Rebuilding the Lives of Syrian Refugees in Istanbul

Over 4.7 million Syrians have been displaced by a civil war that does not seem any closer to resolution. Turkey alone hosts 1.9 million of those refugees, more than any other country worldwide. Of these refugees, women and children are among the most vulnerable and they make up 72.1% of refugees.With many husbands often absent altogether, women who have never had to work out of their home become the heads of households. They must find some way to support their children in a country with laws that seriously restrict refugees from working. Children often lose access to nearly all basic resources, the most important being education. A lack of education and stability have created what some are calling Syria’s “Lost Generation.”Enter: Small Projects Istanbul. The tiny community center in Istanbul’s Faith district is a haven for Syrian children, providing weekly language classes (Turkish, English and German), funds scholarships and provides tutoring for Syrian children. The center exists “basically to make sure there’s no obstacles for children to return to formal education,” said Anna Tuson who works at the center.Created in 2013 by founder Karyn Thomas, Small Projects has been growing every year since. As more and more kids began coming to the center, so too did their parents. Tuson has found that often, Syrian parents are simply not given any information. “Sometimes, parents don’t know how to survive here,” she said.Tuson said often they are unaware of their rights as refugees and their children’s right to free education in the increasingly full Turkish school system. Unable to effectively communicate with teachers who all too often already have too much on their plates to properly deal with the particular needs of their community, many give up.Small Projects works to combat this by educating parents, especially mothers, on the options available too them. The biggest challenge, though, is employment. “A couple of women have tried to get jobs and they’re expected to work seven days a week, for something like 12 or 15 hours and they’re still paid half of what the Turks are,” Tuson said.Seeing this great need, Small Projects launched the Olive Tree Craft Collective. The women make jewelry which is then sold in nearby shops. In return, they receive food vouchers because legal restrictions prohibit giving money directly to refugees.“It seems to be a very therapeutic thing for these ladies, to come together with people in a very similar situation,” Tuson said of the women she works with.The collective grew rapidly, and now over 50 women participate. Unfortunately because of size constraints, the women must now come in shifts, once a week instead of twice. Small Projects is hoping to open a second location but without much needed donations, expansion is impossible.Tuson said that while families may face discrimination trying to navigate their new world, the local Turkish community has been incredibly supportive of the collective itself. Groups like Small Projects that provide skills and training to refugee communities are what make successful integration possible.Find out more at:

Image credit: Small Projects Istanbul