Garden of hope

Finding enough food to eat is a major challenge for many Syrian refugees, but a new experimental initiative is offering them and their families a sustainable source of food in Kirikhan on Turkey's Syrian border

Updated Feb 6, 2016

It takes four months for the seeds to grow. Four months of hard work, prayers, sleepless nights and anguish over a good harvest.

Mohammed Hamandi has been working his field hard after struggling to find a stable job and feed his family. It was late December and the shoots on his field were a visible green when we visited him at his one bedroom house on the Turkey-Syria border.

Hamandi’s four-year-old son Amer was running around the vegetable garden, unaware of the financial troubles faced by his chain-smoking father.

"We planted spinach, fava beans, lettuce and scallion," said Hamandi. He had been a farmer in his native Hama when the war began. After spending a year and a half in refugee camps in Lebanon the family moved to Kirikhan in Turkey.

"Our situation is very bad. We can’t afford food. We can’t afford bread," said Hamandi, who hasn’t found stable work since moving his family to Turkey.

"Food security is a major concern for Syrian refugees," said Secil Kuyurcak who works for "Support for Life," an NGO that helps refugees in need. 

She told TRT World that despite the abundance of humanitarian aid, most help doesn’t reach refugees as they live outside camps.

An estimated 85 percent of the 2.2 million Syrians living as refugees in Turkey live outside camps. Even then refugees are entitled to receive food stamps, "but aid handouts rarely meet their food needs," said Kuyurcak.

Hamandi’s family is one of five Syrian families taking part in the first phase of a food security initiative started by Support for Life – where the NGO supplies seeds to needy families to start a vegetable garden in their backyards.

"The aim of this project is to teach the Syrian refugees to grow edible vegetables in their own locations to meet their daily demands," said Tamer Sermanli, a professor at the horticulture department of Mustafa Kemal University in Hatay and a consultant on the project.

"They grow these crops in their backyards, so it doesn’t take much space," said Sermanli. 

Mamoun al Shaikh’s family is also taking part in the vegetable garden project. The sixty-five year old had been a police officer in Hama Province when the war started in 2011. It was then that Al Shaikh decided to move his family to Turkey.

Al Shaikh’s eldest son was killed after being electrocuted when on the job in Turkey. "He was working as a painter on a construction site, when he hit the exposed wires," al Shaikh told us.

Mamoun al Shaikh’s financial troubles worsened further when his younger son was unable to find stable work.

When we met Mamoun, he was busy cleaning his garden. "Put your back into it," said Mamoun’s wife with a smile on her face. "May God give you the strength," she continued.

"If the harvest is good, I will not need to buy groceries from the market, at least this will help me a little bit," said al Shaikh.

"The project has faced some hurdles," said Secil Kuyurcak from Support for Life. "The refugees don’t have any landownership rights, so there is always the possibility that their landlords will kick them out close to harvest," she explained. 

"This is one thing the Turkish government can help with, by giving the refugees land to grow their vegetables on."

"Come here you shaitan [devil]," shouted Mohammed Hamandi to his youngest son Amer. Amer had scooped up a handful of dirt from the vegetable garden and was throwing it on his father and brother.

"He’s a very bright child" said Secil, "but the priority for this family right now is to have all hands earning money - not holding school books and reading - for survival," she said.

 AUTHORS: Ali MustafaOguz Eser, Mehmet Faruk Yuce