A UNDP project funded by Government of Japan and carried out in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports aims to provide training for employment and entrepreneurship and focused on social cohesion in Turkey among Turkish and Syrian youth.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project “Employability, Entrepreneurship, and Social Cohesion for Syrian and Turkish Youth in response to the Syria crisis” emerged as a solution to bring together Syrian refugee youth with their Turkish counterparts. The project is funded by Government of Japan and implemented in partnership with Turkey’s Ministry of Youth and Sports.
“We had been thinking of creating a project geared towards youth for a long time,” Syria Crisis Response and Resilience portfolio/projects coordinator Tugce Sogut tells TRT World in a phone interview. “Syrian and Turkish youth spend time together in schools already. We were wondering what we could do to strengthen their ties.”
The project would help with employment, as well as increasing their skills, and bring Syrian and Turkish youth together in social activities such as sports or volunteering. “We planned different activities that would bring cultures together,” she adds. Government of Japan funded the project with approximately $3 million, and UNDP Turkey was off to a start.
According to a UNDP news release, “Young people make up half of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees enjoying temporary protection in Turkey.” It is vital that they feel welcomed in the country, as well as find gainful employment or start up their own companies through entrepreneurial trainings, mentorship supports and in-kind grants.
In five centres across Turkey including Istanbul, Bursa, Ankara, Kocaeli and Sanliurfa, youth aged 15-29 came together to also do volunteer work. Sogut says that while the programme cutoff age is 29, UNDP has been known to accept slightly older candidates provided there’s a slot for them, not wanting to turn away anybody.
Ramzi Sulus, a 20-year old Syrian national, was a participant at the Bursa Yildirim Yunus Emre Youth Centre. “The training was very helpful, and we had a lot of fun,” he says. He adds that he is thankful to everyone involved in creating the workshops, as both Turkish and Syrian citizens learned a lot about each other. “Don’t get me wrong,” he confides, “but there is prejudice sometimes on both sides. This programme helped us overcome that, so I wish it were more widespread.”
Asmaa Alhelawani remembers planting roses in the Yunus Emre Youth Centre garden, making food and water containers for street animals, and attending a workshop on volunteer work. Like Ramzi Sulus, she too says she has learned to break through her prejudices.
One of the five centres in Turkey, in Istanbul’s Sultangazi neighbourhood, is led by Ali Osman Salli. He says that the centre provides education to Syrian and Turkish youth readying them for employment and entrepreneurship while strengthening their ties, supported by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in cooperation with UNDP.
“From planting trees and flowers to going camping in Tuzla Municipality Omer Halisdemir Youth Camp, we have arranged many activities for our participants with our youth leaders,” he says.
Salli adds that most of the Syrian refugees under temporary protection in Istanbul are of elementary school age, and their integration to Turkey will be greatly aided by programmes such as this.
Sogut says the first step was to provide training about information technologies to 200 young individuals – 100 Syrians and 100 Turkish citizens, under four different headings in five provinces. Then 30 Ministry of Youth and Sports youth centres in nine cities were equipped from top to bottom, setting up computer labs.
Moreover, a total of 406 youths participated in UNDP’s volunteering activities and seminar, including planting roses and trees, making food and water containers for street animals, painting a village school, setting up a library, visiting an animal shelter and feeding the animals there, Sogut advises.
“The series of volunteering activities ended up with an online seminar on ‘volunteering’ with participation of 120 youth from all over Turkey,” Sogut notes. “We wanted to see what we could do to bring Syrian and Turkish youth together, and also help society at the same time,” she adds.
Sogut says she learned very interesting factoids during her time with the Syrian youth. For example, she says, apparently there are no stray animals on the streets in Syria, and pets are rare. So one of our volunteers who attended the making food and water containers for street animals held a kitten in her lap for the first time, Sogut reminisces. “That was an interesting moment I will cherish,” she adds.
In addition to volunteer work UNDP also focuses on entrepreneurship. In five cities, 150 young people were trained for a week in how to run their own business, make a business plan, meet up with mentors, so that they can set up their own business or run it more efficiently. This programme is supported by a grant scheme for 70 people for up to 40,000 TL ($4,762).
Sogut says she was happy to hear that in Ankara, two disabled youths, one Syrian and one Turkish, decided that instead of working separately, chose to set up a collaborative effort.
The third aspect of the project is cohesion. This is carried out thanks to the youth centres, volunteer youth leaders and youth centre directors, chosen by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. There are youth centres in all of Turkey’s 81 provinces. They provide courses in sports, music, language learning and more with youth leaders making connections with participants. UNDP focused on social cohesion of young leaders in selected cities so that they can take over the programmes in youth centres in coming months.
“We support both Syrian and Turkish citizens in a 50-50 split,” Sogut emphasises. “We don’t want to leave anyone behind, and our projects are geared towards living together harmoniously.”