Berikoy: Communities building communities -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Berikoy: Communities building communities

By Barbara M. Brady

In the aftermath of the devastating 1999 earthquakes that hit the Adapazari region of Turkey (about 70 km east of Istanbul), the “Beriköy: Communities Building Communities” project was created to address the long-term housing, unemployment, environmental and socio-economic issues that would ensue. The primary aim of the project is to empower the disenfranchised, create jobs and promote future sustainable development through what is seen both as a tool and an end product in and of itself: coming together as a community to build a community of homes. Beriköy, which roughly translates to “our town,” is a pilot project to create long-term sustainable communities in a way that brings together beneficiaries, the public and private sectors, academia, and local government to work together, literally from the ground up.

“Ultimately, Beriköy will sow seeds that will grow into a realistic, obtainable and well-balanced community development concept for all of Turkey,” says Rukiye Devres Unver, project co-founder and current president of the YAY[1] Foundation.

This project in Adapazari began to develop immediately after the first 1999 earthquake when architecture professor Jan Wampler of MIT contacted two of his former students — Rukiye Devres Unver and Barbara Brady—who were working in Istanbul. The three worked to develop a workshop, which Professor Wampler guided at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and for which Devres and Brady acted as liaisons to Turkey. The workshop[2], comprised of several MIT students from the architecture, urban planning, and other departments working under Professor Wampler, visited Turkey a number of times and worked with earthquake victims to understand local needs and culture. The goal was to develop a project that would do more than just build houses, but which would build homes and work with people after the tragedy to re-engage their lives and livelihoods in a dignified, empowering and sustainable way.
During the first year after the earthquake, an initial project for 50 homes and a community center was developed.

The resulting scheme that incorporated the continued involvement of beneficiary families had three main goals:

  • involvement in project development and construction as a way to empower beneficiary families with an understanding of safe and economic construction methods
  • to develop a sense of ownership in the project, critical skills for future employment
  • to develop a financial model which would help to bring down the cost of the homes

The project also involved local businesses in contributing time and materials to the project, allowing them to also build dignity, pride and a stake in the success of the project. Like Habitat for Humanity, the project required recipients to make payments toward ownership over time to an enabling fund that would contribute to the construction of more homes.

Since many of the concepts and goals were similar to that of Habitat for Humanity, and as Habitat for Humanity International was interested in becoming involved in Turkey, it was natural for a partnership to develop to realize these goals. Dedicated HFHI staff and the team of Wampler, Devres, Brady and Halim Neyzi—a local businessman who joined the founding team—also joined forces with a Turkish foundation of complementary mission, CEKUL, in the process of developing a roadmap for the legal, financial, and physical infrastructure necessary to make the implementation of this project a reality. As a result, in 2003, the Adapazari project steering committee created the YAY Foundation to be the local arm of implementation and partner of Habitat for Humanity International in the process. Local subcommittees that had developed were included in this.

The design of Berikoy and its overall scheme include environmentally and culturally sensitive design with efficient use of energy through both active (power generation and use) and passive (design orientation, insulation, size/quality, and location of windows and shading) means. Special effort was made to efficiently use indoor and outdoor space (homes range from 70 to 90 square meters) while still being sensitive to social customs of privacy in certain areas. The design also incorporates the eventual integration of renewable energy through solar power and reuse of resources such as rainwater and greywater (water from kitchen and wash areas or clean, filtered effluent from some septic systems) for irrigation of gardens. There are a variety of community spaces, and opportunities for the development of small businesses and micro-industry within the community to address the socio-economic needs of families and to allow women the chance to work within the community. The scope of this scheme and attention to design is made possible by the cooperation and support of complementary groups from many sectors of society (housing, academia, construction, social support and micro-industry) and allows each to contribute their specialty and act in an integrated manner toward the ultimate goal.

The construction method is clad light gauge steel frame which offers both flexibility, relative lightness and strength, and which is seen as an emerging industry in Turkey in which workers in the recipient families will be uniquely qualified to participate. The first eight Berikoy families moved into their new homes in May of 2004 in a beautiful ceremony full of smiles, tears, hugs, and a proud sense of community and accomplishment. Present were beneficiary families, the project partners, corporate sponsors, other donors, local and international press, and local government officials. Construction of the second phase started in the fall of 2005.

Beneficiary families for Berikoy were chosen in cooperation between a project family selection team and the department of sociology at a local university, Sakarya. After establishing criteria for groups that were most in need through extensive local interviews and discussions, a family selection committee worked with Sakarya University to define parameters for a transparent family selection process which drew greatly from HFHI experience in other parts of Europe and Asia. The process itself was finalized and supervised by the president of Sakarya University’s sociology department through a non-biased application and interview process. Berikoy beneficiaries must not own rights to property and must demonstrate the ability to “pay back” both through monthly payments and “sweat equity.”

Fund raising for Berikoy has been on many levels, from grassroots to corporate sponsorships and annual fund-raising events, and includes a full range from sweat equity and gifts in kind to direct financial donations. Many professional services have also been donated through partners. Fund-raising consultants have offered their time in Turkey, and HFHI has also provided knowledge and advice in this area. During the first phase of construction in 2004, many financial and corporate donors participated in the rich experience of helping through sweat equity, with corporate volunteers commenting on how positive the experience had been for both their company and employees.

Women from the beneficiary families have worked with the Berikoy’s family support staff to come up with the idea to make fine handmade paper to be sold. This special paper, which contains flower seeds and petals, is fashioned into invitations and greeting cards. All proceeds are given to the creators to contribute to their families’ budgets.

Through the actual work to build it and the examples which it sets, Berikoy has inspired everybody who has touched it to believe in the power of community, dignity and respect. It has shown that, when incorporating these qualities into the prospect of building houses, that those houses become much more. They become the productive framework for solid, proud, and caring homes and communities.

Barbara M. Brady is the project co-founder and a member of the YAY Foundation. For more information, please visit www.berikoy.org.


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[1] YAY, is an acronym for Yasanabilir Ortamlar Yaratma, which refers to communities building communities. For more information, visit the Web site at http://www.yay.org.tr/English/Sponsors.htm.

[2] Workshops in this context refer to elective design studios at the graduate level at MIT, offered by Professor Wampler. Students intensely focus on a real need/issue around the world and work with a local community to provide real architectural/social solutions for the community/communities in question.