Closing the Educational Gap for Impoverished Children in Turkey

Co-founders of Yarina Umut Ol – Simay Sali (left) and Berin Yildirim (right)

After participating in a young leader social responsibility program in the United States with leaders from around the world, Simay Sali Sevik returned to her native Turkey committed to find new ways to create more learning opportunities for the country’s youth. Five years later, her organization Yarina Umut Ol (Hope for Tomorrow) supports children living in disadvantaged communities to close the gap in educational inequality. 

In 2013, while studying business and economics at Istanbul Bilgi University, Simay Sali Sevik was chosen as a student leader to participate in a social responsibility program at the University of Massachusetts in the United States. The opportunity not only allowed her to learn more about social impact, but it exposed her to different cultures and opened her mind to new ways of thinking about how to help her hometown overcome the many challenges it faced.  

“During my time in the United States, I started to see the world as a puzzle – each of us is a unique piece and when combined we become a beautiful piece of art,” commented Sali Sevik. “Each of us has different challenges or problems, but we can find solutions by helping one another.”  

Upon returning to Turkey, she looked for opportunities to make a difference in rural areas. Finding limited opportunities, she reached out to a close friend and together applied for a grant to organize a sports festival in Diyarbakir, a village in eastern Turkey. The duo was awarded the grant, and the sports festival was a resounding success, engaging disadvantaged youth in the local community. The experience made Sali Sevik realize that she had the ability to make a real impact, and she was especially touched by learning that many young girls in smaller villages were not able to obtain an education because of family obligations. After organizing several other successful events, including hosting a science fair, Simay and Berin Yildirim founded Yarina Umut Ol (Hope for Tomorrow).

Today, Yarina Unut Ol operates in more than nine villages across Turkey, with over 70 volunteers. The organization has two primary goals. One is to provide educational materials and books to village schools through social media; it links teachers in need of school supplies with individuals who want to support education. The second goal involves creating socially responsible projects – libraries, science labs and sports fields – in the community.  

While the organization has grown significantly over the past two years, Sali Sevik’s vision is bold: to reach each school in Turkey to ensure that each student has access to books, libraries, and other resources necessary to receive a quality education. She also wants to scale the organization on a global scale, providing opportunities for others to join the fight to overcome barriers to education across the world. To accomplish this dream, Sali Sevik has dedicated herself to the cause. She recently left her job at CNN to acquire a master’s degree in NGO Management from City University London, after which she hopes to apply what she learns to Yarina Umut Ol and expand into other communities all over Turkey and the world.