How learning a language changed the life of a young Syrian woman

An ordinary day for Alaa Mustafa starts at 6 am when she gets prepared to go to work at Psychological Counselling Center of the Harran University Hospital in Şanlıurfa, Turkey. Alaa, 29, works as the sole Arabic translator and helps over 20 patients daily to express themselves in either with words or artisanry, whose tools such as sewing, string art or drawing are regularly used in the center.

She flees war to neighboring country Turkey seven years ago, like many other Syrians. As the crisis enters its ninth year, the country protects its unique situation, it currently hosts more refugees than any other country in the world, with over 3,6 million Syrians like Alaa. The situation continues to drive the largest refugee crisis in the world. There are over 5,6 million Syrian refugees and up to 3,9 million impacted members of host communities in the neighboring countries. Turkey with cities like Şanlıurfa where Alaa lives, happened to be in the hot seat due to its geographic proximity to Syria. With the influx from the south, Turkey is faced with the massive challenges of accommodating newcomers while keeping the local economy afloat and maintaining living standards for citizens. The dynamics continuously change: one in 5 people is Syrian in Şanlıurfa, where Alaa lives. The Syrian population in the city is over 443,000.


Self-Reliance With Job and Language Trainings

When the war turned to ravage Syria at full scale, Alaa had obtained her university degree in Arabic Language and Literature short while ago in Rakka and started to work as a teacher in a small village nearby. She could work in her loved profession for only a month and headed to Şanlıurfa with her family.

“We had to start from scratch like many others here. I understood that the first and most essential way to do this was learning the language while I had to take my mother to the hospital and had problems of communication. My Turkish friends both helped and laughed at me in my first days while I was trying to learn. But I never gave up trying”.

Alaa started off learning her first words in the Harran University Research and Application Hospital, where she had to take her mother, who is a dialysis patient. Meanwhile she figured out the critical complications of communication between Syrian patients and the doctors at the hospital where 260 Syrian patients in average seek medical care and support every month. This has been another catalyst for her motivation to learn Turkish at the highest possible speed and capacity.

She then applied for Turkish language and medical secretary training courses provided in Harran University Continuous Education and Implementation Center (GAPTAEM) by UNDP, in cooperation with GAP Regional Development Administration with the financial support of the Government of Japan. The Strengthening Social Stability in Southeast Region Project was carried out for 2 years under the Syria Crisis Response and Resilience Programme. Assisting key public institutions for enhancing self-sufficiency of Syrians and locals is the key for UNDP’s work for keeping sustainable economies while enabling better employment standards for all.

Job training goes a long way to creating resilience for refugees and the local communities that host them. The Programme provided for 8,814 Syrians and locals trainings in industries with high potential for job creation. A total of 11,285 Syrians and host community members participated in the basic life skills trainings so far and by 2020, it is expected that 52,000 Syrians will learn Turkish language and 4,000 more jobs will be created for refugees and host community members thanks to the financial support of the European Union.


Professional and Social Empowerment Come Together

“The most powerful learning comes from doing. I loved Turkish language, tried to speak with my Turkish friends all the time, never felt ashamed of making mistakes, worked hard and finally made it. Despite the challenges of starting a new life in a new country, I believed that there is and will always be support for those who are seeking for it” says Alaa.

After the training Alaa attended, she started to work as the only Arabic translator in Harran University Research and Application Hospital, where she used to take her mother for treatment every day. She kept on working in the health sector as a translator and “felt at ease thanks to the blessings of the patients whom she helps every day”, as she puts.

The trainings provided by UNDP do not only provide theory. Trainees can also gain real work experiences in the most demanded fields of work within the city they live in. Alaa was one of these trainees who were empowered with both a skill set and key motivation and self-confidence to build new lives for a better future.

Alaa is now married to a Turkish young man and lives happily in her new home in Şanlıurfa. She still keeps on dreaming of working in her own profession as an Arabic literature teacher and expresses her feelings with the following words, smiling with her eyes: “I want to work in my own profession so much, I still work hard and God willing it will come true one day. I love Turkey. I will travel to each and every corner. I now feel that I belong to this country because I believe that we can be stronger together.”

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