A Place for Optimism

This week was filled with excitement for RET International’s team in Turkey as a high-level delegation from the European Union and dignitaries from the Turkish Government visited the “My Life” Women’s Centre designed and created by RET, as an implementing partner of UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund) in Süleymaniye.

The delegation, which visited the centre on Monday 14 December, was comprised, amongst others, of H.E. Ambassador Hansjörg Haber (head of the European Union delegation to Turkey), H.E. Ambassador Arlette Conzemius (Government of Luxembourg), The Honourable Mr. ?zettin Küçük (Governor of ?anl?urfa) and The Honourable Mr. Yusuf Büyük (Deputy Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education of Turkey). Officials of other organisations such as the Turkish Red Cross, the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and the World Food Programme were also present.

At RET, we were delighted and honoured to welcome, these well-known and recognised personalities leading humanitarian efforts in the Southerneastern region of Turkey, as it gave us the opportunity to showcase our centre which offers a unique combination of safe space for young Syrian and Turkish girls, coupled with numerous other courses.

Since this summer, the My Life Centre of Süleymaniye has been a shelter and a hope for its almost 500 learners. Girls and young women from Syria as well as from Turkey have found here a safe space in which they can access quality language courses (both English and Turkish), computer literacy, life skills such as health and hygiene or prevention of gender-based violence, as well as, participate in social activities such as theatre and drawing.



In the fragile environment in which these young women and girls live, such educational opportunities represent a means of protection, as well as, a path to resilience. Being able to communicate with others, to develop life skills and strengthen the capacities enabling them to confront the crisis, and to build the hope to become self-reliant in the near future is essential.

In crises, which often last for years, protection requires more than shelter and basic necessities. It requires individuals to become resilient in the face of emergencies. It requires them to have the capacities to face the threats and create the solutions to move out of the fragility in which they find themselves, and to start to build hope for their future.

This is where the tool of education plays a pivotal role. Centres like “My Life” are part of the solutions that help young women and girls become actors of positive social change and become resilient and self-reliant.

The recognition by the visiting delegation of high profile guests filled us with pride for the work that has been achieved. The numbers of women and girls registering in the centre and the statistics on attendance are also indicators that we are on the right track. However, an anecdote revealed by one of our team members may be just as relevant. At first, participants come for the trainings, but soon they start to stay after the courses or come at times when they have no specific training. The My Life Centre has fast become the safe space, safe haven for the young women and girls who use it. They build social ties and feel attached to the space and what it represents, and this is for us a clear sign of success.

The results of the My Life Centre are extremely encouraging, because it is only one among 6 similar centres of this specific project. In total over 2000 individual young women and girls benefit from this part of our activities. In total, RET International runs 6 Turkish language schools and collaborates with 24 local Women’s Centres and CATOMs with partners such as UNICEF, UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), UNFPA (the UN Population Fund), the Japanese Platform (representing the Government of Japan and Japanese private sector), JCCP, the Government of Luxembourg, the UK Embassy, and the various cantons of Switzerland, including Basel, and the Asfari Foundation.

There are 750,000 young school-age Syrians in Turkey and it is RET’s objective, together with UNICEF, to avoid a lost generation of Syrian children and youth, referring to lost generations of refugee youth, as in South Sudan, and many other refugee contexts, and as is frequently referred by Gordon Brown, one of the main champions of education for refugees. In RET International’s programmes in Turkey, it is expected that RET would be providing 43,000 education opportunities.

This, of course, would never happen without solid partnerships. The collaboration with UNICEF is evidently central to this project and their support plays a big role in this success. Fundamentally important to RET’s success in Turkey is the enduring partnership and collaboration that we have developed with the Government of Turkey – the Ministry of National Education and AFAD in particular, The Ministry of Family and Social Policies, as well as the Governors and District Governors and the municipal government officials who are vital for the implementation of our projects.

The Süleymaniye My Life Centre was in the limelight this Monday for all these reasons. It is a concrete example of a solution and proof that strong, sustainable partnerships are possible. We remain grateful for this visit as it encourages us to continue to build and replicate our success in Turkey, as we have in 26 other countries around the world. Even more, it encourages us to further develop the tools we use, to be even closer to the populations we serve and to keep tightening the partnerships, which make it all possible. In the middle of all the difficulties of the region, this visit strengthens the optimism and hope for the future for all actors, most importantly, the Syrian girls and young women and their families.