“I named my shop PenTool because it is the name of the most difficult graphic design and illustration tool, and I wanted everybody to know that I can do the most difficult things,” proudly explains Qamar, a 32-year-old Syrian woman from Aleppo, now living in Şanlıurfa, Turkey. She opened her shop – the first and only such shop in the neighbourhood – only four months ago where she is currently the only employee, but “PenTool” has already become a popular place for Turkish and Syrian neighbours and those coming from other districts of Şanlıurfa.
Qamar, a mother of two, arrived in Turkey with her family in the wintry January of 2018. Before the conflict started in Syria, she was pursuing her studies in Law and looking forward to obtaining her master’s degree at the University of Aleppo to become a Law teacher. Just like millions of other Syrians, the conflict abruptly suspended Qamar’s dream and left her with no choice but to quit her studies.
Over the years of the conflict, Qamar’s family continued to refuse to relocate from Old Aleppo, until late 2017 when the attacks intensified to the extent that they no longer felt safe in their house. At that moment, they took the hardest decision of their lives: They packed their most treasured belongings and left the neighbourhood only minutes before their house was bombarded. Qamar’s family sought refuge in Turkey. Soon after their arrival, they were granted temporary protection status by the Turkish authorities and were able to find a safe, second home in Şanlıurfa.
“I want to return to Aleppo. But I also love Şanlıurfa because I have started a new life here”, says a smiling Qamar.
Qamar brought with her to Şanlıurfa her persevering curiosity. Thanks to the support of a local non-governmental organization called Avaz, she could attend a vocational course in robotic coding and graphic design, thus discovering her creative artistic side. The course that Qamar completed had Turkish students as well, which helped her to socialize with the community. Initially, she created an account on Instagram to showcase her designs, attracting followers and potential customers. She then enrolled in an online entrepreneurship course to learn how to develop her own business plan.
The opportunity to transform the plan into a real business was given to her in the form of a grant from the Turkish INGEV Foundation that gives grants to run projects of individuals from host and refugee communities through their Entrepreneurship Support Centre, which helped her acquire the basic furniture and the initial items to open her own gift shop.
“Since the opening, my revenue has doubled in only one month!”, says Qamar. “I am so grateful and happy that my income contributes to cover the life expenses for my family. It is so important to have a job. Having a regular income also helps me pay for my studies.”
With the support of her shop, Qamar can go back to pursuing her dream of becoming a Law teacher. She is currently resuming her Islamic Law studies at the University Harran. By analyzing the issue of forced displacement in Islamic Law and Western legal systems in her thesis for the master’s degree, she is trying to give voice to the suffering of many families like hers, who had to leave everything behind to seek refuge and safety.
Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide, with over 4 million refugees and asylum- seekers. Qamar and her family are part of over 3.7 million Syrians in the country. Thanks to the assistance of our donors such as Germany and the United States, UNHCR Turkey works closely with state institutions at central and local levels, supporting partner programmes that strengthen the services provided to both the refugee and host community.