerous thing.