Darüşşafaka Society, the first non-governmental organisation in the field of education in Turkey, with its “equal opportunity in education” mission, is changing the lives of children, i.e. the tomorrow of our country, and realizing the dreams of each one of them since the year 1863.
Today Darüşşafaka Society is providing around 1,000 motherless or fatherless, talented, poor students with full scholarship, boarding, college level education opportunity for a period of eight years, in its school situated in Maslak, Istanbul, with the supports and donations of its benefactors since 159 years.
And one of the children to the life of whom is touched by Darüşşafaka is Güller Yazgı Akata… Yazgı Akata, graduated this year from Darüşşafaka, one of the deep-rooted high schools of our country, has been granted a full scholarship education right in State New University of New York at Buffalo for four years. Accepted to the Stars Education Fund (YEF) programme to which only one student is received from Turkey this year, Akata is taking firm steps toward realization of her goal to become a computer scientist. We held an interview with Yazgo about her Darüşşafaka years and future plans.
Yazgı! First of all, please would you introduce yourself to us?
I was born in Bakırköy, Istanbul in 2004. When I was 9, I lost my father due to COPD. As my mother was working, my grandfather supported my care. But we lost my grandfather as well only 3 months after death of my father. Just in those days, I had the opportunity to learn about Darüşşafaka Entrance Exam and the education opportunities in Darüşşafaka through advice of a close family friend. I immediately joined Darüşşafaka Exam, and had the chance to be a student in Darüşşafaka by successfully passing the exam which I believe was one of my greatest chances in life. Thus, both my mother could continue working, and I had the right to get an education which was far above my personal standards.
How were your Darüşşafaka years?
My first memory regarding Darüşşafaka is about ‘Welcome Home’ party organised at the beginning of every term. That party was attended by graduates of almost every age of the school. At the end of my first party, I have already started to feel and think ‘I have already a new family now’. This feeling is still very important for me. My orientation to Darüşşafaka did not last long, because before coming to school, I have thoroughly and deeply investigated Darüşşafaka and learned that it is a home of education receiving the children with open arms since more than a century and thus, prepared myself to having a new family in my life. At my first entry through the school gate, my mother also left me there with peace in mind, and I entered that gate with a great trust and confidence. Darüşşafaka does not only give you education inside four walls, because each corner of our campus is indeed a place of education in this home of compassion. This may occasionally be in the form of communicating with someone, and may from time to time be in academic terms. Even our talks and conversations with our friends in the dormitory room are very valuable contributors of our education. As we all come from different provinces and cultures, I have learned a lot both about Turkey and the world of those days thanks to these talks. In fact, through education, Darüşşafaka teaches you the value of living and letting others live. We, as Darüşşafaka students, are never afraid of asking questions. We do not ever abstain from asking questions of why and how in our classes. We do not only ask questions, but also learn how we can develop and generate solutions for the problems. In addition, we learn how to be cooperative and teammates. Cooperation is a rather valuable concept. It is very important to make sure that everyone is involved in cooperation as a sole and unique partner, not under a hierarchy. I have witnessed this many times in Darüşşafaka and I am now trying to apply this rule in my each step in life as far as I can.
We know that Darüşşafaka does not only give a top level academic education, but also is equipped by many different social clubs for strengthening social skills of students, and revealing their strengths, and further reinforcing them, and that these clubs record worldwide successes from time to time. Have you ever participated in any social club?
Yes, Darüşşafaka has a great many of clubs aiming to further develop the students. Thanks to these clubs, we have the opportunity to acquire knowledge in many different fields and further develop ourselves. In my first years in Darüşşafaka, at the 5th grade, we got drama classes in English. I participated in “Destination Imagination” club. This club entrusted us with some tasks in a limited time, thereby teaching us teamwork and time management. In Destination Imagination, we put our signature under many achievements in international arena. After ranking first in Turkey, we were eligible to go to a world tournament. Then, I joined in “Erasmus Club”. In that club, we created awareness in both local and international non-governmental organizations. Later, I joined in Robot Club. There, I participated in an organization named “Best Studies”. In the meantime, I had the chance to play guitar and saxophone. I started to show interest to jazz music thanks to saxophone, and to different guitar types thanks to guitar. Again I started to play basketball after entering Darüşşafaka. In the 10th grade, I got education in a state school in New Jersey for one year under KL YES (Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program).
