Soaring Through Week 2

Team Bird is making progress on our project with Doğa Derneği after we spent the first week ensuring we had accurately scoped the work and set expectations on what we could deliver in a month. During this second week, we started to delve into specific aspects of the project and had additional meetings with staff members and check-in meetings to ensure we were on track. The focus of our project is to deliver guidelines and best practices for conducting their Annual Raptor Census project, and providing a strategic marketing plan to build awareness for the organization and increase volunteer contributions and participation. The team has worked well together by drawing upon one another’s skills and capabilities, and being able to openly and honestly ask for help or guidance when needed. As we look to our third week here, we will continue to build out our recommendations as we divide and conquer the project as a team.

DD picWe came in with our unique skill sets, professional work style and our own set of expectations. Though we all are based in the Mountain View office, our lives are so different that it was almost as if we came from different places, speaking different languages. Our first few days brought us closer to each other and we quickly started speaking the same language (chirp chirp!), especially given that we work in such proximity where our laptop screens bump together! We worked together to realize the challenge in front of us and chart a course for our journey of the upcoming weeks. The biggest change in our approach this week has been the realignment of expectations and the focus towards project execution. With each day, we learn more than we knew before.

However, project progress aside, the best part of this week has definitely been spending time outside of work with Ayşe and Engin, our primary Doğa contacts. An aspect of Turkish culture that we really love is the interconnectedness of professional and personal relationships. We’ve enjoyed the fact that before delving into the specifics of our project and deliverables, Engin and Ayşe always want to know about our weekend, suggest places to visit and restaurants to try, and are curious about our overall impression of Turkey. ayse with the girls Getting to know Ayşe and Engin out of the office was not only fun but also deepened our relationship with them and Doğa. It was funny, it wasn’t until we spent an evening drinking and talking about our backgrounds that we realized just how little we knew about them personally. Engin used to play guitar, engineered and built his own recording studio, and loves playing basketball. Laughing together outside of the office and sharing inside jokes with the Doğa team in the office has added a dimension of fun and a deeper bond to our working relationship. Not only is this bond helping us be more productive and in sync regarding our project, but when our time in Turkey is over it will be these close relationships that we’ll miss the most.

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Bruises & Bandaids, Kindness & Progress


Remember a time when you couldn’t keep track of the number of bruises on your knees and the number of bandaids? Ah childhood! Well, this trip to Turkey has been a return to childhood of sorts for me. Bruises on the knee from a couple of falls, a twisted ankle, a few bandaids on my fingers after trying to use a locally bought peeler, a bout of cold — to name just a few.

And while that might sound quite terrible, it hasn’t been, thanks to all the kindness around me. Be it the museum security guard who came running to check on me on my first fall, be it Shantanu who enquired a dozen times if my ankle was ok, or Travis and Amitoj — my team mates who said I just needed to tell them what I needed to feel better and they’d go get it, or Patty who found out I was unwell and checked on me the next day. I have felt very touched by all the care and concern these folks that I met barely 2 weeks ago have shown.

And then there’s Joe who speaks Turkish and is always extremely kind and patient enough to ask detailed questions about ingredients to make sure the dish is vegan, Samira, the Flying Broom resident cook who takes great care to make almost excluvely vegan dishes ever since we started there, Mirabel who always announces vegan items so the two vegans in the group — Amitoj and I know we can have them, Sohini who makes sure that the restaurant has options for the vegans and vegetarians in the group. And the laundromat man who reopened the shutters of his shop though it was past open time and he was almost ready to take off in his car.

I saved the best for the last — Rachel, who’s probably the youngest in the group is such a joy to be around — she’s always inclusive and brings people into the conversation with her cheerful nature and eye contact.

Though all of us are from very different backgrounds with unique personalities, there is this undercurrent of kindness in each and everyone that shines through beautifully. Makes me think what a wonderful world this could be, if everyone could see and focus on that kindness in each other rather than their differences. Just like back when you had no doubts that the world was a beautiful kind place as a child, so much so that the bruises and bandaids didn’t stop you from tearing down the next hill, or giggling for no reason, or greeting friends and strangers with open arms and innocent curiosity,….

