As-salaamu alaikum Ishak! Can you tell us about yourself?
Alaikum salaam! I am Ishak Akarvardar. I am seven years old. I have a nine-year-old brother who has autism. I live in Manlius, New York. I do a lot of activities with my dad and my brother. I play soccer and baseball and do professional karate and horseback riding. I also do traditional Turkish shadow puppets playing and swimming.
MashaAllah, that's a lot of activities! I wonder what made you go into action with helping people in need, Ishak?
After I heard and saw a lot of people hurt under the rubble during the Turkiye earthquake, I was extremely sad. I was especially sad about the kids who lost their moms, dads, siblings, and homes. I talked to my mom about how I felt, and asked how I could help when I was so far away from them. I asked if we could adopt all the kids who lost their moms and dads, or if we could buy them homes. My mom said both were not possible; however, she said, I could speak with my friends, teacher, and the principal about what happened and how big this earthquake was, then ask them to help me set up a fundraising campaign.
How did your school respond to this?
They were really happy and delighted to support my campaign. I spoke with my teacher first, then the principal to help me raise money for the kids who were affected by this big earthquake. The principal handed me the microphone and let me make an official announcement to start fundraising at my school. From there, this fundraising grew to all the schools in our district. Our district has three elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. All the money raised was sent to UNICEF.
What made you want to do another fundraiser?
Well, I felt like the first fundraiser wasn't enough. Also, I wanted to see what happened with the money we raised, but it was not possible with UNICEF. That’s why I set up another fundraising campaign outside of school. With my mom’s help, I made a video and urged people to help and donate to the link that opens onto the Turkish Philanthropy Fund’s (TPF) campaign page. I collected around $2500, and with that money kids got something they would really like.
Masha Allah! What did the kids get with the money you raised for them?
This money was sent to a Turkish nonprofit organization based in Turkiye, and they bought kids bikes and taught them how to ride bicycles. These kids never had bikes in their lives, and they were very happy with their presents. Seeing them riding their new bicycles made me very happy and emotional. If anybody wants to donate, readers can look up the organization “Umut Dali Projesi” on social media: @umutdaliprojesi. This organization also builds playgrounds and gives kids new shoes and clothes for both Eids every year.
What are you most proud of?
I have two things I am most proud of.
First: my brother and I decided not to celebrate our birthdays with parties and presents. Instead, we share our birthday cakes with kids in Turkiye who have never had cakes in their lives. This makes us very happy. We send money to a Turkish organization called “Pastamizi Cocuklar Uflesin” (Let Kids Blow Our Birthday Candles), that takes birthday cakes and presents for us and delivers it to the kids. You can find them on social media @pastamizicocuklaruflesin.
We do the same thing when we are invited to birthday parties. All the kids I know in the US have everything most kids in the world don’t have. So, donating their birthday presents to an organization is more meaningful than buying them presents that they might not like, or they will play with a few times then throw away. When I showed them their birthday present photos, they all loved their gifts.
Second: I am so proud of helping my nine-year-old brother with autism when my parents are busy. In a way, I am his older brother teaching him the skills he needs and showing him how things are done to make his life easier. I love my brother a lot.
What are your dreams for your future?
When I grow up, I want to be a soccer player like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and I want to make enough money and share my wealth with people in need. I heard Ronaldo say, “Since I was young, I have always learned, ‘If you give, God will give you double’. Since I started to do that, everything has become better and better in my life…”
Lastly, is there anything else you would like to say to Salaam readers?
I’d like to say to Salaam readers that we are all stars, and every star shines a little differently. We are never too small or too young to accomplish something big. We have the power to change the world one small nice thing at a time, that will one day make a big difference.u
Thank you Ishak, it was amazing to meet with you!
Thank you. I had fun. InshaAllah we can meet again!