Syrian refugees in Turkey: How sharing information changes lives

Fatmah (right), a Community Activator trained by CARE in Turkey (photo © Rory O’Keeffe / CARE 2018)

Across south-eastern Turkey, CARE is working with Syrian refugees, who are themselves dealing with personal and national tragedy, to enable them to help their fellow refugees to settle and build lives in their new communities.

With the generous support of the European Union’s  Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), CARE’s Protection Outreach team has recruited 268 Community Activators – men and women who share information about the law, rights, health and best practice with other Syrians who have also fled war in Syria to find safety in Turkey.

The Activators have themselves been through the terrors of war, and in many cases suffered devastating personal loss as a result, yet are working to help others settle into their new society.

Here, we meet two women, Fatmah and Abir, who describe their own experiences, as well as the work they are now performing in Islahiye.

Fatmah Faitari, 46, a nurse from Latakia

‘I am a Community Activator for CARE. I started in early 2018. This is a way I can work for some money. It is better to work.

‘But I also do it because I want to help other Syrian people here in Islahiye, by giving them information about health and things they don’t know. In this job, I can find out this information, and make sure they can find out about it.

I visit families in their homes, and tell them about these things, and how to use them in their lives.

‘I find out the information from CARE at the training sessions. It’s very useful because Syrian people need to know their rights and what is available for them.

‘When I go to people’s homes, they know why I am there and they are always very happy. We talk and they listen to the information, because we all know it is helpful.

From what I can tell them, they are able to develop their information and do much more – access services and build lives – than if they had not known it.

‘If I don’t come one day, they call me and ask why. They like me to come, and ask ‘do you not have any new things to tell us?’ It’s good to be needed and to know what I do helps people, and they appreciate it.

‘I get the information, and training on how to share it, from CARE. We meet once or twice a month, men and women together.

‘I enjoy the job very much.

‘I am married with four children, a son who is 24, and three daughters aged 23, 19 and 11. We are all together.

I left Latakia six years ago, because of the war, and came straight here.

‘We came through the mountains, into Turkey. We walked. It was a very hard journey, because we had to walk, and my youngest daughter was only five.

‘It took us a long time. For the children, it was hardest. My husband carried the bags we had packed. He carried them all the way. And I carried our youngest daughter when she couldn’t walk any more.

Life here in Islahiye is very expensive, and we don’t have enough money.

‘In Latakia, I was a nurse at a hospital. My husband was a government worker. Now, he has no job. I would not either, if I hadn’t found out about being a Community Activator.

‘We had to leave because our house was being bombed. Bombs kept falling close to our door. We had a small outside area, and it had a building where we kept things. This was hit by a bomb and the windows on that side of the house all smashed into the house. We were asleep.

‘There was glass all over our beds. In my youngest daughter’s bedroom, close to her bed, there was a large piece of glass, about half her height, sticking into the floor.

We decided then that we had to escape. She would have been killed by that.

‘The children stopped learning when we came here to Turkey. Only my youngest daughter is at school. She likes school very much. But for my other children, I am so sorry. They were clever and enjoyed learning. You cannot tell with the littler ones, but my oldest son and daughter would have gone to university, and got good jobs. They are clever.

‘Instead, we had to take them away. We did the right thing, because otherwise, we would have been killed – they would have been killed. But even so, I am very sorry for them. It makes me feel sad, and a little angry.

‘For the future, I hope to see my parents again. They are still in Syria.

Really, all I want is for the war to end and for all the Syrian people to be able to return home.

Abitr, a Community Activator in Turkey

Abir Hadeel (above), 43, a housewife from Idlib

‘I am a Community Activator because CARE is a good humanitarian organisation, helping people, and I want to help other people, especially Syrian people like me.

Their lives are not easy, so I want to help them.

‘We come here for training sessions, and learn about people’s rights and the services they can access here, as well as about how to help themselves and their families. We also discuss ways to pass on the information, in person face-to-face or by holding groups. When we decide which is the best way, we go into the community and give them the information we have learned.

‘If we see a poor family, we also introduce them to CARE, and then CARE can help them with its own services. It makes me happy to know that this can happen, and when I play a part in helping people.

I know what they face, because I am a refugee, like they are, in a new and unfamiliar place.

‘I love the work. It’s great to feel like I am helping people.

‘I meet families who have had hard experiences and are still having problems and facing trials and challenges. When I help them, and see how happy they are, I am very satisfied.

It’s really a very good feeling, a good service I can provide thanks to CARE.

‘I left Idlib seven years ago, so I have been a refugee for longer than lots of the people I help. I wish CARE had this project when I arrived. I know how much it would have helped me. That’s why I like to do this job.

I remember what would have helped me, so I know I am helping people who are like I was then.

‘But I only came here to Turkey four years ago. I went first to Raqqa.

‘I left Idlib before the soldiers came to my home. The war was beginning. People like me and my husband wanted to have the right to express our opinions about our lives.

