Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Turkey's 'Garbage Ladies'

It's a warm July day in the small harbor town of Ayvalık, on Turkey's Aegean coast. A horse cart with wooden wheels clatters down a cobblestone street, past a bustling, sun-drenched workshop, its front door flung open. Inside, a half dozen women are hunkered down over long wooden tables, cutting, stitching and crafting. Using bits of thrown-away packaging and factory rejects – leather scraps, swaths of felt, surplus canned-food labels – they're transforming trash destined for the dump into colorful clutches, purses and wallets to be sold in trendy gift shops around Turkey. Even more remarkably, the women, most of whom have no more than a fifth-grade education, are also transforming their lives: For the first time ever, they're being paid for their work...

I met American expat Tara Hopkins not long after I moved to Istanbul, when she had recently founded Çöp(m)adam, a path-breaking social enterprise that combined women's empowerment with environmental responsibility in a way largely unknown in Turkey. I knew from the start that it was a great story – one that finally found a worthy home this year in the U.S. women's magazine More.

To write the profile of Hopkins and her talented team of "Garbage Ladies," I spent time at their workshop in the seaside town of Ayvalık, hearing heartbreaking and inspiring stories about the women, their families, and their new lives.

Read my article about Çöp(m)adam as it appeared in More magazine's March 2014 issue: “She Turns Trash Into Cash..." (pdf)