Ruba Alatassi’s husband comes from a well-known family in Syria and worked with the municipality in Homs as a contractor. When the war began, these connections created a significant threat for him, as well as Ruba and their children. “We received a call one night. They told us we had two hours to leave the country,” says Ruba, “We left everything behind and lost everything we used to have in a night.”
After the family arrived in Gaziantep in August 2013, Ruba’s husband struggled with depression because of everything that had happened. “Things were very difficult. We struggled with the language. I started sending CVs everywhere I could,” recalls Ruba. She had trained as an English teacher in Syria but wasn’t experienced in the field. In the past, she was a stay-at-home mom raising her children, but everything changed because of the war.
Ruba started working for a private school in 2014 and was quickly promoted to principal of the kindergarten section and later assistant principal of the school. After several years, Turkish authorities changed the regulation for Syrian schools, forcing the school to close and leaving her without a job. But Ruba didn’t give up. Knowing how many Syrian refugee children needed to be enrolled in school and to learn Turkish, she and her two partners decided to open their own school – Yeni Dünya (New World) Education Center. After a year, her partners decided to quit, and Ruba had to decide whether or not to continue operating the school. “When I was thinking what to do next, my application for Turkish citizenship got approved,” she says. “It gave me strength to continue.”
Yeni Dünya faced challenges during the pandemic like many other businesses in Türkiye, but Ruba was determined and had a lot of support from her colleagues. “There were times when we struggled to even pay the rent. Fortunately, the good people around me were always supportive. The building owner and my employees never came to me to ask for money. There were times when I couldn’t pay my employees’ salaries, but none of my teachers quit, even then. They always supported me. My family often said I should close the school, but I didn’t. I kept doing my job, and finally, we got through the hard times,” Ruba says.
Now, Yeni Dünya has more than 90 students and employs 30 teachers. The school offers Syrian children the opportunity to learn in their mother tongue, Arabic, as well as Turkish and English. “By the age of six, our students can read and write in Arabic, Turkish, and English,” says Ruba proudly.
Yeni Dünya has participated in Building Markets’ services since 2019. With the organization’s support, Ruba says she feels more confident in areas like financial planning and says that having these advisory services and encouragement is empowering. Looking forward, she hopes to open more branches of the school in Gaziantep and throughout Türkiye.
“People around me say that I’m a powerful woman, even a hero,” Ruba says, smiling in front of her school. “I don’t feel like a hero. I feel like I’m made of iron. I’m more powerful than a hero.”
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