Fatima and Zahed escaped Syria to Turkey in the fall of 2014, after war destroyed their homes in Kobane, Syria. Zahed, 34, had been a primary school teacher in Kobane. Fatima, 28, was also interested in teaching. “I was in my first year at the University of Aleppo, and working part-time in a school.” The war interrupted her plans.
Today, Fatima and Zahed serve as information volunteers with CARE International in Turkey, a programme funded by the European Commission. As part of their voluntary service, Fatima and Zahed visit other Syrian refugees in the community, providing information on topics including psychosocial support, early marriage, child labour, family planning, and gender-based violence. Zahed, an assistant trainer in the programme, says the psychosocial support training has been particularly helpful for families struggling with new circumstances.
“The idea is to encourage people to speak out and not hold all of their emotions inside. We encourage them to share their feelings,” he explains. “There are tensions within families, between relatives, or spouses – there are a lot, due to what they have been through.”
Being uprooted from their homes, forced to flee, and living as refugees in a different country brings many new stresses for families. People lack income, safe shelter, food and medicine. Women and men’s roles have changed, and it is hard to know when the conflict will end. “Some Syrians came with many relatives and have a ready-made social network around them,” Zahed says. “But others didn’t.” These families can benefit the most from CARE’s sessions, he adds.
“Through CARE and the information volunteer programme, we try to help build increased social networks for people who didn’t come with others. This helps people transition into a normal routine. It can make such a difference,” the trainer says.
“After we fled to Turkey, I was more isolated. I didn’t want to be around people. I waited for guests to leave and I didn’t want to go out,” Fatima explains. “But becoming an information volunteer changed me a lot. When we go to families, we share our experiences, what we have been through. We have faced many of the same challenges.”
“In sharing these messages with others, I was able to retrieve who I once was. I was better able to go out and socialize again. On a personal level, I was able to change,” Fatima says.
The information volunteer programme, supported by the European Commission, has trained over 100 volunteers since beginning in December 2014, and has included over 7 000 Syrians, educating families through protection activities in their respective communities in southern Turkey.