Solidarity makes us shine together: Selma & Safiye
Selma and Safiye talks about their experience as SADA Women's Cooperative members.
We are Selma Fakı & Safiye Mustafa from Gaziantep, a province in Turkey nearby the Syrian border, a city that hosts more than 450,000 Syrians who fled the war. We are the members of SADA Women’s Cooperative, set up by Turkish, Syrian and Afghan women. The Cooperative is our gateway to social and economic freedom. It is where we heal, learn, produce and co-create. The Cooperative is full of life-stories of women coming from different backgrounds and cultures. Many of us succeeded and built lives from the ashes of a tragic war. We shined through women’s solidarity. Now, we want to expand and deliver our products to places we haven’t heard of.
I wonder where they are
Safiye: I am Safiye (55). I am Syrian and live with my 4 children and 3 grandchildren. When I was in Syria, I owned a shoemaking atelier, which my husband had opened for me. I was lucky as I had a husband, who allowed me to work. I was more openminded than many other people in my town. I was encouraging economically vulnerable women to come and work with me. In years, all these women became masters of shoemaking. I wonder what they are doing now. If they are alive or not, in Syria or elsewhere… It is sad. I left Syria with my husband and children around 8 years ago and found refuge in Gaziantep. My husband then left us. It was hard for me to stand on my own feet and take care of my children. It exhausted me psychologically.
One day I heard that there was a place called SADA Women’s Empowerment and Solidarity Center, where they taught computer operating to young women. I went there with my daughter to enroll her in one of these classes. Then, I saw that Turkish and refugee women of all ages were there. As my profession back in Syria was shoemaking, the social workers at the Center informed me that I could take part in their shoe & bag making workshop. I joined.
Going out as a single woman
Selma: My name is Selma (34). I am Turkish and living with my parents. Before coming to the SADA Center, I had huge prejudices about Syrians. I thought they were just a burden on the shoulders of Turkey. Syrians also had many prejudices against us. During the first weeks of the classes, Syrian women were questioning me how I could go out freely as I was a single woman. I had times where I tried to understand how they were thinking, what their perceptions were. But all in all, we found a way out, became very good friends and created solidarity among us.
Solidarity healed me
Safiye: War is horrible. You never know if you are alive after five minutes. You never know when you will lose another loved one. SADA healed me. At SADA we were all together as Syrian, Turkish and Afghan women. We opened our minds and hearts to each other. Some of us simply did not have a life to live. SADA created life to them, a reason to wake up and go to sleep again, a reason to wait for the weekends. We were producing together. We produced and professionalized so much that we started to receive training in marketing and management. Then the rest came.
SADA put wings on me, the Cooperative made me fly
Selma: Together with our Syrian and Afghan friends we joined our forces and set up SADA Women’s Cooperative in March 2019. The Cooperative is democratically run by all of us. We don’t have a manager, but we all are managers. Currently, we are active in shoe-leather bag production, catering, and home textiles. We produce items like PC cases, cloth bags, make-up cases, and leather bags. We also use traditional Turkish and Syrian fabrics for the bags, table covers, scarves, and home textile products. We have been learning and making great efforts to produce quality products. Now, it is time for us to give a boost to our work and make a living from that.
Safiye: Imagine that I barely had a life to live before SADA. Now I am a member of a Cooperative, which provides a secure space for us to collectively produce. SADA put wings on me, the Cooperative made me fly. The Cooperative is something very important in our lives. Since March 2019, as 50 women from different cultures, we are making huge efforts to become more professional. Our efforts have also been heard at the international level.
From war to Paris
Selma: After a very short period of three months of the Cooperative’s establishment we were selected to present our work at the Paris Peace Forum. Two of our friends went to Paris and presented our work. Then we have been selected as a scale-up project, which means that our project has a potential for expanding. This is what we always knew and believed in. Currently, we are locally known and receive orders from different customers. But we aim to reach out to the international market. We want our products to travel to places which we have not heard of.
Safiye: We believe in our potential. We are women who survived many horrible things that the war had brought to our lives. All that pain made us stronger and more resistant. Through solidarity we created at the Cooperative, we empowered each other. Now, we are attaching our stories to the items we produce. When the item is delivered to the customer, the customer can see whose hands are involved in its making.
Time was like a bird, now a turtle
Selma: Time was flying when we were trying not to fall behind the orders. We were singing, dancing, learning and producing altogether. SADA didn’t only give us our profession and an income opportunity but it also gave us friendship. We never categorized each other as Turkish, Syrian or Afghan. We are all friends now no matter what our languages, nationalities, beliefs or cultures we have. Now, time is like a turtle. Because of COVID-19, we all are at home. We also try to use this time as efficient as possible for our Cooperative. We are managing our Instagram account and an e-commerce website is now on the way. We have chat groups where we keep an eye on each other. These difficult times would have been much more difficult without our solidarity and friendship. I would have felt much lonelier without the voice records I receive from my Syrian friends. Together we are stronger.
Safiye: As a person who witnessed the most fateful and horrible parts of the war, COVID-19 is much easier to cope with. You sit at home and you are safe. No one bombs your home, cuts your electricity or your water; no one kidnaps or kills you or your loved ones. Despite its economic impacts, I believe that COVID-19 will soon go away and we will go out of our homes as even stronger women and continue to make SADA our voice.
Hear the voice: SADA
SADA means voice both in Turkish and Arabic. Together we are raising our voice not to be in the margins and corners but in the heart of the field. We trust our quality products; we trust our co-existence; we trust what we bring to people’s lives and we trust women’s solidarity. We want to stand on our own feet, run the Cooperative and raise high profit. SADA Women’s Cooperative is our wings to fly.