During the pandemic era, in the 11th grade, Yazgı was in an intensive work tempo, and joined in the drama club. Yazgı says she had the opportunity to read drama texts and to engage in philosophical debates thereon thanks to drama club, and she started to raise her awareness on global climate crisis and actions required to be taken thereinfor. Seeing that climate crisis does not affect everyone in the same way and that different regions of the world are going to be affected differently from it, Yazgı started to closely follow the global climate policies. And she decided her career goals just at those days.
How were your career goals shaped?
I have always been a dreamer. When I was a kid, I dreamed to be the first woman president of Turkey. This dream of mine was based on “my wish to create a difference”, because I am from a poor family, but I was given a chance by Darüşşafaka. I felt this chance at each moment of my life in Darüşşafaka, and I am still feeling it. I think, ‘If this chance is given to me, I must use it and must do everything in order to offer the same chance to others as well.’ In fact, this is a reflection of fidelity of all Darüşşafaka students. Darüşşafaka is a place where your dreams are always supported. Later, I recognized and thought that I could use my own power and create my targeted effects in better and different areas more efficiently. In the 9th grade, I joined in Robot Club. There, I took part in the Public Relations Division. We had targets intending to answer such questions as ‘How can we spread the system designed by us, and how can we further increase the system culture in and outside the school?’ Even if you are only a student, you work in Darüşşafaka at all times with a great devotion. We were making even greater efforts in club hours. In Robot Club, we designed projects, and realised our projects, and then communicated other people in order to transfer our spirit and effects to them. We called it ‘adding spirit to a robot’, and really it was exactly what we did there. During these processes, computer engineering started to attract my attention. And the main part of computers which attracted my attention was the social field thereof. Today, ideas and opinions of people may be shaped for certain political campaigns or economic benefits. I started to think, ‘Why don’t we use this power for doing favour and for a more integrated, understanding and cooperative world?’ That time coincided with my post-Exchange time as well. For one year, I studied in Indian House, a state school in New Jersey, under our Exchange program. The greatest thing I learned from our Exchange program, and the greatest thing I learned also in Darüşşafaka was that the differences make us richer. And another thing I learned was ‘We must use these differences in the interests of humanity’. This is rather important because contributions of everyone are indeed different and valuable per se. From this point of view, you understand that all these experiences are in fact integral parts of a whole. Thus, I cannot say that only a single factor has been effective on determination of my career goals, because all of them have wholly been effective thereon. Combining the club experiences, robot building knowledge and my researches in Darüşşafaka, I came to the United States for education in The State New University of New York at Buffalo so as to be a computer scientist.
As a computer scientist, what are your goals you wish to achieve?
At The State New University of New York at Buffalo, in addition to the division elected, you also have the opportunity to get education in your areas of interest. For instance, I came here to study computer science, but as a student having interests in social fields, I can get education thereon as well. As I’ve said now, first of all, I wish to become a computer scientist and to use computer science for building a more cooperative and understanding world. I want to develop myself and take actions first on “equal opportunity in education” and then on climate crisis, climate justice and gender equality fields which are most effective on me. These actions will occasionally be based on data science. I also intend to develop myself in the field of data law. I want to find an answer to the question: ‘How can we ethically use computer law and data science in order to better shape our world?’ My dream is to become one of the policy makers in this field. And when the time comes, I want to be a pioneer in this field in my country, and to use computer science for global interests, and to come back in other positions to Darüşşafaka to whom my duty of loyalty and fidelity will continue for my whole life. If you have ever come across Darüşşafaka, you can never say, ‘Okay, I am graduated and am going now.’ This is a place where you always carry your sense of belonging in your heart. To pay back a duty of loyalty to somewhere is indeed dependent also upon the distance of your debt of gratitude most of the time. Both Darüşşafaka and my country are at all times in my heart. I also dream to be one of the pioneers of data law in the United Nations. Even I wish to make dissuasive policies against climate crisis, climate injustice and inequality of opportunity in education. This makes me very excited.
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