This story is a part of the "Stories of Creativity and Resilience" book, which is a poignant, personal, and hopeful tale of refugees in Türkiye; a moving account of their dreams and aspirations and a demonstration of their resilience in spite of the adverse circumstances they live in.
For refugees uprooted by war, using their artistic talents and creative skills is a great way to feel included and protected. Through our livelihood interventions, we wanted to give artists, craftsmen and artisans a chance to use their talents to generate income and to support them to develop professionally to demonstrate the transformative power of creativity and craftsmanship.
The Danish Refugee Council’s Economic Recovery programming aims to help refugees establish sustainable sources of income to enable them to live a more dignified life during their displacement. We believe that by supporting them to improve their ability to pursue and achieve sustainable livelihoods, they can minimise their vulnerability to any future shocks related to their displacement.
Our wage and self-employment interventions help build a stronger economic foundation at individual and household levels promoting self-reliance, increasing access to inclusive economic growth and contributing to local integration as a durable solution to displacement.
In our interventions, we also include members of the Turkish host community who have been affected by displacement, pandemic, and economic recession.
These stories represent only a fraction of the large number of socio-economically vulnerable members of the refugee and host communities who need support to access income generation opportunities and achieve self-reliance and resilience. We hope to reach more of them in collaboration with our donors, partners, Turkish government entities, and private sector allies.
Stories of Creativity and Resilience
“I had to start from zero,”
Sixty-five may be the retirement age for most people but it was a new start for Muneer, a refugee from Idleb, Syria. Since he was a child, his teacher recognized his artistic talent and encouraged him to pursue it. He studied art at Damascus University before moving back to Idleb, working as an art teacher and having his own art studio. He fell in love with the Damascene painting, also known as Ajami.
It is a type of decoration based on rhythmic linear patterns of geometrical shapes, which include illustrations of plants. This type of art is used mainly in old houses and museums in Damascus, Syria. “I forget about time when I do this type of painting because I enjoy it very much,” says Muneer.
Sadly, the conflict in Idleb in 2017 forced him and his family to seek refuge in Hatay, Türkiye.
“I had to start from zero,” he says. He could not find a job because employers considered him to be “too old”. He also tried to work in his field of profession, but he could not do so.
“The materials I needed such as large canvas, oil colors, brushes, copper and gold paper and painting materials are much more expensive here than in Syria,” he says.
As a result, he had to use very basic tools and materials and the quality of his work was not the same. He felt frustrated because he could not show his true skills.
Building a customer base was another challenge. He lived in an area where there were not many people who would purchase his art work. He did not know how to reach potential buyers. He felt down because he could not pay the rent and did not know how to make a living until he heard about the Danish Refugee Council’s (DRC) Productive Asset Support (PAS).
“I had to start from zero”
PAS is an intervention under DRC’s BRIDGES programme, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through KFW-German Development Bank. The intervention aims to provide skilled refugees with the tools and equipment they need to start their own business and earn an income.
Muneer applied for PAS and was admitted to business management training delivered by DRC’s partner Orange – a prerequisite to receiving PAS. Upon successfully completing the training and submitting his business plan, Muneer was selected to receive PAS, which, in his case, consisted of painting tools and materials. Finally, he could express his talent and skills fully. He began creating different paintings on canvas, glass and wood and promoting his products on social media based on what he learned in the trainings. Muneer’s paintings attracted a lot of attention.
“I love the Damascene painting because people can enjoy it without the need to analyze it,” he says. “I also want to introduce the Syrian art to the Turkish audience. I am now confident that I can do it.”
It did not stop there for Muneer. DRC held a product fair in Altınözü, Hatay, where entrepreneurs supported under the BRIDGES programme were able to showcase their products to the public and potential clients. Muneer’s work caught many people’s attention because it was new to them. Furthermore, with e-marketing methods he learned during the business training, he started using Facebook to promote his work and reach more customers.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. DRC gave me the opportunity to take the first step towards opening my own gallery in the future. I know it will take time and money but I am sure I will be able to do it.”