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Mattituck students collect supplies for Turkish elementary schools

Visitors to Mattituck High School in the last three weeks have been greeted by large cardboard boxes set underneath a poster showing students inside Turkish elementary school classrooms. Many of those students, who are being educated in rural areas of Turkey, are Syrian refugees.

The poster reads: “Please Donate: We need the following school supplies,” with a list of an assorted of items, including notebooks, folders, backpacks and shoes.

The donations are being collected by Mattituck junior Goksel Zaim, 16, and his 26-year-old sister Burcu.

Goksel and Burcu, both born in Turkey, moved to Mattituck eight and three years ago, respectively, and said they wanted to help schools there that are struggling to educate the influx of Syrian refugees.

According to The Washington Post, there are over three million Syrian refugees in Turkey, and nearly 500,000 Syrian children have entered the nation’s public school system. 

“The school system is being really packed right now and they don’t have enough resources,” Goksel said. “These rural schools are already poor enough and underfunded. I wanted to help them out.”

Goksel met with Mattituck high school principal Shawn Petretti, who gave him permission to put donation boxes in the school lobby. 

He then began talking about the project to some of his teachers, who helped him create posters and reached out to friends at the Southold and Greenport schools, where donation boxes have also been placed. 

“We want to show [the students] what they can be,” Burcu said. “We want to give them hope. The dropout rate is high there, so we want to support them and this is the best way to do that from here.”

Burcu still has friends who teach in Turkey, so she reached out to them as well and visited teachers on Facebook groups to see exactly what schools need. She has been in touch with two schools that will be the beneficiaries of the supplies she and her brother collect. 

Burcu said everyone she’s spoken to in Turkey has been grateful to hear of the Zaims’ desire to help, and the family hopes to continue donating to the students throughout next school year.

The siblings said no boxes have been mailed yet, as shipping costs are higher than they anticipated. They hope to fundraise just for the cost of shipping, and plan to take some of the boxes with them to Turkey this summer when they visit their mother, who still lives there.

People interested in donating needed supplies can drop them off at the boxes at each school or at the BP gas station on Main Road in Mattituck, which their father owns and where Goksel and Burcu also work.

“I just really want to say thank you to everyone,” Burcu said. “To my customers and everyone who helped us.”

“We’re overwhelmed, so that’s a really nice feeling,” Goksel added. “We’ve got a really nice community here.” 

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Photo caption: Mattituck junior Goksel Zaim, 16, and his 26-year-old sister Burcu are collecting the donations. (Nicole Smith photo)