Sewing skills, language classes and friendship – inside Ankara’s lifeline for Syrians forced to flee

By Caroline Haga, IFRC and Gökhan Timurhan, Turkish Red Crescent

A network of community centres run by the Turkish Red Crescent across Turkey are providing a lifeline to tens of thousands of Syrians who have been forced to flee the war-torn country in search of safety. The community centre in Ankara provides an important meeting point for Syrians in the area, a place where they can get information and help, and a chance for both children and adults to learn new skills. 

Meet some of the community centre’s visitors below.

Ayham

“We were trapped in the house with my ten-year-old disabled son Ayham,” says his mother Maria Huseyin, 37. “After we visited the Turkish Red Crescent’s community centre, my three other children have been registered for school with the help of the staff.  We also got a medical certificate for Ayham and he is now being helped by the social services. Our life is so much better now.”

Noora

“We had to flee Aleppo when a car bomb exploded right outside the apartment building we were living in. The whole house was destroyed,” 25-year-old Noora explained. She has lived in Ankara for six months with her husband Mohammed, three-year-old daughter Besme and her in-laws.

“I visited this centre for the first time a couple of days ago when my cousins were taking a tailoring class and I really liked it so I decided to enrol too,” she said. She has now signed up for a craft course while her daughter is looked after by the centre’s childcare staff.

“After this I’ll go and visit the hairdressing class so that they can make me pretty,” she said.

Mohammed

The war in Syria has already cost Mohammed so much. The 17-year-old’s family was killed by a bomb.  The same attack also saw him lose a foot.

Mohammed made it to safety in Turkey and he now lives with his uncle in Ankara. He is able to move around on crutches and a specially designed shoe but hopes to one day receive a prosthetic and be able to fully walk again.

“My dream is for my foot to be treated and then to be able to get a good education,” he said. The community centre is a life line for Mohammed – he visits almost every day to meet the new friends he has made there.

Betul

“Before I came to the centre I only had one friend in the neighbourhood where we are living but now I have many,” 27-year-old Betul said, as she sat knitting a scarf to keep her warm this winter.

“Four months ago, I started to learn Turkish at the centre and have now finished the first level. But it’s so nice here that I didn’t want to give it up so I decided to start learning handicrafts.” Betul’s children – eight-year-old Mohammed Noor and six-year-old Fatma Zehra, also enjoy spending time at the centre when they are not in school.

Although she’s settling in to life in Turkey, Betul’s only hope is to be able to go home to Syria and see her family again. “My parents, sisters and brothers are still stranded in Aleppo. I hope that one day we’ll be able to return safely.”

The Turkish Red Crescent’s Community Centre network

A network of community centres, run by the Turkish Red Crescent and financially supported by the EU’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), across Turkey are providing a lifeline to tens of thousands of Syrians who have been forced to flee the war-torn country in search of safety. More than 73,000 people have been supported by the seven centres across Sanliurfa, Konya, Ankara, İstanbul, Kilis and Bursa. A further nine centres are planned for the near future. 

The centres provide a sanctuary for children and adults in urban areas. They offer Turkish language lessons, psychological support and therapy sessions, children’s activities, information about rights and benefits and referrals to services like health and social care.

One of the main services at the centres is vocational training – classes and courses designed to give people the chance to develop fresh skills and boost their chances of finding work. Training includes language, craftwork, IT and computer skills, sewing, hairdressing and first aid.