An ordinary day for Alaa Mustafa starts at 6 am when she gets ready to go to work in Şanlıurfa, in southeastern Turkey. Alaa, 29, works as the sole Arabic translator at the Psychological Counselling Centre of Harran University Hospital, where she helps more than 20 patients every day.
She has built a rewarding career out of conflict and displacement.
Alaa, who is a Syrian refugee, had just finished her university studies in Raqqa and was looking forward to working as a teacher. Yet she was only one month into the job before the conflict forced her and her family to flee Syria for the safety of Turkey.
Being in a new country, away from home, and unable to speak the language was a challenging time for her.
“We had to start from scratch, like many others here,” she says.
She started down her new career path after accompanying her mother to the hospital so she could receive dialysis for diabetes. Alaa realized she needed to learn Turkish to communicate her mother’s needs to the hospital staff.
She quickly realized that her mother wasn’t alone — about 260 Syrians seek medical care at the hospital every month. Alaa wanted to help them too, so she set about studying as fast as she could.
“I understood that the first and most essential way to do this was learning the language,” she says. “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.”
The conflict in Syria continues to drive the largest refugee crisis in the world and Turkey has welcomed 3.6 million people — more than any other country. The Syrian population in Şanlıurfa is more than 443,00. That’s about one in five residents.
Like other communities in the region, Şanlıurfa is faced with the challenges of accommodating newcomers, while keeping the local economy afloat and maintaining living standards for its citizens. UNDP works to promote sustainable economies and better job opportunities for everybody.
Alaa’s hospital training in medical secretarial and Turkish language was supported by the GAP Regional Development Administration, with financial support from the Government of Japan. The Strengthening Social Stability in Southeast Region Project was carried out for two years under the Syria Crisis Response and Resilience Programme.
Job training goes a long way to creating resilience for refugees and the communities who host them. The programme provided for 8,814 Syrians and locals in training in industries with high potential for job creation.
A total of 11,285 Syrians and host community members have learned basic life skills trainings so far. By 2020, it is expected that 52,000 Syrians will have learned Turkish and 4,000 more jobs will be created for refugees and host community members thanks to the financial support of the European Union.
After the training Alaa began work at the hospital where she used to take her mother for treatment.
“The most powerful learning comes from doing. I loved the Turkish language and tried to speak with my Turkish friends all the time. I 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.
Alaa is now married to a Turk and is happy in her new home and in her job where she helps patients communicate with hospital staff, as well as working with them on art projects such as sewing and drawing.
She still dreams of working in her previous profession as an Arabic literature teacher. “I still work hard, and God willing it will come true one day.” In the meantime, she says she is thankful for the blessings of the patients she sees every day.
Story: Kıvanç Özvardar Photos: UNDP Turkey/Mustafa Bilge Satkın