Darülaceze is one of most well-known places in Istanbul in terms of its reputation and mission. The story of these old, gloomy yet ever warm buildings on the E5 Highway between the Golden Horn and the district of Okmeydanı dates all the way back to the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish Wars in 1877, also known as the Battle of ’93, when hundreds of thousands of people took shelter in Istanbul and the streets were full of sick and helpless people.
To build them a safe home, Abdul Hamid II issued a decree in 1890 and gathered a commission, which first decided to collect aid for the foundation of Darülaceze. The first contribution was made by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who made a donation of 7,000 gold liras and cash worth 10,000 liras. The commission issued a benefit receipt worth 50,000 liras and distributed it to the benefactors, laying the spiritual groundwork for Darülaceze. The foundation of the building was laid in 1892. A shelter for those in need, it was completed in 1895. Darülaceze was first open to the people who became homeless after the Russo-Turkish Wars and nearly 150 women previously residing at Haseki Hospital.
During its first years, Darülaceze was a complex consisting of one administrative building; four pavilions for the destitute (two for men and two for women); service buildings such as a hospital of 200 beds, an orphanage, a laundry, and a bathhouse; handcraft workshops; a bakery; and a mosque, a church, and a synagogue. There was also a breastfeeding room (ırda’hâne) for abandoned babies. Today, it continues to serve as a neighborhood spanning nearly 30 decares, comprising a directorate building, a kindergarten, seven buildings for the destitute, workshops, a rehabilitation center, cold storage warehouses, a laundry, and a kitchen.
Still a shelter for the solitary, Darülaceze presents a warm home for nearly 600 people (50 kids between the ages of 0 and 3 and 545 adults). Staying in rooms for six, some are bedridden and cared for in their rooms while others spend their days creating objects at handcraft workshops inside the rehabilitation center. All they ask of the people of Istanbul and its visitors is a visit filled with attention and love.
On our visit, we listened to the story of Darülaceze from its president, an employee, a volunteer, and a resident for 46 years.
Hamza Cebeci, Darülaceze President
Hamza Cebeci has been working at Darülaceze for six years. He was a council member for 2.5 years and has been the president for the last 3.5 years. Having worked as a founder and director of many NGOs in Europe for long years, Cebeci says at first he was hesitant about whether he was ready for such a huge responsibility. However, later on, he was lured by the organization’s humanitarian aspect and decided to accept the position.
“If you look from the outside, the first thing you see is the stone wall stretching along the road. If you can go beyond the wall and come inside, you step into a heartwarming place. Those walls hide the stories of nearly 600 people in need in Istanbul. The moment you come in, you see an understanding that serves, for 125 years, Istanbul’s people in need, especially the elderly, and the children. When you work here, you’re not just an employee. You become family to our residents and earn their gratitude. The locals of Istanbul have been paying an effort to keep Darülaceze alive for 125 years. You have to have a big heart to serve here,” he says summarizing the mission and history of the organization.
Şengül Kazan, Volunteer
Şengül Kazan has been a volunteer at Darülaceze for 41 years. Here’s how she tells the story of her almost lifelong support. Forty-one years ago, on May 12, she brought her mother to the nearby Bulgarian Hospital. She was curious and walked through Darülaceze’s gate to see what was inside. The moment she was there, she became attached to the people and eventually became a volunteer. Though she previously took care of the children, Kazan is now happy to help and care for the elderly residents. She’s nearly 70 years old and is quite healthy. She visits Darülaceze on Tuesdays and Fridays and works there until seven or eight in the evening.
Of course, there are other volunteers. Hülya Şahin discovered this place 17 years ago as she was dropping his son off at school. At first, she was responsible for feeding and taking care of the elderly, but then, she learned how to be a hairdresser. Now, on Wednesdays and Fridays, she visits the hair salon at Darülaceze to help 10-12 people take care of themselves. Mari Gönüllü has been a volunteer instructor at the rehabilitation center for 1.5 years where she teaches how to make bags from wastepaper. They make five or six bags a week and contribute to the organization.
Perihan Karakuyu, Resident
Perihan Karakuyu, a 72-year-old, came here in 1973, at the age of 27, from her hometown, Konya. She lost her mother very early in life and underwent three surgeries in her childhood years due to a spinal disorder which she’s never fully recovered from. Her father spent a fortune for his little daughter’s well-being. When he passed away, her siblings took care of her for a while. Eventually, she applied to Darülaceze with a letter and her doctor's support, and was accepted. A resident for 46 years, she prays for the help she’s received every chance she gets, “I pray that those who once built and managed this place rest in peace. If they are still alive, may they have a long and happy life. We have everything. All we miss is attention and love.”
Doğan Tabak, Former Resident and Current Employee
Doğan Tabak, 40 years old, crossed paths with Darülaceze due to an accident. He was living on the streets and collecting papers. In 2010, he had an accident and was hospitalized at two different places. When the institutions could offer him no further help, he was brought to Darülaceze. With the help of physiotherapy for 4.5 years, he managed to stand and walk. He attempted his first steps inside the small building and then around Darülaceze’s courtyard. Tabak eventually fully recovered and started to help people with paperwork. He asked President Hamza Cebeci to welcome him as an employee rather than a patient. Doğan Tabak moved to a home with the money he earned at Darülaceze and cares for his elderly father at this institution which contributed greatly to his recovery. His perseverance is a fine example for the relatively younger residents and a beacon of hope for recovery. Nowadays, he looks towards the future. He and the entire family of Darülaceze hope that he can marry someone as good-hearted as himself and build his own home.