All of that to say — I feel lucky to be here right now, as a member of the 2015 Symantec Service Corps team in Turkey, and value the simple humanity that I encounter each day more so than anything else.

Very aptly, we are “Team ilerleme” — a Turkish word that means “Progress”. As Henry Ford said, “ Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”.

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Settling into a daily routine in Ankara…

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve arrived in Ankara. Feeling a bit more settled as I’m getting to know the rest of the SSC team members, working with our clients as we completed the initial planning phase last week and starting to delve into our recommendations this week, and becoming familiar with a new setting and routine. During this short time, there are a few sights and sounds that will stick with me as reminders of my experience in Ankara. I expect this list will expand as each day goes by.
  • The day starts with a 5 am call to prayer that permeates the city streets which I can hear softly through my hotel room window (some mornings this sounds louder than others).
  • “Taze simit!” (fresh bagels) is heard down the street as a second morning wake-up call as vendors stroll the streets to  get your attention and sell their homemade sesame seed bagels. While these bagels can also be found in local bakeries, the experience of buying them from someone who balances a tray on their head is much more interesting. bagel man
  • Dodging taxis when crossing the streets…even when the light is green! While I tried to capture this in a photo (not a very safe thing to attempt), I realized this is something that just needs to be experienced. With the narrow streets where cars are parked on both sides, pedestrians don’t seem to have the right of way. Even when I’ve stepped off the curb and approach an intersection slowly, a taxi will honk as if to warn me not to get in their way. It definitely requires full attention when crossing the street,
  • Attended an International Women’s Day event in Cappadoccia (~4 hours SE of Ankara) organized by ASAM. Spending an afternoon with over 1,000 Middle Eastern refugee women and children dancing, eating and laughing was quite an experience. We didn’t know what to expect prior to the event and merely offered to help distribute food and drinks. When we arrived and saw a small amphitheater full of women and children, we knew it was a celebration that we were glad to be a part of. intl womens day
  • And lastly…my favorite spot to grab a quick Gözleme filled with spinach and potato. How can I not enjoy a local snack made by this friendly Turkish woman? She smiles and greets us everyday when we walk by her stand on our way to the office. As we leave, she says “Auf Wiedersehen” (German for good-bye). gozleme
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Feet on the Ground

Team ASAM’s week in pictures…



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Work! Play! Dance!

Project Update:

One week down, and Team Flying Broom is steadily soaring along. We have made a lot of progress with the massive archiving project at hand. We have clarified, simplified, and redesigned our initial statement of work, and most importantly, we have begun to gel as a team and clearly focus on or main goal at hand.  This is a very challenging task, as we have to have a system in place, and up and running, before we leave.  We are, however, well up for the assignment.  Although they are quite busy with a myriad of amazing projects on the table, we have received massive support from Flying Broom, who are quite anxious to see what we intend to roll out. Or main focus is on an archiving system which will allow members of Flying Broom to archive documents, pictures and videos, in a consistent manner from anywhere needed. This will hopefully include access from personal tablets and smartphones, as well. Our plan is still in a very immature phase, but we are excited and hopeful that we are on to something special. More to come on that, in the coming weeks. Samira, the in house cook has been spoiling us daily with Turkish çay, Turkish coffee, and delicious vegan food, to keep our energy high, and our minds sharp. We look forward with excitement, to see how the coming weeks will unfold, before us!

One of the evenings, last week, Flying Broom invited us to a Turkish play on Women’s Issues, at Ankara University. Thank you to Flying Broom, for inviting us

Turkish Play on Women Issues
eteğimizdeki taşlar afiş(1)

We boarded a cab from the office and it took us 15 minutes to reach the venue. The event was being organized with the help of Flying Broom’s “Young Board” at the Ankara University. The Young board consists of student volunteers from around 10 universities in Ankara, who come forward to contribute whenever the organization needs them.


