Central Arkansas is home to a growing population of Turkish immigrants. The Raindrop Turkish House, an organization with branches in 8 states (including a center in Little Rock), seeks to fulfill the needs of Turkish-Americans as they find their footing in a new country.
Turkish people are coming to Central Arkansas for a variety of reasons ranging from professional development, attaining a college degree, or pursuing job opportunities. When they get here, however, they may need some help adjusting to their new environment. Mehmet Ulupınar, a volunteer at the Little Rock Raindrop Turkish House says that’s where their organization steps in.
“It’s a different culture. There’s lots of things to learn. For instance, renting a house, getting stuff for the house, getting the driver’s license, learning the language, learning the places to shop. They all take time,” Ulupınar said.
The Raindrop Turkish House originated in Houston, Texas in 2000, and opened doors in Little Rock in 2006 in the Market Street Shopping Center. Now in a new building across the street, the cultural center continues to offer special events for Turkish-Americans, such as a women’s book club and teaching Turkish language and culture classes to American-born Turkish children.
Hilall Cansizoğlu, who is a student at UALR studying to get her PhD in physics, says these and other social activities are important to foster a sense of community so that no one, as she puts it, “loses” themselves in a new culture.
“I think we are very lucky to have Raindrop here because we can also have our special days like kids’ birthdays, or baby showers. And that makes us feel better and feel to be at home,” Cansizoğlu said.
Cansizoğlu adds that they try to plan more activities in the summer, since that’s when many of their friends leave to visit relatives who still live in Turkey. Book clubs and barbecues, she says, help combat the loneliness.
The Raindrop also tries to focus on building character and promoting dialogue between cultures. The organization holds monthly lectures from politicians, academics, and members of the clergy. Nilgün Akdemir, another Raindrop volunteer, says it’s because of these values that the Raindrop often operates as a vehicle for charity.
“When were hear anything in the world--or in America or in Turkey, it doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter which place--who needs the help, we are trying to come together and try to help them,” Akdemir said. “It makes us happy because these are our cultural things. We really like to help the people, and Raindrop gives us the chance to help together.”
But the Raindrop doesn’t just focus on Turkish-Arkansans. Volunteers reach out to their American neighbors to share their culture while making new friends. The Little Rock building holds weekly Turkish language classes, and monthly coffee nights for women. Rükiye Ekin calls the coffee nights a time for women from different backgrounds to learn about one another—a process she describes as “beautiful.”
“One hour, two hour, maybe. [We] talk, only talk. [It’s] only women; no men…Very enjoy,” Ekin said.
The Raindrop has also hosted 4 annual Turkish Food Festivals, which have grown greatly in attendance over the years. Of the proceeds from the April’s Turkish Food Festival, the Raindrop donated portions to assist tornado victims and to the Arkansas Food Bank.