The Challenges for Syrian Youth in Turkey

Reema Hibrawi

June 27, 2017

As Syrian refugees continue to leave Syria and find refuge in neighboring countries or further abroad, some for three or four years, the struggles continue. For most, challenges arise in countries with different languages, laws, regulations, and customs such as in Turkey. Some international non-profits are adapting to fit this need such as the Karam Foundation, while navigating more restrictive laws and regulations for non-profits in Turkey. The Karam Foundation, a US based non-profit, is run by Syrian-Americans dedicated towards serving the needs of people affected by conflict and helping to eliminate barriers by developing programs in education, entrepreneurship, and sustainable aid.

With its new initiative, 'Karam House' in Reyhanli, Turkey; this project aims to continue programs to serve the needs of the local Syrian refugee population consistently and beyond yearly mission workshops on the ground. The Salam school in Reyhanli, Turkey hosted the Karam Foundation from 2013-2016 and the school children attended various workshops organized by the non-profit. Workshops focused on developing skills, creating positive outlets for stress, and encouraging passions for future career paths.

Here are a few of their stories.

Assiya is seventeen years old and wants to become a surgeon. "No, no, not a nurse," she insists, "I am ambitious! I want to be in the operation room where all the real action takes place," she explains. Her heart, she says, is "a very brave one," and her "tough nature," makes her the perfect person to handle "serious wounds and injuries." She has taken on the responsibility of pulling out her sibling's loose baby teeth whenever her mother is unable to handle the task.
When Karam Foundation first met quiet sixteen year old Moustapha, a Syrian refugee from Houla, they never expected such a humble and bright mind. He was nicknamed the next Steve Jobs. At the time, Moustapha taught a group of 5th graders how to code in the Salam School basement when the Karam team first met him. Moustapha had not been in school for two years due to the conflict in his hometown. He persevered and bought books online to teach himself English; his favorite subject after computers. He wants to build and design games and software that will help people. Unlike most his age, he doesn't believe in social media - and doesn't have a Facebook account and reasons that there's so much more he can do with his time. He explains that if his friends really want to see him, they can meet him in person which is much better anyways.
Abdullah is an eighteen year old Syrian refugee with noble goals. “Most people dream of becoming doctors but I don't have the strength to do autopsies. I want to become a journalist or study law. I want rather be a lawyer, and not a judge because I am afraid that I might be unjust with someone. Ultimately, I always dreamed of visiting Turkey, but I never thought I would under such circumstances.”
Judy describes leaving Syria and how her life was interrupted. "We were packing to head to our summer house. That day the shelling was very heavy and by the time we were ready to leave, it started pouring on our neighborhood continuously. So we quickly left and somehow managed to miraculously survive. We never made it to our summer house, and had to keep moving from city to city. We would stay in one place for awhile, but then bombing would start again, and we would have to leave. We went to many places, until we finally left Syria and came here. I hate the fact that we never really said goodbye. If I knew that we are going to be gone for more than just a summer, I would have packed some more. I would have taken a moment to say a little goodbye. It's been almost two years. I wish I have pictures of my house, I really want to show it to you. I don't know if my home is still there or if it got bombed. Do you think my toys and clothes are still there?"
Mahmoud is a seventeen year old student at Salam school and is struggling due to the interruption of his studies by the conflict like so many other children. "I was forced to drop out of school because of what happened in Syria, but now I am studying at a school in Turkey. I am older than all my classmates. This is challenging for me, but I am very confident and determined. I want to study law, like my uncle, he was a law student, but was killed in Syria. My mother and brothers are in a refugee camp, but I had to leave them to continue my education. I am happy with my decision, but I am very sad to be away from my mother. I just want to make her proud; I also want to be independent someday and marry the girl I love. She is sixteen, mature, and very wise. She escaped Syria with her family to Jordan, and we are now separated."

Skill Based Programs

One of Karam's previous programs sent volunteers on quarterly missions to lead art, health, sport, and wellness workshops in Turkey. As the programs evolved, it became clear that quarterly missions were not enough. The idea for Karam House was built as a space to host workshops and classes year round for Syrian children to maintain and further develop their skills, as well as to find a healthy and creative outlet for the trauma and stress children deal with daily.

Karam House is meant as an investment in Syria's youth to provide inspiration, innovation, and technology to thousands of Syrian refugee children who have been left with no hope or competitive skills to build a future for themselves. The focus is on mobility to help Syrian refugee children learn cutting-edge skills for specific career tracks and move beyond their circumstances by learning entrepreneurship, technology, 3D digital design and fabrication, graphic design, journalism, and the English & Turkish language.

—Karam Foundation

Due to Karam workshops, some students gained part-time employment by utilizing skills learned in journalism classes and publishing in local and international newspapers. Additionally, Turkish language courses also supported Syrian high schools students in obtaining scholarships to attend universities across Turkey. It is clear that many of the workshops have immediate results and successes for the students involved. The continued investment in Syrian refugee children in Turkey remains an important issue in contributing to the Turkish economy as well as lifting families out of poverty. Many refugees in Turkey lack the means to secure jobs or education because of the language barrier and the limitations of the guest system in place. With non-profits like Karam Foundation continuing to put in the work to engage Syrian youth, it allows Syrians to define themselves not by the conflict, but by their ability to rise above their challenges to create a better future for themselves and their families, along with much needed support.

Karam Foundation Innovative Education, Fall 2015 at Syrian Refugees at Ruwwad school in Reyhanli, Turkey.
High school boys learn how to play chess in the summer of 2014.
High school girls learning to code raspberry pi and other computer skills workshops in November 2014. All photos published with permission by the Karam Foundation.