Burcu works to uplift community

2019-05-30 06:01
Over the last five months, 41-year-old Burcu Cunneen (right) has been hard at work to uplift impoverished China Town-residents by teaching them income-generating skills through her non-profit project Turkish Wave Ocean Smile. The project kicked-off with the cleaning of the area next to the road leading to Cape St Francis, as well as the painting of the wall by local resident and artist Emmanuell Ntaisi (left).           Photos:MONIQUE BASSON

Over the last five months, 41-year-old Burcu Cunneen (right) has been hard at work to uplift impoverished China Town-residents by teaching them income-generating skills through her non-profit project Turkish Wave Ocean Smile. The project kicked-off with the cleaning of the area next to the road leading to Cape St Francis, as well as the painting of the wall by local resident and artist Emmanuell Ntaisi (left). Photos:MONIQUE BASSON

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SHE is loud, vibrant and bold . . . with a passion to make a lasting difference in the lives of those less-fortunate - young and old.

Motivated by the extreme poverty and hunger she sees around her every day in China Town, an informal settlement in St Francis Bay, Burcu Cunneen (41) has dreamed up a solution - bringing hope to hundreds.

This Turkish-born artist, teacher, writer and founder of Turkish Wave Ocean Smile - a non-profit organisation -wants to fight hunger and unemployment in the over-populated informal settlement through skills development and job creation, ensuring self-sustainability and economic independence.

Burcu relocated to Cape St Francis in 2017 - a year after spending a two-week holiday in St Francis Bay with her family. This was also the first time she saw an informal settlement - something that does not exist in her home country.

“We instantly fell in love with the beautiful town and its people - they are all so friendly. And, of course, the magnificent waves at Cape St Francis - especially for my husband who is an avid surfer.”

Apart from working at a government school for 20 years and writing for one of the oldest newspapers in Turkey, Burcu is a professional and ardent artist - doing commission work worldwide.

Giving it all up, apart from her art, she now uses her knowledge and skills to help create a better future for local residents.

Turkish Wave Ocean Smile

But, how will the project, that started with only a few unemployed women at the beginning of the year, work?

Burcu smiles enthusiastically, “The aim of the project is to first develop five disadvantaged residents through training and basic skills development: sewing, mosaic, arts and crafts and toy-making. Then production, followed by the selling of products for profit - generating a much-needed income.

“Once trained and fully equip-ped, they will take the baton of responsibility for the project’s continuity and ongoing success - training and educating other community members. The notion of sharing and working cooperatively is central to the idea of the Turkish Waves Ocean Smile. Supporting and learning from each other not only strengthen your self-esteem as an entrepreneur, but also contribute to growing individual businesses.

“After one year, they must be able to work and function on their own. The project will help our mothers and fathers to put food on the table, as well as keep our children safe and of the streets.”

Painting of wall

The project kicked-off with the cleaning of the dirty, smelly and unhygienic area - riddled with garbage, raw sewage, and building rubble - in front of the wall separating the informal settlement from the road leading to Cape St Francis.

Once cleaned, it was decided to paint the wall.

Burcu laughs, “Not to make it look pretty and colourful, but to get rid of the unbearable smell. However, it turned into a local piece of art reflecting the soul of local residents and artists Emmanuel Ntaisi and Jonathan Xayimpi - all while breaking down the negative stereotypes about South Africa and, especially, informal settlements.”

Sewing project

Not stopping there, Burcu recently introduced a sewing project, with the assistance of volunteer sewing teacher René Bornman, to teach local women the necessary skills to transform bits and pieces of unwanted material, into beautiful products that they can sell.

These products include hair accessories, key rings and bags.

Although the sewing workshop is nothing more than a room in an informal house, it is a beacon of home to those learning - the dream of a better life.

Apart from the sewing project, Burcu also introduced the finer skills of mosaic work and arts and crafts to residents.

Future projects

She is, furthermore, dreaming about the establishment of a toy factory for children in the area.

The idea? To use recyclable material to create innovative toys. And in doing so, encourage creative thinking, design and manual dexterity.

Looking at the rubble next to the road, Burcu frowns, “Since production will be done by using recycled materials as raw material, it will solve the biggest problem of society and turn garbage into unique, new and saleable products.

“It will, futhermore, keep young and vulnerable children off the street and equip them with new skills - all in a fun and creative way.”

The end goal?

To expand Turkish Wave Ocean View as a fully-fledged and well-ope-rated business - establishing several income-generating employment opportunities for local residents.

However, she needs a building in a safe and central area, to realise this dream.

“We are in need of a building, approximately 100m², that will serve as a skills training centre, factory, business and a market where residents and visitors can buy our unique and quality products,” says Burcu.

It is hoped that the building will be up-and-running by next year - but first, the residents need to acquire the necessary skills and build up their inventory.

More information

For more information, contact Cunneen at 064 909 4497 or send an email to burcunneen@gmail.com.

Visit the Ocean Smile Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/burcucunneen.

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