Gifts that give back

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The Tatreez earrings from Inshirah are beautiful, aren't they?

My parents came from working class families and became middle class through a lot of hard work after winning university scholarships that lead to good jobs and comfortable incomes. However they were both born at the beginning of the Great Depression, and it marked their attitudes to money. We lived by the rule waste not want not and I grew up wearing hand-me-downs, spent my teenage years scouring charity shops and making my own clothes and worked for my pocket money. I got 5 cents a week until I was around 10 years old and the idea of earning the huge sum of 20 cents (the price for a wrap of hot chips) was extremely appealing until I realised just how much work was involved in uprooting 100 weeds (yes, you read that correctly) from the front lawn. My parents valued what they had and always remembered others might have very little. Mum sponsored a child in Africa (this might grate with people now but it’s what you did back then because she believed our small contribution could make a difference) and every December I took food items (good ones you’d want to eat, not just something we didn’t like) from our home pantry to go in the basket under the school Christmas tree to be distributed to families doing it tough.

Palestinian woman working at Inshirah, Istanbul.

Consequently I’ve never gone hungry and always had a place to call home but I’m acutely aware of those who can’t say the same. Like people whose skills in making high quality labour intensive items isn’t valued enough to give them a living wage, women impacted by domestic violence and thrust into the world without the means or qualifications to easily get a job and create a home, or one of the more than 84 million people around the world displaced (as of June 2021 according to the UNHCR) by internal politics, natural disasters and war. Sometimes the level of need in the world feels overwhelming and it’s hard to know how to help. That’s why I’ve put together a list of organisations in Istanbul and Turkey selling items made by people who benefit directly from the money you spend. This year the best thing to get family and friends for Christmas (or just to say you love them) is a gift that gives back. No matter how much or how little, every cent counts. Most of the organisations mentioned deliver in Turkey and some internationally and you’ll find their links in each description. Right, let’s start shopping!

Inshirah is the social enterprise established within the Yusra Community Centre in Balat, a resource and community space for displaced communities in Istanbul, Turkey. They empower their artisans by creating an environment for them to learn new skills and by providing them with a fair living income enabling economic empowerment. All their products are made with upcycled and waste fabric and are meant to replace single-use plastic. They sell beautifully designed place settings, cloth gift wrapping, clothing for men, women and children and much more. Check them out on Facebook page and Instagram for more information.


This little cutie from Nahil is looking for a home. How about it?

Olive oil soap, Turkish coffee cup sets, pumice stones and cotton towels are all popular Turkish items to give loved ones (or keep for yourself). If you buy them from Nahil, located in a small street towards the Taksim Square end of Istiklal Street, you’ll be helping women with limited means improve their lives. Nahil is the retail outlet of KEDV, a foundation established in 1986 with the aim of mobilising the experience and expertise of poor women in participatory and need-focussed programs. It provides women with business and product development services as well as micro-credit and marketing support. Nahil also sell a great range of children’s clothes and gorgeous toys, prefect for spoiling the munchkins in your life.

The original idea for Knitstanbul came about when Malika Browne was living in Syria and had her first baby. Receiving the gift of a pair of hand knitted dungarees introduced Malika to the skills of the women around her and she continued to order more knitwear for personal use. However when she had her second baby here in Istanbul in 2014, she realised other parents would be interested in buying items made by Syrian and other displaced women, and so Knitstanbul began. As well has earning much needed money, knitting is a way for women to come together, pass the time and relieve their stress. Check out the Knitstanbul website for more details of what they make.

Buy a peştemal madeusing traditional methods. Go on, you know you want to!

Jennifer’s Hamam
I’m a big fan of going to the hamam and a convert to using a traditional hamam peştemal as a towel, beach wrap, throw, and just about anything I can think of. Jennifer’s Hamam located in the Arasta Bazaar in Sultanahmet sells peştemal woven on old-style-shuttled looms. The fabric is produced using natural materials such as certified organic cotton, linen and silk and all the artisans are Turkish, weaving in Turkey. These high quality peştemal are imminently practical as well as beautiful, make great presents and every one you buy helps support a weaver and their family.

Help do your bit to save the environment and give a unique gift when you buy from çöpmadam.

In Turkish, “çöp” means “garbage” and “madam” means the same as the French word we use in English. “çöp(m)adam” translates literally as Garbage Ladies, who take garbage and turn it into something fashionable and fun. It started as an experimental project in Ayvalik on the Aegean coast, then received sponsorship from Sabanci University and Unilever. Women who have never worked outside the home before are employed in çöp(m)adam. They annually transform 6 tonnes of material that would otherwise become waste into cool and useful items, sold in their Ayvalik workshop, in boutiques like Karinca in Istanbul, Turkey and abroad.

This year give a gift that gives back. Whatever you choose to buy for yourself, family or friends, with every purchase you’ll be helping the person who made the item you choose in ways you’ll never really know, but they’ll remember forever. I think they’re the best kind of presents to give, don’t you?


Planning to come to Istanbul or Turkey? Here are my helpful tips for planning your trip.

For FLIGHTS I like to use

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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  1. I would love to buy some of those drop earrings but the last time I bought anything from Turkey (this year) I was hit with horrendous duty when the postman delivered which nearly doubled the original cost.

    Meantime, sponsorship of needy children does not make people cringe here. I currently support 2 children, one in Africa and one in the Philippines and I have supported 5 others through school in the past. While there are children in need there will be need for sponsors.

    1. It’s good to know people are still doing what they can to help wherever they are, in whatever ways works best for them. It’s a shame you were hit with duty (I think you’re in the UK) when you ordered things from Turkey. Maybe you’ll get here one day and can buy direct.

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