‘When the soldiers came to Idlib, at first they told people they could speak as they wished, but then they started to kill people who did. So, we had to leave because we were amongst those who had spoken out.

We were threatened. They were warning us they would come, and we knew what would happen. We knew we would be killed.

‘In Raqqa, there was much trouble. It was a very dangerous place. It was not a good place to stay. We did try.

We didn’t want to go to another country that was not our home, and make them feel they should care for us. So we tried to stay.

‘But I have five young daughters, and it was not fair to them to make them stay in a place where their lives would be terrible, even if they stayed alive. My husband and I could make our own decision, but they could not. So to protect them, we decided we had to leave.

‘We chose Turkey because it was the closest place. We had to escape, and we did so the fastest way we could. Everywhere else meant we would have to travel through areas where the government might catch us, or the terrorists could.

‘My daughters are now 24, 20, 18, 14 and 12. My only son is 15. We all left together. We came straight to Islahiye, and we found an apartment in the town centre. We now have a new home, very close to here.

The first home was old and rundown, but because I was able to work with CARE, we were able to move to a new home.

‘But my husband is an old man now. He is 53, which is old to start a new career in a new place, and he has psychological problems because of the war, the things he saw. He was not a soldier, but he would go out at night when bombs were hitting houses, and he helped to dig people out. They were injured, and often dead. He says the ones he is unhappiest about were those who were injured. He thinks about them now, how they can live.

‘I tell him that he has to live as well, that he has to think of himself, but he cannot.

It is like their injuries are his. Their inability to live normally is his, even though he was not injured.

‘I was a housewife before the war. He was a policeman. He said it was why he went to help at night, that it was his job, to help people. But now, he can’t work.

‘I like Islahiye because people respect me and I respect them. The children like the place but they want to complete their studies, and here, that requires money. We have none, so for them to finish school means maybe we will have to move again.

I think child protection is very important, because if a child grows up knowing what their rights are, and what they are entitled to, we will have a better society.

‘Children grow into adults and adults who were harmed or treated badly as children might look for revenge. You can’t build a society like this. And children deserve to be treated well.

They did nothing wrong. They deserve a chance at a life.

‘For the future, I want in all the world for war to finish. I want no more wars, anywhere.

‘Both my brothers were killed in this war. They were helping people to escape the shooting. They stood between soldiers and tried to get people to safety. The soldiers trained their guns on them. I wasn’t there, but that’s what people said, and I believe them. They were caught and struck and killed.

You don’t really understand until it happens to you. They died because they were helping people.

‘Saving lives, they lost theirs. War should be illegal. Not some wars, all wars.

‘No-one should be allowed to kill people. Not in a war or in the street, in normal life.

‘I want to find enough money for my children to finish their studies. My son is very intelligent, but has no money to start his business. So I want money, to help them.

I also want to finish my own secondary school studies. I never did, and I regret it. I want to finish school, and to make sure my children do, so they do not regret like I do.

CARE’s Community Activators programme in Turkey is run by our Protection Outreach team, and provides Syrian men and women with work, while simultaneously delivering Syrian people in Turkey information on matters including national law, child protection, hygiene, best practice, people’s rights in Turkey and physical and mental health.

Through the generous support of European Union’s  Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) CARE is able to implement its Protection Outreach project in Gaziantep and Sanliurfa provinces.

CARE’s Protection Outreach is a community-based model utilising peer to peer education in order to improve access to information about services and rights, to reinforce positive behaviours, to change risky protection related behaviours and develop new recommended ones, to build community capacity for identifying their own priorities, resources, needs, and solutions and promoting representative participation, accountability, and resilience within refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey. The peer to peer model leverages the power of role modelling and supports the community to learn from each other in a more inclusive environment.

Protection Outreach focuses on providing the knowledge and tools necessary for people to actively participate in building protective systems and self-resilience in their community, and to engage with the host community. In this way, the final aim of Protection Outreach is to promote community engagement and ownership, thereby contributing to build a lasting impact. CARE’s outreach approach in Turkey does not focus exclusively on disseminating information, but takes into account and addresses the concerns and expectations of the affected communities, responding to their questions, promoting consultation with relevant parties, and developing genuine participation mechanisms.

CARE began its third ECHO-funded project in the South East of Turkey in April 2017. As of December 2018, 172 men and women are now working with their communities: 27 in Islahiye, 67 in Nizip; and 78 in Sanliurfa. CARE has been able to reach 67,352 individuals with IEC materials, community events, and information sessions, since the beginning of the project.

Note: This story covers humanitarian aid activities implemented with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of the European Union, and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

The European Union and its Member States are a leading global donor of humanitarian aid. Through the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), the EU helps over 120 million victims of conflict and disasters every year. With headquarters in Brussels and a global network of field offices, ECHO provides assistance to the most vulnerable people solely on the basis of humanitarian needs, without discrimination of race, ethnic group, religion, gender, age, nationality or political affiliation.

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