Turkish Play at Ankara University – The actors watch a TV talkshow that shows the gender gap

The play was organized to celebrate the International Women’s day, and play was named “Etegimizdeki Tasiar”, a Turkish phrase meaning, “The traditions that weigh us down”. The play was in Turkish and was aimed at spreading awareness about women rights and also a generation gap.  The play also focused on the subtle messages in TV advertisements, stereotyping women, that enter unconsciously influence societies mindset.


Turkish Play at Ankara University highlighting Women Issues

The young following disliking some of the older traditions and the old trying to follow the young ones. Flying broom’s also used this platform to promote the 18th Ucan Supurge Film Festival going to be held in the month of May.

After the play, we stood by for a photo session and then joined the team for a dinner at a Vegan restaurant called “Veganka”.

Dinnner with Flying Broom Team at Veganka Restaurant, Turkey

Dinnner with Flying Broom Team at Veganka Restaurant, Turkey

During the weekend, we were fortunate enough to fit in some extracurricular activities, outside of Ankara.

International Women’s Day 2015
Celebrated in a very meaningful way, thanks to fellow NGO organization, A.S.A.M

As another example of how interconnected the work of the different nonprofits we are engaging with are, Team Flying Broom got to attend an event organized by one of the other nonprofits, A.S.A.M (Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants) on International Women’s Day 2015. It was a truly phenomenal and eye opening event on many levels.

The event took place in Cappadocia, and we were told that about 1200 refugee women and children would attend the event. We were asked to be sensitive as some refugees might be willing to talk while others would not, some wouldn’t mind their pictures taken, others might etc. With that, we walked towards the event venue on Saturday March 7th passing by numerous buses full of women and children who had arrived from different places.


Team Symantec at the A.S.A.M International Women’s Day 2015 event at Cappadocia, Turkey

Volunteers in blue A.S.A.M jackets handed out food boxes and water bottles as the stadium filled up. Glancing around, people ranged from ages 2-3 years old to 60 years. Team Symantec joined the volunteers in going around with food boxes and water, and settled down on the back row to watch the event.

What happened next blew all of us away. As music from the refugees individuals countries (Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria) blared on the speakers, the young girls jumped up first to start dancing. Soon the older women joined and suddenly it was one giant dance party! Children and adults alike danced together and many lip synced to the music. Truly does music unite! They had clearly assimilated into Turkey, their new home. Team Symantec was up on our feet joining the dancing, taking pictures and interacting with curious adults and children who wanted to get to know us. The A.S.A.M volunteers initiated a dance circle that brought everyone together in a bond of camaraderie.

A.S.A.M. volunteers and the event attendees form a dance circle

A.S.A.M. volunteers and the event attendees form a dance circle

Team Symantec had not been sure what to expect at the event, but most of us were thinking of a more solemn event, and a glimpse at the hardship and difficulties that refugees faced. After all, wasn’t that the image the word “refugee” conjured up? Instead the event humanized the word and demonstrated that we are all just people, united in our human spirit and just incidentally from different parts of the world. It was particularly empowering to see women and children celebrating their own place in their new home, giving us more meaning to the mission of Flying Broom to create an equal society for women.

We are grateful to our colleagues at Team A.S.A.M – Joe, Sohini and Mirabel and A.S.A.M members for inviting us and planning a trip so we could attend this truly meaningful and inspiring event.

Einstein Was a Refugee

Einstein Was a Refugee

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Nerding for Birding

Four days in and we are already so far from where we started. And we don’t mean geographically. Yes, we are in a foreign land, with new people and in a unique blend of culture. In Turkey, our group of three is working outside of our areas of expertise to help Doğa Derneği, a nature conservation society with a passionate and powerful mission. So, how are we so far from where we started? Well, even though we are so far from anything we know, the country and the city already feel familiar. We have all picked up some Turkish words and customs-you greet everyone with a hug and a peck on the cheek—yes, guys too. 🙂 We have a favorite cafe, for morning and evening, and we know and love the food. But most of all we have settled into a rhythm of work, as a team and with our client. Let’s talk some about our client.

