As volunteers at Sefkat-Der

Translation to english by Mila T. <3

We were very much looking forward to the little adventure of volunteering at Sefkat-Der. All previous communication was in Turkish and thus every single mail with our contact person was translated by a Turkish friend of ours. Curious on how we would communicate with the people and what our actual tasks would be, we arrived at 8 pm. on site after walking through the winding alleys of Istanbul.

In front of the small entrance to the small building, which offers accommodation to 12 homeless people, other volunteers were already waiting all wearing their orange safety vests. We were greeted by smiling people and – as we anticipated – none of them was speaking English. Very quickly we figured out that we were better off speaking German to our main contact person Eda. A phenomenon, which we already discovered previously in the streets of Istanbul.

After having a gratuitous cup of tea and a few snippets of conversation we were offered a safety vest and started heaving the cart with food for 200-300 persons up the steep hills of the city. Our route led through a vivid shopping street which required few of us to walk ahead to warn people from the difficultly steering wagon. Both of us were shouting “pardon”, which has the same meaning in Turkish as in the French, our French pronunciation however led to broad amusement among the locals.

We learned that a few of the volunteers were living the in Sefkat-Der facilities themselves and viewed their work as a way to repay that favor. We were able to talk to two of them for 45 minutes, who were able to speak English.

After arriving at the Taskim place, we set up our stand. Dominik´s responsibility was to dish out the rice and I handed out the sauce. Dishing out food was a lot of fun especially after getting into the flow of portioning the meals correctly. The general mood was inspiring. People were asking where we were from and were amazed to hear that we came all the way from Germany. They love Germany. Few of them knew some German and said things like “vielen Dank” (“thank you”) and even “ich liebe dich” (“ I love you”), which sounded truly grateful and not like a joke.

We recognized the high number of young men, which made up roughly half of all the people in need waiting for us in line even before we arrived. Later on, we learned that most of them were refugees mainly from Syria. During our activity we learned to reply “laafu” (you´re welcome) to the Syrian-Arabic “shukran” (thank you).

On our first day the food was barley enough for the 250 people. The ones, which were last in the queue, unfortunately only received smaller portions and few of them had to eat rice without sauce. It was not as easy as you might think to portion such a huge pot of rice so that everyone would get enough to eat. Eda however told me that this happens quite often and that they are only able to make one huge pot of rice and sauce. For next times I intended to start by giving out smaller portions in the beginning.

During the following days however, it was not necessary to give out smaller portions. Due to the bad weather and low lasting rain, which is very uncommon for Istanbul as locals told us, many of the homeless spent the evening in their dry shelters rather then going out into the rain.

After everyone received something to eat, we dismantled our cart, stowed the pots and trays and said goodbye. The experienced volunteers, often being locals supporting the Sefkat-Det twice a week, left and both of us and the other remaining volunteers started to maneuver the significantly lighter wagon back to the homeless shelter.

We highly enjoyed the evening routine of supporting the Sefkat-Der. That’s why we volunteered every evening except of Tuesday and Saturday. On Friday morning I hurt my back and therefore was unable to walk or even to stand for the remaining day, so Dominik took off by himself. We went to the hospital the next morning where I received a shot and pain killers that mostly eliminated symptoms.

We can highly recommend supporting the Sefkat-Der if you make it to Istanbul. It only takes 2-3 hours of one evening and it is a great opportunity to get to know the city from a totally different perspective. It is also easy to reach due to its central location.

If you are interested you are very welcome to leave a comment or to send us an email to

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