World Refugee Day 2023 - Building Markets

World Refugee Day 2023

by Building Markets
June 20, 2023

We sat down with four inspiring refugee entrepreneurs who received grants from GiveDirectly following the February 2023 earthquakes. These grants have served as lifelines to keep their businesses running and families supported in challenging times. Read their stories below:

Muhammed, 33


Reflecting on the past period, it feels like a mix of both a dream and a nightmare. Even during the war years in Syria, when I had been injured in an airstrike, the terror and fear I experienced during the earthquake period surpassed anything I had felt before.Perhaps it is because I am now responsible for my own family or because I never anticipated living in such fearful conditions again.

In 2014, I arrived in Turkey, seeking refuge from the harsh conditions of war. I settled in Reyhanli and found work at a refugee hospital. Even though I studied Nursing, my passion for computer and mobile phone maintenance has always been a part of me. I would spend time at my older brother’s shop in Syria, learning and experimenting. Little did I know that this hobby would one day become my profession in a foreign land where I would eventually settle.

I made the decision to move to Gaziantep, where I began working as a maintenance specialist in both Turkish and Syrian laptop repair shops. Then, in 2019, I took a leap of faith and embarked on my own small business venture. This marked the beginning of a newfound sense of stability in Türkiye, as I got married and started a family.

But everything changed after the devastating earthquake struck the country. Although my own house remained unaffected, my brother’s house in Hatay suffered severe damage, and tragically, my young nephew lost his life. Fearful of further tremors, we spent a week sleeping on the streets or seeking refuge in mosques. The experience was particularly distressing for my three young children, especially one who developed a phobia of earthquakes, sensing fear at even the slightest movement in the house.

My shop incurred significant damage. Replacement and repairs needed for the equipment amounted to approximately $3,000.

Fortunately, just when I needed it the most, GiveDirectly, provided me with a grant that changed everything. The grant arrived like a ray of hope, lifting the heavy financial burden that weighed on me. I was able to pay for new licenses, repair damages and continue my work.

I envision myself in Turkey, considering it my second home. It is where my tireless work lies and my children’s futures unfold. I dare to dream of expanding my business, further contributing to the community that has embraced me during these trying times.

Safa, 46


Looking back on the last few months, I can’t help but compare it to the years of war that we lived through in Syria. The earthquake left me and my family feeling anxious and alone. As a Syrian refugee living in Turkey, I’ve faced numerous challenges in trying to provide for myself and my two daughters as a single mother. Despite having a degree in Education and Psychology and working in the education sector for 11 years, I was unable to find a job in the same field after coming here. Instead, I worked in a sewing factory with my 18-year-old daughter.

I opened a small salon in Gaziantep two years ago. Through hard work and dedication, I grew it into a successful beauty center that now includes a laser section, sauna, body contouring, and other special services.

The earthquake left us emotionally shaken and also caused financial difficulties. For more than a month, we had no income due to the lack of customers. 

But then, a glimmer of hope arrived in the form of money from GiveDirectly. This was a lifeline that helped me pay off my debts and keep my business running. The impact was not just on me, but on others in my community as well. I know of another businesswoman who received the money, and it was just as helpful to her. She is a divorced mother and is responsible for an entire family on her own.

The constant worry about the future and the sense of instability inherent to being refugees in a foreign land is always present. But I refuse to give up on my dreams. I plan to expand my beauty center.

To anyone who may hear my story, I want you to know that refugees are just people who are trying to provide for their families.

Abdulkarim, 60


I was devastated. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing everything I had worked so hard to achieve.  

I moved to Turkey in 2016 with my family in search of a better life.  I arrived with nothing but a dream to start my own business in the perfume industry, a trade that I learned in my homeland. I was devastated. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing everything I had worked so hard to achieve.  

I started working from my small apartment, mixing scents and creating perfumes that I displayed in local stores and groceries. Slowly but surely, my work began to attract attention, and I was soon able to start displaying my perfumes in larger stores.  

 It wasn’t easy at the beginning, though. But I didn’t give up on my dream. I kept working hard, saving every penny I could, and dreaming of the day when I could open my own store. And that day finally came in 2020, when I opened Ocean Perfumes.

I struggled with language barriers, legal difficulties and financial constraints. The earthquake in February 2023, also led to a sharp drop in customers.

I was facing the impossible task of moving and searching for a new workplace in the aftermath of the earthquake.  That’s when GiveDirectly stepped in and gave me money that saved my business from closing down. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I received the news.

This experience reinforced my belief that helping others can have a positive impact on the community and oneself. I even forgave people who owed me money at the workplace in the aftermath of the earthquake to help them get through the tough times.  

My dreams don’t end with my current business. I’m already exporting to Iraq. I want to achieve more stability in the community and build a life for myself and my family, making Turkey my second home.  

My message to the world is simple. Always remember, kindness and compassion can make a world of difference in someone’s life.

Wafaa, 43


In 2017, I decided to open a small beauty center that provides skin care sessions, laser services, and sells beauty products, accessories, and perfumes. It was a new challenge for me, but I was excited and motivated to make it work. I poured my heart and soul into my business, hoping to make it successful and provide for my family. My husband worked in a shoe factory, but his salary was not enough to cover all of our expenses.

Things were not easy at the beginning especially when you don’t speak the language or understand the laws. When I started my beauty center, there were times when our chartered accountant failed to pay our taxes, and we were unaware until we were fined. But I learned from my mistakes and pushed forward. I talked to other Syrian women who had started their own businesses in Türkiye and learned from their experiences.

Unfortunately, our lives were turned upside down again in 2023 when a devastating earthquake struck Turkey. My beauty center was significantly damaged, and I lost some equipment worth around 25,000 Turkish Lira (equivalent to approximately $1,270). I was devastated. I didn’t know how I would be able to recover and support my family. 

But then something amazing happened. I received a grant from Give Directly, With the funds, I was able to repair and replace the damaged equipment.

I encourage all women to support and inspire each other, just like what I learned from other Syrian women who started their own businesses in Turkey.

Read more about Building Markets’ partnership with GiveDirectly and how cash grants are helping refugees rebuild in Türkiye:

Tags : Success Story

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