Syrian women train in textiles to sew a better future in Turkey

Syrian women train in textiles to sew a better future in Turkey

For Syrian women living in refugee camps in Turkey, learning a new skill set in textiles can lead to a better and more independent life. This is the case for Celile Mustafa whose new skills acquired through training courses offered by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and funded by the Government of Japan will allow her to work in Turkey’s modern apparel factories.

Celile, 23, had just completed her high school baccalaureate when the civil war broke out in Syria, forcing her to flee her home in Idlib, to find safety at the Öncüpınar Camp near the Turkish city of Kilis. “There were attacks on our village because of the war, that’s why we came,” Celile said.

Life at the camp has opened up unexpected possibilities for Celile.

UNIDO offers two training courses to women living in the camp – pattern-making and machine operation. Celile is one of the few to have completed both of them. As part of the programmes, she attended daily courses to learn how to design garments and learn cutting and sewing techniques, including how to operate the latest industrial sewing technology. "I had never imaged that I would learn such things in the camp,” Celile said. “I’m thrilled to get this opportunity because it would have not been possible for me in Syria.”

“It’s the right subject for me and I would love to continue learning about it,” she added.

In November, Celile will be recognized at the conclusion of a national design competition run by IHKIB, the Turkish textile exporters’ union, for an intricate fabric she embroidered with butterflies. It is a design she said was symbolic of the lives of many Syrian women trying to add colour to their circumstances in Turkey.

Turkey hosts nearly 3 million Syrian refugees, out of which about 250,000 live in camps. Since January 2016, Syrians have had the right to work in Turkey, but many people don’t have the professional skills to do so. A pilot project run by UNIDO is training people to help them develop skills that will help them find work.

“We train people who may not have worked at all in their lives,’’ said Özge Dursun, UNIDO Programme Coordinator in Turkey.  “In the very beginning, we increase their dexterity by giving them simple exercises that increase hand-eye coordination, and by the end of two months of training they will have learned how to operate the machinery and how to put together basic textile garments, and will have a good understanding of work in a factory. They will also have received a certificate from the Ministry of Education in Turkey.”

“We try to get them ready to start working in a factory immediately after they have finished the training,” Dursun added.

To-date, UNIDO has trained 600 women and youth like Celile across three camps in southeastern Turkey. By December 2016, UNIDO aims to have trained 1,000 Syrians in textiles to improve their employment prospects.

“People have to know how to use the machines and they have to be familiar with the materials,” said Omer Altin, President of the textile company Altinlar. “UNIDO has instructed people in these things.”

UNIDO’s expertise lies in bringing together different agencies to run projects that support industrial activity. In Turkey, UNIDO is working with three agencies: the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), which is responsible for camp management, Turkey’s Ministry of National Education and IHKIB.

“I strongly believe that this course shows them that they can be successful in life,” said Seyfettin Çinem, an education manager who has managed camps in Turkey for many years. “I would really like to see more of this kind of training. It’s better to channel efforts into getting people skilled.”

The difference the training makes can be life-changing. “The feedback we get is incredibly positive,” Dursun said.  “They are very eager to start working. Some of them want to start their own businesses and now they look at their future with a lot more confidence.”

With the help of its partners, UNIDO has built a model that can be replicated on other sites to help people improve their lives.

By Yuko Narushima