Syrian refugees find hope in kitchen

US government-funded project for refugees in Turkey is called LIFE — Livelihoods Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship. (Supplied photo)
Updated 08 June 2018

Syrian refugees find hope in kitchen

  • Falafel and hummus are helping displaced families get back on track after civil war derailed their lives
  • An estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey after seven long years of civil war in their own country.

ISTANBUL: Ennam Alshayib wakes up every morning, grateful for her new life and renewed purpose. But memories of the last four years she has spent on the run from war-torn Syria still haunt her. 

First there was the arduous journey she took from Damascus with her family in tow, followed by their arrival in Egypt, desperate and tired. Then they went on to Dubai, before eventually reaching their new home in Turkey.

After a difficult start to her time here, the turning point came when she spotted a Facebook post from a US government-funded project for refugees in Turkey called LIFE — Livelihoods Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship.

She immediately applied to take part and was soon sitting in the LIFE office, inside a cozy four-story building in the middle of the main industrial zone of Istanbul.

An estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey after seven long years of civil war in their own country. Many of them find it difficult to find regular employment, begging on the streets of Istanbul or living in squalid refugee camps.

LIFE, which was launched last September, aims to change that. It was started by a consortium of Turkish, Syrian and American partners who wanted to support refugees to earn a living through starting up restaurants and food businesses.

The two-year project is targeted at refugees in Gaziantep, near Turkey’s southern border with Syria, and Istanbul, with the goal of giving them greater independence and helping them integrate into Turkish society.

The project is to have a total of 1,240 direct beneficiaries, 75 percent of them Syrians, and at least half of them women. 

Participants are trained in various fields ranging from food marketing and hygiene, to e-commerce and packaging. 

At the end of the program, they publish their own cookbooks with recipes for Turkish, Syrian and other Middle Eastern dishes, as well as stories about the origins of each dish. Participants come from varying backgrounds, bringing with them different skills and experiences. 

“I graduated from university with a degree in pre-school education,” Alshayib told Arab News. “But I have always found the food industry attractive and have experience cooking for big events at the company my husband was working for in Damascus.”

Before joining the LIFE program, Alshayib was selling traditional Syrian foods, such as hummus and falafel, at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. She hopes to set up her own Syrian restaurant in Turkey after graduating from the program.

Another participant, 48-year-old Jordanian Rabeia Alsheshany, also dreams of running her own business.

“I’m now in the middle of Europe and it’s become my home country. My daughter studies at university here and I would prefer to stay here for the rest of my life,” she said.

Each trainee is assigned a mentor. The program culminates in a competition during which the trainees will pitch their business plans to a panel of judges. The two most innovative will be chosen to receive financial support.

Ali Ercan Ozgur, is president of International Development Management, a Turkish civil society organization and one of the sponsors of LIFE. 

“The most important role of this project will be to support the skills that will help (refugees) have a sustainable livelihood,” he said. He described food as a “common language” that can help unite the people of Turkey and Syria.


Grubs up: Veganism trend soaring among young Saudis

Updated 05 December 2019

Grubs up: Veganism trend soaring among young Saudis

  • Research shows that plant-based diets help lower body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol levels

JEDDAH: Although vegans are facing daily stereotypes regarding their dietary habits, the number of young people in the Kingdom shifting to an animal-free diet is rising.

The trend has been attributed to Saudis’ health concerns, especially with obesity. 

Research has revealed that more than 40 percent of Saudi citizens are obese. 

Online awareness campaigns are helping vegans to share their experiences with their eating habits. Several young Saudis were convinced to follow plant-based diets after watching the “Plant B” program during Ramadan. 

The show is a bilingual web series starring Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian surgeon. It explained the importance and the benefit of veganism on human health.  

The number of restaurants and home businesses that are serving vegan options are increasing every day.  

Raneem Al-Qurashi, 17, is a student and owner of the Nabati online business. She turned to veganism two years ago. She said: “I used to eat a generally healthy diet. So, when I turned vegan, I did not feel much of a difference. However, I did feel a lot lighter after meals, since meat takes a long time to digest. 

“I started this business out of my own needs for healthy vegan baked goods in Jeddah, about a year ago, there were little to no vegan options in Jeddah, and even if there were, it was usually overpriced.”

Young Saudis are increasingly becoming health conscious and adopting a healthy lifestyle to stay fit. (Photos/Supplied)

Al-Qurashi believes that veganism and plant-based diets are growing in Saudi Arabia. People have become more aware and conscious about their decisions and how it might affect their health, environment and animals.

Jawan Kudus, a 32-year-old entrepreneur and the founder of Raw Instinct, is vegan in her diet, but she has to try non-vegan dishes for culinary purposes, to acquire knowledge of new tastes and combinations. She started her vegan journey in 2009, while she was studying in London.

Kudus said: “I discovered the raw food diet and fell in love with it, it was like a breakthrough in my life. I learned to eat superfoods without sacrificing taste. Then I explored cooked vegan dishes and continued to experiment in the kitchen. It really transformed the way I eat and approach my diet. I believe veganism helps you become your true and best version of yourself.”

Abdullah Ghazi, a clinical psychologist and marriage therapist, explained that he had been a vegan for the last six months. He started by trying vegan dishes at restaurants, then trying to commit to a vegan meal a day. Eventually, his whole diet became vegan.

Ghazi said: “I was trying to find a better lifestyle because I’m getting into my 30s. Since I have a medical background, I could not try something new without doing my homework, and what I found was very encouraging. Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower heart disease mortality rates.”