Mizgin, a Syrian refugee at her 36, has been successfully juggling several roles she has assumed in life. As a woman, she has come to be more resilient, facing challenges that had been unknown to her before and growing more confident as she overcame them. She has been a caring mother to her 3 children, becoming stronger as the family was uprooted by Syria’s brutal conflict and had to flee to Turkey, Istanbul. She used to be a teacher, which she recalls with a recognizable longing in her eyes. And now she has embarked on a new role which excites her greatly, that of a chorist.
The 7-year conflict in Syria has left over 5 million Syrians no other choice but to flee their homes seeking shelter in neighbouring countries including Turkey, the largest host country of refugees worldwide. Mizgin’s family of 5 also left their home in Aleppo 3 years ago amid unceasing war and sought safety in Turkey.
Not long after they settled down in Istanbul, Mizgin found about the community centre funded by UNHCR in her neighbourhood, receiving counselling on a wide range of issues related to her rights as well as on access to assistance in Turkey. She also started attending various activities offered by the centre and that is how she was introduced to the Syrian Women’s Choir. “I have been attending several ateliers organized in the community centre. We have been holding woman solidarity groups. In the course of these, I was told about the women’s choir and asked if I would be interested in taking part.” says Mizgin.
Speaking with lively chats and hectic preparations of 19 women members of the Syrian Women’s Choir in the background in one of Istanbul’s oldest settlements on the Bosporus; Mizgin says “I am very excited ahead of this evening’s performance. I am very excited that we will sing alongside famous Syrian saxophonist Basel Rajoub”. The concert on 21 July marks the end of 24th Istanbul Jazz Festival organized by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts and hosted by Sakıp Sabancı Museum. More than 300 refugees living in İstanbul will also be among the audience through support of UNHCR and its partners.
Mizgin says every single Syrian has a unique story woven with pain and goes on to tell “Pain makes one stronger. The fact that I tightly hold on to life, I am full of joy is because I never let my hope wither away.” In an apparent expression of her pleasure to be part of the choir, she adds “Thanks to this choir, we have learned to transform the pain and suffering into a form allowing us to better express ourselves and communicate with the Turkish people.” When asked if she discovered her talent at singing through the choir, she playfully says “All Syrians are naturally good at singing.”
Reflecting upon her life in Aleppo, she, without any sparing a moment to think where to begin, starts telling about her profession. Talking about this adds a sparkle to her eyes. She tells “I worked as a teacher for 15 years. I was a primary school teacher, teaching from 1 to 6 grade.”
She utters these with a mix of longing and nostalgia and goes on to share a memory she recalls vividly. “One academic term, I was teaching math in a class with a very naughty student. He was getting low grades in other subjects. When he started getting high grades in maths, her mother came to speak to me, asking how I managed this. All I did was to give him a math problem to struggle to solve, instead of me trying to struggle to teach him. I was trying to raise his interest. Thereby, he could also get into a process of self-discovery.” Mizgin says she took part in some educational activities in the community centre, helping children with their studies and homework and adds, “I’d love to start teaching again.”
Knowing the change education can create in one’s life, Mizgin is very happy that her children can pursue their education in Turkey. Her 13-year-old daughter is attending 8th grade while her 10-year-old son is at 7 grand. The youngest one, a boy at his 6, is attending kindergarten. Contemplating on the future she dreams for her children, Mizgin says “I’d stand by them whatever they want be. The responsibility that falls upon my shoulders is to support them and help them to live the life they want.”
Mizgin is grateful that she crossed paths with the community centre and the women’s choir. She says both have played a great role in empowering her. “When we first arrived in Turkey as refugees, our hearts and minds were in pieces. Through this community centre, we went through this and achieved many things thanks to opportunities provided.” The community centre has opened new horizons and doors for many refugees like Mizgin, helping them to hold onto life. Her story bears witness to the need for more robust support to refugees and their host communities in healing the wounds of conflict and displacement and in helping them unlock their potential.