Advocating for Special Needs: Ali Ulusoy and his NGOs

From being a graduate of geological engineering and law, a computer literacy teacher at the kindergarten and a father of a child with a Down syndrome to a director of 3 organizations advocating for the people with special needs and the assistant at his son’s entrepreneurial aspirations, this self-made man has a mission to keep accomplishing and a capturing story to tell.

Meeting us by the door with a wide smile and a friendly handshake, Ali leads us through the halls of his office and the history of the organization itself. Ali shows us his office room – however, as he claims, it remains empty most of the times – NGO director prefers staying with other staff members, most of whom are professional psychologists working on the projects for people with special needs.

Main office room, conference room, director’s office and the workshop of his son-entrepreneur – at first sights seemingly absolutely ordinary rooms with some tables, computers and chairs, the venue serves a space where the concepts of equality and access for all are shaped and empowered. Inclusion posters, promotional flyers and booklets, Turkish and EU flags, flipcharts and whiteboards filled with brainstorming ideas – all these small signs allude to the thoughts of the NGO’s social impact and significance.  What even further reinforces such thoughts is the bookcase with organizational wards occupying the entire office corner.

Many awards on the shelves belong to Ali s son, Ozan Ulusoy, the first Young Entrepreneur with Down Syndrome in Turkey.

Ozan’s prnting enterprise manufactures diferent unique goods – from souvenir cups to personalized photo puzzles and magnets.

Most of the manufacturing process takes place here, in the
Ozan’s workshop

Showing around th office, Ali Ulusoy is presenting his sons latest production

“For all children from the age of three to a hundred and three.”

Happy Kids’ motto

The office is a host for several organisations, all founded and run by Ali. European Social Development Academy and Happy Kids, established in 1992, Yaşam Boyu (2004) and Engelsiz ve Mutlu (2012) all aim to contribute to the development of a society without barriers, and support NGOs, schools, private companies and governmental organizations to improve their capacities in disabilities’ and other socially excluded groups’ education by holding trainings and conferences.

Although de jure the organisations are different, they all share the same goal: to work towards enabling people from disadvantaged background to have equal opportunities in the Turkish society!

Happy Kids also enables Erasmus work placement-traineeships and sees many young people from different countries coming to help them in their mission for change.

How Having a Child Changed Ali’s Life

Do you believe in fate? I believe. Life always gives us signs, and even if there are small troubles, you need to see this as a hint and to be able to turn them into a positive experience.

After graduating from Izmir, Ali decided to continue his studies, but now on a completely different specialty – law. It was in Kahramanmarash, where he met his true love, about which he tells with a twinkle in his eyes and a trembling in his heart. They decided to tie the knot in 1985, and 3 years later they had got a lovely son – Ozan.

The couple cherished soul in the son and loved him. It was a real sincere joy, which increased every day. Wife-teacher and husband-lawyer and computer specialist were confident that their son should be a genius, no less.

Six months after Ozan’s birth, during another visit to the hospital, the doctor asked Ali to stay with him and talk alone, without Ali’s wife. At that moment, Ali heard the fact which completely changed his life:  his son had down syndrome.

“Being lost in the crowd”

Life in a small town can seem easy only at first sight. In fact, it is not quite so. When everyone knows each other and it is impossible to hide some facts, life becomes difficult, people can give birth to false information and rumors that do not help at all. In addition, in a small town, there is always a small chance to get a good position. Therefore, the family decides to move to Ankara, the capital of the country.

“I love when my wife is happy. Then she kisses me into the cheek. But when I had no money and couldn’t earn anything, it made her angry and she didn’t kiss my cheek”

Having moved to Ankara, Ali begins to develop computer games for children, and his 4-year-old assistant helps him in this. The desire to help the family financially pushes Ali to sell his games in kindergarten.

-I want 10 thousand liras for these games, – said Ali.

– But these games are genius!- said the director of the kindergarten.

– Then I’ll ask for 20 thousand liras.

Ali didn’t sell his games, but he was offered a job in kindergarten, where he taught children to work on the computer with the help of games. His games were becoming more and more popular, and Ali and his friend, a heavy and bulky computer, attended about 40-50 kindergartens a week. Ali was happy because his wife kissed his cheek again every morning and evening after a hard day’s work.

Local Influence

When asked about whether he ever thought about moving away from Turkey in search for a better life, Ali shakes his head.

No, one should not simply move away when things aren’t perfect or good. One should stay and try to improve the situation. Of course it is worth going abroad to learn and develop yourself, but one should have in mind the idea that later they can and should put the gained knowledge and skills to good use for the community.

We have to be helpful to everybody, not to only learn for yourself. It is really good if you share your knowledge,” he reasons. To Ali the mission of helping others and giving back to the community is close to heart.

Although his work contains a lot of communication with people overseas and across borders, Ali states that thanks to nowadays’ development in technology, it is not absolutely necessary for him to be where his project partners are; many things can be done online. Thanks to this he can have the biggest impact here, in his familiar environment, while still being in tight contact with organisations abroad. It’s a good combination.

Achievements and Plans for Future

What can we learn from the life experiences of Ali Ulusoy and his NGO? Accepting the challenges and turning them into advantages, rebutting the limits and learning how to empower the ideas, striving for more and never giving up on our dreams and dreams of others. The lessons prove themselves when watching Ali’s successes – over 15 years of active organizational work brought into existence around 130 projects and vast plans for future development.

Currently, Ali and his NGO work on establishing of 52 assemblies in different cities advocating the rights of people with special needs, as well as developing a 48-month project for raising awareness on disability issues.

Notwithstanding his vast future plans and successes, Ali looks at his work with utmost commitment and openness. “We are trying to do our best” – states Ali successes  modestly.

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