Syria

Fighting for Hope in the Time of COVID-19

A refugee woman works hard to provide for her family while coping with the outcomes of a global pandemic.

As we enter the new year, the world is still struggling with the second wave of COVID-19. Governments around the world, including in Turkey, are trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus by imposing restrictions. Meanwhile, many people fear losing their jobs, which is particularly the case for small businesses that have been severely affected by the pandemic. Many small businesses have either had to shut down or are struggling to survive in the current climate. However, many are still working hard and hoping they would be able to overcome this difficult time.

Zubayda is one of those people. She owns a small clothing store in Hatay, Turkey. While the shop may not attract your attention when you pass by, it is Zubayda’s baby and she and her husband have had to work hard to see their dream come true. The family fled the conflict in Syria in 2015 to seek asylum in Turkey. Back in Idlib in Syria, Zubayda used to be a housewife while her husband worked in a clothing shop. "I was spoiled at that time," she smiled. "I completely relied on my husband in everything, but the situation changed when the conflict began. We had to start from scratch in Hatay. At that point, I realised that I should adapt to the new situation," she added.

Everything was hard for the family: a new country, a new language, and new challenges. Zubayda’s husband, Imad, had to work in construction jobs before they were able to open their store in 2019. "We had to save every penny to be able to open that small shop,” she said. “It was not easy. We did not know the legal regulations, had limited money and the products we offered were not enough to compete with other shops, but we had to go on," she said.

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"We had to start from scratch in Hatay. At that point, I realised that I should adapt to the new situation,"

Zubayda and her husband worked different shifts running the shop to keep it going until the end of 2019, which marked a changing point. They heard about the entrepreneurship grant offered by the Danish Refugee Council’s (DRC) business development center in Hatay run in partnership with ABIGEM. The center, funded by the Federal Republic of Germany (BMZ) through KFW Development Bank and the Danish International Development Agency (Danida), helps create and grow micro, small, and medium enterprises by skilled or experienced refugee and host communities and builds their capacity to increase employment opportunities in Hatay.

Zubayda's husband signed up immediately for the project. He was interviewed and got admitted to the trainings since he had the experience and the shop needed to have a stronger base. To help his wife, Imad suggested for Zubayda to take the course instead as she had been taking part in running the shop. He wanted to focus on his construction work and let her focus on the store. "I was a bit hesitant at first because I was not sure I could do it on my own, but I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone," she said.

Zubayda received trainings in project development and e-marketing. "The trainings taught me risk assessment and business planning in addition to the use of the internet for marketing. I did not know any of that before," she added.

After submitting her business plan and receiving the grant, she moved to a bigger shop and got a legal permission. The grant included a capital to buy the products she needed for her shop at the beginning of winter. It was also the time when the pandemic reached Turkey and a nationwide lockdown was imposed. Many small businesses and shops were closed due to the economic recession. Still, Zubayda and her husband worked together for their shop. With her theoretical knowledge and his practical experience, Zubayda learned how to deal with resellers and choose the best products. They were a good team and their shop survived.

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We had to save every penny to be able to open that small shop. It was not easy. We did not know the legal regulations, had limited money and the products we offered were not enough to compete with other shops, but we had to go on.

"I received the grant at the right time," she said. "It helped us start strong in winter, cope with the economic recession and helped me learn to take the responsibility of running the shop myself and become self-reliant. My husband is so proud of me," she said. In Zubayda’s opinion, her business would not have survived the challenges brought by the pandemic has it not been for DRC’s support.

Although she receives criticism from her community for running the shop and not focusing on her children solely, Zubayda does not let that affect her. Running her business is teaching her many new skills such as being more patient and confident. “In the past, I felt weak as a female because our community considers women as weak creatures. I feel strong now. I can stand on my own feet and make my way,” she smiled proudly.

At present, Zubayda is working hard to expand her business. She started planning on exporting her products to Europe and Africa through e-marketing. She already made her first step in exporting a few products to Ghana, which gives her hope of increasing her sales and helping Turkey’s clothing wholesalers flourish again in this difficult time.

"I never imagined I would overcome the obstacles I faced but I did. My family and I had a hard start here in Turkey but we were able to improve our situation, so I am sure we can overcome the pandemic. I feel relieved and satisfied with what I am doing, which is the most important thing to me," she concluded.