Life as a refugee

Ingredients of a small success

Sugar, flour, eggs, baking soda and butter are the main ingredients you need to make cakes, but it takes magic hands to make them delicious.

Updated 04 Jan 2022

Ingredients of a small success

Ingredients of a small success

A simple kitchen

A small house in the suburbs of Antakya, a city near the Turkish Syrian borders, smells of freshly made desserts. The closer you get, the more you crave to have a bite of them. You enter the house and find a simple home kitchen with a couple of cakes and some sweets ready to be boxed and sent to the clients.

Sena is a professional pastry chef, but she doesn’t have her own shop yet.

She grew up in Lattakia, Syria with a father who owned a pastry shop in their small town. Since she was 12, she was her father’s little assistant.

“We had no brothers and my father relied on us,” she said.

“He got us involved in the shop to teach us how to be responsible.”

The daughters worked preparing desserts while the father worked distributing their products. “We were a team,” she said.

She had to stop working in that shop after she got married and had her first baby. In 2012, the war made her move to Turkey with her husband, children and mother-in-law . They started work harvesting olives in Reyhanli.

“It wasn’t easy, but my husband and I needed money to support our children.”

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New flavours

They moved to Antakya later where her husband started working as a tailor, but it wasn’t enough. “I wanted to work but I realized that my mother-in-law was getting old and unable to take care of my children anymore.”

The family struggled to cover their basic needs. Sena wanted her children to practice their normal life like any other children and go to school.

“I wouldn’t send them to work,” she said. “I wanted them to focus on their education.”

They had to borrow some money because their income was so low. She started thinking of ways to support the family without leaving her children. She had an idea of starting her own business from home. She began making some sweets for the people who knew her, but it wasn’t enough.

“I lacked many tools I needed for my business and I could not afford any because we were already in debt.”

One day, she heard from her friends about the home based business (HBB) project under the Danish Refugee Council (DRC). Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through KFW- German Development Bank, the project provided tools and assets to skilled refugees who are unable to enter the job market to start their microenterprises and have their own income.

Sena applied for the project and got accepted. DRC provided her with pastry tools such as a cake oven, a scale, a pastry blender and spatulas. Those tools made a big difference in her work. She is now able to increase her productivity and have more variety in her products.

“I am happy that I am finally able to invest my experience,” she said. “People ask for certain shapes and flavors, which inspires me to create new types of desserts that exceed the customers’ expectations. This is helping me get more clients.”

She turns on her phone and proudly shows pictures of her products. She shows me desserts with flavors of chocolate, lemon, vanilla and other mouth-watering choices. Some are covered with whipped cream, some with caramel, and others with cinnamon powder or icing.

“I do my research on the internet,” she said.

“I love finding new flavors and shapes. I even discovered there are some that are not available in Turkey. I will need more tools for them but I want to be the first in Turkey to make them.”

Sena and husband are slowly repaying their debts. She is productive now and planning to open her own store in the future. The tools DRC provided her with are the first stepping stone for that as they are one of the ingredients of her success. There are more people like Sena who are waiting for an opportunity like hers to invest their skills and create their own flavor of success.

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