Can Eminoğlu | 15 December 2020
This is the story of Leyla, a strong refugee woman from Syria. With the help of the Human Resource Development Foundation (HRDF), Leyla felt more empowered as a woman in Turkey and now, she is helping other female refugees lead more empowered lives. UNHCR works closely with HRDF – one of its key implementing partners – to carry out protection activities for refugees with funding from EU Humanitarian Aid and other donor contributions.
Leyla is a 43-year-old Syrian refugee from Aleppo, now living in Istanbul with her four children. She regularly attends activities at , which is supported by UNHCR. “I first heard about HRDF from my neighbours,” she remembers. “My initial aim was to receive more information from them on resettlement. When I approached HRDF for the first time, I learnt that they offered a wide spectrum of other activities to refugees, including counselling. That moment has changed my life.” When she arrived in Istanbul, Leyla was in need of psychosocial support to help her deal with the traumatic experience of fleeing war and leaving everything behind.
Leyla was also eager to learn Turkish and know more about the new place she was living in to make her daily life a bit easier. “When I went to the HRDF centre for the second time and asked for help, I was given a long list of activities, such as language courses and workshops, in addition to the psychosocial support that I was receiving. I started by enrolling in Turkish language courses. This was one of the best beginnings of my new life.” Leyla attended the language courses with full motivation. Throughout this period, she made new friends from the refugee community and the HRDF staff. “HRDF encouraged me to continue to pursue other activities, besides the Turkish language classes and the psychosocial counselling that I was receiving. This included workshops on women’s empowerment, as well as courses on arts, music and literature. Their encouragement gave me the energy to become a new and better me.” For some of these activities, she brought her children along, which did not only help them extend their social network but was also entertaining for them.
“Their encouragement gave me the energy to become a new and better me.”
Writing has helped Leyla through her recovery process. “I have been writing poems since my childhood, which really helps refresh my mind and gives me a moment of peace and reflection,” she explains. Together with her friends from other refugee communities, she even wrote a book, each chapter describing the personal stories of refugees from different countries living in Turkey. The book has been quite successful since its publication: it was translated into four languages and reached members of both the refugee and host communities.
The women’s empowerment workshops have played a significant role in Leyla’s life. In the sessions, she learnt about gender equality, women’s rights, refugee rights, and the services available to them. “Thanks to these activities, I was able to get to know myself better, I started to think about my future and how to manage my life.” Throughout this process, she also benefitted from the support of the psychologists at the centre. “When I first arrived in Turkey, I was a strong woman on the inside. With the support of HRDF, I also learnt to be a strong woman on the outside. Now, I am powerful enough to pursue my dreams.”
Today, Leyla feels like she is a part of the HRDF centre that she is attending. Currently, she is participating in HRDF’s Training of Trainers (ToT) programme, so she can support other refugee women. She can’t wait for her classes to start and has already prepared the curriculum. . “It makes me really happy to empower other women by helping them to identify their strengths. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, I decided that this was the moment to help more women, by informing them about the meaning of gender equality and what rights they have in Turkey. This, in my opinion, will help them become more independent – and more powerful.”
“When I first arrived in Turkey, I was a strong woman on the inside. With the support of HRDF, I also learnt to be a strong woman on the outside.”
Leyla is hopeful about her future. She wants her children to receive a good education so they can follow their dreams. This is why she helps them with their school projects and encourages them to attend activities at the HRDF centre to further explore their skills. In their free time, she takes them to bookstores in Istanbul, where they can read and socialize with members of the host and refugee communities.
Going ahead, Leyla wants to inspire more refugee women, which gives her the strength to continue to be active in the host and refugee communities. “HRDF has made me realize who I really am. By becoming a part of HRDF’s work, I will be able to provide other women with the same support I benefitted from. This way, I can help make their world a better place, one step at a time.”