Syrian Women Train in Textiles to Sew a Better Future in Turkey


Celile Mustafa is one of many Syrian women who are all set for a better and more independent life after learning specialist textile skills in a Turkish refugee camp.

Celile, 23, had just completed her high school baccalaureate when the civil war broke out in Syria, forcing her to flee her home in Idlib, to find safety at the Öncüpınar Camp near the Turkish city of Kilis. “There were attacks on our village because of the war; that’s why we came,” Celile said.

But life at the camp has opened up unexpected possibilities for her.

Her new skills have been acquired through training courses offered by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and funded by the Government of Japan. And she can now use them to get work in the modern clothing factories of Turkey.

UNIDO offers two training courses to women living in the camp – pattern-making and machine operation. Celile is one of the few to have completed both. As part of the programmes, she attended daily courses to learn how to design garments and learn cutting and sewing techniques, including how to use the latest industrial sewing technology. “I had never imaged that I would learn such things in the camp,” Celile said. “I’m thrilled to get this opportunity because it would have not been possible for me in Syria.”

“It’s the right subject for me and I would love to continue learning about it,” she added.

Celile’s skills will also be recognized in November at the conclusion of a national design competition run by IHKIB, the Turkish textile exporters’ union, for an intricate fabric she embroidered with butterflies. It is a design, she said, that was symbolic of the lives of many Syrian women, who are trying to add colour to their circumstances in Turkey.

Turkey hosts nearly 3 million Syrian refugees, of which about 250,000 live in camps. Since January 2016, Syrians have had the right to work in Turkey, but many of them don’t have the professional skills to do so, until they take part in the UNIDO project.

“We train people who may not have worked at all in their lives,’’ said Özge Dursun, UNIDO Programme Coordinator in Turkey. “In the very beginning, we increase their dexterity by giving them simple exercises that increase hand-eye coordination, and by the end of two months’ training they will have learned how to operate the machinery and how to put together basic textile garments, and will have a good understanding of work in a factory. They will also have received a certificate from the Ministry of Education in Turkey.”

“We try to get them ready to start working in a factory immediately after they have finished the training,” she added.

UNIDO has trained 600 women and young people like Celile across three camps in southeastern Turkey, and by December 2016, it aims to have trained 1,000 Syrians in textile work to improve their employment prospects.

“People have to know how to use the machines and they have to be familiar with the materials,” said Omer Altin, President of the textile company Altinlar. “UNIDO has instructed people in these things.”

UNIDO’s expertise lies in bringing together different agencies to run projects that support industrial activity. In Turkey, UNIDO is working with three agencies: the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), which is responsible for camp management, the Turkish Ministry of National Education and IHKIB.

“I strongly believe that this course shows them that they can be successful in life,” said Seyfettin Çinem, an education manager who has managed camps in Turkey for many years. “I would really like to see more of this kind of training. It’s better to channel efforts into getting people skilled.”

The difference the training makes can be life-changing. “The feedback we get is incredibly positive,” Özge Dursun said. “The refugees are very eager to start working. Some of them want to start their own businesses and now they look at their future with a lot more confidence.”

With the help of its partners, UNIDO’s model can now be replicated at other sites to help people improve their lives.

Photographer & Videographer Credit: Yuko Narushima
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  • Sister zeph

    This is a great initiative actually this is exactly what we are doing at our center we teach women many skills so that they can earn and become empowered, we cannot dream of peace and equality until we empower women, and it is needed in every area of world, especially when it comes to refugees, I salute you for your great work 

  • Clarindi Greeff
    What we should aim to achieve within the Empower Women Sphere is to give skills rather than things, to teach values rather than lessons and to give each woman the opportunity to learn how to empower others, rather than developing her in isolation.

    This story is an excellent example of a program that empowers women to do exactly this. 

    My sincere wish is that each of these women can go out and teach these skills to others, who, like them can use this as a platform to gain much needed independance and to shift boundries that currently exist and it is merging the efforts of many companies in order to create a maximal effect. 
    • Lembie Mmereki
      You are very very right. I believe any measure of empowerment, upliftment or poverty eradication must be centres around skills development and training such that the beneficiaries are able to self sustain and not become 'charity case' forever dependent on hand outs. 
    1 of 1 Replies
  • Ogbeyalu Okoye
    Being independent is being economicalky empowerd. amazing work!
  • Joyce Kim
    I love UNIDO's training courses for the women living in the camp. I am sure the trainings will help these women to dream for the future. 
    Thank you for sharing. 
  • Dr Rejoice Shumba
    Interesting story Yuko. 

    Empowering people with skills is certainly better than giving them handouts of food and clothing. With the training that they have received, they can now be gainfully employed. 
  • Napogadi Morethe
    Tnis article isa vivid example that some troubles and set backs are actaully designed to empower one. I admire her because despite her circumstanes having turned gainst her she still rose up and empowered herself.  This is a true explantion of nothing has the power to break you
    • Wanyana Racheal
      I agree, Napogadi. Hardtimes often pave a way for new avenues to attain independence.  I am glad UNIDO was there to help these women realise their dreams amidst turmoil.
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