On day one of our project we met with representatives of all the non-profits that the SSC teams would be working with. Engin Yilmaz, the Executive Director of Doğa Derneği was there to introduce himself, Doğa, and the project. A more passionate and unassuming personality with such understated charisma is hard to find. After the opening lunch with the larger group of SSC and clients we headed off with Engin. Instead of the Doğa office, which is a small two room apartment befitting an 80’s Silicon Valley startup, we went to a cafe in Kizilay Square, the heart of downtown Ankara.DRB_3731

Over the next three hours, as Engin spoke about the mission of Doğa and the work they do, multiple things happened. Our jaws dropped would be one way of saying it. Here were the three of us, coming to Ankara as veritable blank slates, never before experiencing the culture, language, and most importantly—with no ecology or environmental science background. The importance of their mission, the magnitude of their challenges and critical need for success dawned on us. This organization is both intimidating and exciting. Their passion is unparalleled. Their team is simultaneously working around local barriers to raise awareness for biodiversity and doing key conservation research in active war zones. In short, they’re an incredible organization who, with limited resources is putting forth Herculean efforts to save the fragile ecosysteambirdtems and species impacted by war, negligence, hunting, and unchecked human greed.

But another realization that has struck us in the past three days is how instantly passionate we have become, not only for our cause, but for the species and key biodiversity areas we are working to protect. The simultaneously exciting and intimidating brain dump on the ecology of Turkey, the biodiversity conservation challenges Turkish non-profits face, and the unique projects they’ve taken on to save their country’s species is all put into further perspective when we learn that Turkey is only second in the world in biodiversity behind the Amazon Rainforest.

We also recently learned that explorer John C. Frémont christened the San Francisco Bay “Chrysopylae”, or Golden Gate because it reminded him of the Golden Horn, the ancient harbor in what now is Istanbul, Turkey. San Francisco, also like Turkey, has a Mediterranean climate so many of the grasses and plants here are similar to what we see back home. It seems that Turkey and our homes in the San Francisco Bay Area are entwined and perhaps that’s also why we already feel so much at home, so passionate about the important work Doğa Derneği is doing, and so dedicated to make a lasting difference to benefit biodiversity and environmental preservation in Turkey.

Even though we have very different personalities, backgrounds and experiences, we have earned a level of trust and respect for one another in a very short amount of time. Through morning power walks, dodging “taksis”and buses, collectively learning as many Turkish phrases as possible, and our ritual morning coffee and tea, our team has had an opportunity to build new friendships which has made for an easy transition to our workplace interactions. During our working sessions, we expand upon each other’s thoughts and ideas for a better output than we would have come up with individually. While we are only in the first week of our project, we all feel that we will be involved with Doğa long after we leave our home in Ankara and return to our homes in the Bay Area. We can’t wait for all the next few weeks will have in store!

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3 long haul flights later and I finally made it safe and sound to Ankara. Tiredness had kicked in, but my mind was still running overtime.  What would our living quarters be like?  Would everyone click?  Would the clients see us as a nuisance or be welcome to have us? Upon arrival at our hotel, was happy to see that we had been provided with spacious rooms and instead of resting, I joined the team for dinner.   Conversation flowed easily, despite most of us having very little personal interaction prior to the trip.  Participating in orientation over the wknd, exploring a bit of the city and enjoying a few good meals together was great as we knew that once we met our various organizations we would turn our attention to the scope of work. One of my favorite experience’s thus far was a trip to the local supermarket with my teammates Mirabel and Joe.  The intention was a quick stop to purchase some fresh mulberries, which were rare in our hometowns.  Instead, we left bellies full, after having shared in a traditional breakfast with the shopkeeper and his friends. The meal consisted of fresh bread, chillies and an omelette filled with sucuk (Turkish spiced salami).  It pays to have a teammate that speaks Turkish on our team.  Am certain that if Joe hadn’t shown an interest or taken the time to engage with the men in store we would not have experienced the same hospitality.  I think it applies to most places one visits, if you take the time to learn the local language or even just a few words, people form a new found respect for you.   Hoping that by the end of the month I’ll know a lot more than Merhaba (hello) and Teshekurler (thank you).  I have 2 great teachers, Joe and our taxi driver Haayder.

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