Tuana Maier set up a Küçük Komşu platform to connect with disadvantaged children of Syrian and Romani communities.

After moving from Munich to Istanbul eight years ago, Tuana Maier bought an old Greek house in Istanbul’s Balat and started living in the colorful neighborhood. She was fascinated by the daily life; children playing on streets, people’s arguments, fears, noises, street animals, ethnic background and history. “It is like a village in the heart of a chaotic city, living its own rules,” she told The Guide Istanbul. Yet today, her house is no ordinary place. Maier has recently set up @kucukkomsu account on Instagram, a cooperation platform for her little neighbors (küçük komşu in Turkish) from the Syrian and Romani community, to provide them a living that meets today’s standards.

Through the money earned from selling necklaces, the children go to theaters and museums, and participate in daily life of Istanbul. “Their education levels are low, family environments are usually very troubled and they have no idea about the life outside their neighborhood,” Maier said. “They do not have an alternative method to support themselves, other than begging or selling water.” 

Tuana Maier with kids

First steps

It all started when Maier was making necklaces on a park’s bench near her house. It wasn’t long until children approached and wanted to help her. After she shared their photo on Instagram, she has taken the first steps of this project. Seeing the value of such a beginning, Maier decided to be more active. Every week, friends or neighbors who saw photos started reaching out which was followed by donations of clothing, school supplies, toys and goods. Then followed, Istanbul Rowing Club, offering free paddling lessons, while Pop’s Balat cafe and Rawcraftsbalat souvenir shop supported sales process of the Küçük Komşunecklaces. “In short”, Maier said, “we not only sell necklaces, we also make sure gifts or donations can meet children.”

How it works

The income from necklaces is not high but Maier says volunteers contribute to Küçük Komşu project more than the cash flow. “Volunteers Pınar Morkoç, Şebnem Aktan and Burak Dirkel take a day off every week and give drama lessons in the park or meet for reading and writing lessons. Last week, we were also joined by a very valuable teacher for illiterate children.” The project has become a tool for people who want to help in the best possible way. “It is the opportunity to touch next generation by helping.” Maier said. Since most of the children have not attended school, they need regular assistance with basic education. Teaching a craft or sharing any other creative talent will be very valuable too.”So instead of selling water in the future, the children can consider alternative methods to participate in life.”

The next trip will take the group to Istanbul University’s Planetarium. For now, Maier does not intend to grow this project, as it is time consuming while requiring personal communication with people on streets. “We currently have a park for our meetings, but we do not know where to work next winter. For now, I will continue to sell necklaces with children, and to provide a connecting platform for those wanting to help the children.”

How to get involved

The easiest way to contact Küçük Komşu and order a necklace is through the @kucukkomsu Instagram account. “I would be delighted to communicate the needs of our children and our small-business’ activities in the most transparent way and answer questions.” Maier said. Necklaces can be purchased at Pop’s Balat and Rawcraftsbalat.