Bridging The Generation Gap At Darüşşafaka

 A successful enterprise since its inception, Darüşşafaka, the Ottoman Secondary School for Orphans, was founded in 1863 at the initiative of one of the most prominent intellectuals of the day, Yusuf Ziya Paşa, and his close associates. This important institution in the history of education in Turkey is currently hosting a particularly meaningful exhibition.

The Darüşşafaka Society has put together a special photography show titled ‘From 9 to 90’, which brings together the school’s students and donors. Acclaimed photographer Mehmet Turgut was consultant for the show, which is made up of studio photographs taken by students and donors in costumes created by Umut Eker. The show, an example of bridging the generation gap in the true sense of the word, is a concrete expression of how material and spiritual opportunities can come together in the name of education. The show opens on March 13.

The genesis of the exhibition is an interesting story. Six students selected from among the members of the Darüşşafaka Photography Club came together with six volunteer donors for the show, spending time together and getting better acquainted. When they were comfortable with each other and had developed some team spirit, they were ready to go into the studio for this special project in which each group photographed the other. Some of the donors fulfilled a lifelong dream of going before the camera in their professional role while the children got a chance to pose as they hope to see themselves in the future. The project was titled ‘From 9 to 90: The Darüşşafaka Exhibition’ in honor of the fact that the youngest student was only 9 while the oldest donor was 90.

Darüşşafaka was established for the purpose of ensuring equality of opportunity for children who would otherwise have no chance of an education. Yusuf Ziya Paşa and his associates set up the ‘Cemiyet-i Tedrisiye-i İslamiye’ (Society of Islamic Teaching) as the first non-governmental organization in the history of Turkish education. In 1873 they commissioned the construction of the first purpose-built school in Turkish history in the Istanbul district of Fatih. It started out as a boarding school, providing education to deprived children who had lost their fathers. That school has been operating now for 148 years, providing full scholarships and room and board for upwards of 900 students a year. Funded entirely by donations and voluntary contributions, Darüşşafaka will keep the torch of education burning with the generous support of people who are passionate about education.

To qualify, children must be between the ages of 9 and 18, materially  disadvantaged and fatherless. This year’s examination will take place  in 20 provinces on May 27. The Darüşşafaka Society also has  residences where it provides lifelong care to its donors to ensure that they are comfortable in their last years.

Describing how the project came about, Zekeriya Yıldırım, Board Chairman of the Darüşşaka Society, had this to say: “As a society, every year we organize activities that bring students and donors together and forge bonds between them. The 9 to 90 exhibition is one of our most meaningful projects in that respect.”