UNWomen: In the words of Meltem Akkaya: ”It is important to get to know each other because our prejudice may turn out to be wrong”

Photo: Tayfun Yılmaz/UN Women
Photo: Tayfun Yılmaz/UN Women

Akkaya is a Turkish woman attending courses at UN Women’s SADA Women Empowerment and Solidarity Centre in Gaziantep in the southeast of Turkey. Co-financed by the European Union and the Government of Japan, and run in partnership with Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality, Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants, and International Labour Organisation, the center offers livelihood, psycho-social, referral and vocational training for both refugee and local women. Akkaya spoke to UN Women about how her experience at the Center helped strengthen social cohesion and solidarity in her community.

“Before coming to the SADA Centre, I had little time for myself and my own personal growth. I had few chances to leave my home as I was busy raising three sons and doing chores. I also had a negative image of Syrians and never greeted them even though they were living in my neighborhood.

That has completely changed after coming to the SADA Centre. I attended a tailoring course for four months together with Syrian women where I enhanced my skills. I met Syrian women face-to-face. We began talking to each other and I listened to their problems. I found many things in common between us. Now, I fully understand what drove them to my town.

I had wrongly thought that all their food smelled bad because of a special spice. But now I love their food. We offer tea and handmade cakes to each other and have a really good time together. I have learned how we can support each other.

After taking the course, I became more confident and now I have a dream to work. I am also planning to apply for a two-year college program on childcare. SADA not only raised my self-esteem, but also helped me break my prejudice against Syrian refugees.

One day, I said “hello” to a Syrian woman in my neighborhood that I had never spoken to. I cannot tell you how delighted she was. She smiled and offered me a cup of coffee. I also began buying clothes and food from shops run by Syrians and I try to communicate with them using gestures.

Activities and support provided at the SADA center can strengthen the bond between refugee and local communities. It is very important that we try to get to know each other because our prejudice may turn out to be wrong.”

*The SADA Women Empowerment and Solidarity Center operates under the “Strengthening the Resilience of Syrian Women and Girls and Host Communities in Turkey” Project, co-financed by the European Union and the Government of Japan.