Weaving Dreams and Creating Opportunities: Women in Van, Turkey Learn the Art of Creating Rugs, Crafting Pottery & Keeping Bees

August 1st, 2014 by Bita Milanian - 1 Comment

Begum, with Peter Hristoff, NY, 2014

This week I am posting from Istanbul, as part of a business trip to the UK and Europe, and am thrilled to introduce you to one of our “Summer of Service 2014” interns, Begum Kuralkan. This is the second year of Begum’s internship, having spent a good part of last summer in New York meeting inspiring people and working on both business and humanitarian projects. Begum is flying back to NYC to meet up with the interns from last year as well as a few new interns, and part of what they will continue to work on is a project started last year: building a website called “Project Meandros” to share the story of Peter Hristoff, Turkish-American artist and art professor, and the workshop in Güllübahçe, a small town in the District of Söke, Aydın Province, Turkey, where for years women have been weaving rugs as a means to contribute to their family’s income while carrying on one of Turkey’s great traditions.

The interns created this website: (www.meandrosproject.com) and this summer, Begum will be leading the interns in developing a similar website for this great project:

We are excited to bring together technology, including Internet technologies and website development, to accelerate positive works around the world, which is why we love summer! Interns help us think differently, generationally, creatively and compassionately.

Summer of Service 2014 Interns & Designer Lauren Towle, with Maria Synder, one of the world’s first “supermodels” and now an entrepreneur and humanitarian

Summer of Service 2014 Interns & Designer Lauren Towle, with Maria Synder, one of the world’s first “supermodels” and now an entrepreneur and humanitarian

I am so pleased to share with you this article Begum wrote after contacting inspiring founder and director, Enver Ozkahraman, located in Van where many of Begum’s relatives also live. In fact, Begum was visiting to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr on the 28th of July, and while there were fewer students there due to holiday preparations, she was able to take these photos and prepare the dispatch below.

Begum in Van, Turkey with students at the workshop, 2015

Begum in Van, Turkey with students at the workshop, 2014

I was honored to meet Enver Ozkahraman, founder and director of an inspiring vocational training center in Van, Turkey. Mr. Ozkahraman has established programs in rug weaving, ceramics and bee keeping!

I met many wonderful girls, including one who couldn’t finish elementary school because she has nine siblings, and lack of family resources to pay school expenses.

Another girl comes from a two bedroom house, with ten people living there, who was given a scholarship by Mr. Ozkahraman which has changed her life.

Every girl had different reasons but they didn’t want their educational life to end. They might have different skills, opinions,  and backgrounds – but what they wanted more than anything was the same: education.

This project gives them:

  • their educational life back;
  • self-confidence and a path to financial independence;
  • the ability to bring money home and contribute to their family’s happiness; and
  • the most important thing : HOPE for better futures

What inspired you to start this program?
As a citizen of this region, I’m aware of woman’s problems that they deal with it in their daily life. As a man, I wanted to help them to find their own confidence again.

Where are you from?
I’m from Diyarbakir, Turkey.

What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Hakkari, Turkey. Hakkari. It was the best place for a person who tries to find happiness in his home. If I had a chance to live again, I would choose the Hakkari that I used to know.

What do you do in your free time?
During my teenage years I spent my time on art and nature instead of playing hookey like every other teenager. I had the ability to paint but Turkey does not value painting so I choose to work on photography. I opened so many exhibitions and won prizes. I learned how to weave rugs and make money.

What is your current position and how long have you been in that position?

I’m the director of this project from the beginning.


What would you say most motivates you to do that you do?

Children’s joy and excitement motivates me every day!

Tell me more about what you do/have done?

I opened a rug workshop in Van. 150 girls have learned to weave rugs.

What helped you come up with this idea? 

When I was working in Rural Services, I always wanted to help the others but I didn’t have enough time to do that. After I retired, I had a lot of free time so I gave my all time to this project to make it happen.

What is your reasoning for supporting this project?

I think everybody should be equal but apparently not everybody thinks in that way so I thought I have to do something.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I want to see our girls as strong woman in the future.

What are you proudest of?

I was very proud when I and two of our girls went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, to  present our traditions in the Emitt Fair.

Were there any surprises?

When we started to build this project we expected nothing from the municipality or the government but the municipality helps us a lot. It was such a nice surprise to see them willing to help us.

5What were all the steps you took to get to this point?

I knew that my ability on art is good but I knew very little about business. So I had to find someone who understands business. This was the very first step, then everything happened.

What were the key relationships that mattered the most? What were the key sources of support or resistance you encountered? 

I can say that the relationship with my director friend who shot a short film about us is the key relationship for us to be heard. Some wealthy businessman found us through this short film.

What was the most difficult/challenging? What was the most rewarding?

Convincing girl’s families to let them go to this workshop was the most difficult step but seeing their families are proud of their daughter is the most rewarding.

What are the lessons for something like me, or a student in high school or college, who might be embarking on a project similar to this one?

I want them not to lose their faith on anything if they do the right thing.

Do you view your contributions as successful? In what ways?  What specifically was accomplished?

I think this project will be successful when every child in Van can go to school. Until then, we keep working and working.

What were the skills you had to have to do the work you just told me about? Where and how did you learn those skills?

I knew how to weave rugs and make madder, I learnt it from our elders. Knowing how to weave rugs and make madder is so helpful for our project.

When you think of the future of the kind of work you’ve talked about here, what gives you a sense of hope?

My girls ambition gives me hope. I know that they will look after this workshop and take this project further when I die.

What’s next for you and you’re work? What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to open two workshops. We had six workshops before the earthquake in Van, 2011. Four workshops of us suffered damage so we had two of them after the earthquake. We will make it five by the end of this year.

What advice would you give to women hoping to succeed in life and make a difference?

If you think you can’t make a difference in one way, find a different way and make it!

Posted by Begum Kuralkan, July 25, 2014

The workshops are in part sponsored by Farkyara Tanlar:


Great thanks to Begum for her fine research, her visit to the workshop, her interview with Mr. Ozkahraman.

If you are as inspired by all of this as I am, feel free to contact me to learn how you can become a part!


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