May 20, 2016

Young Syrian entrepreneurs open business in Turkey

Arti Cello cafe
After participating in the SPARK Gaziantep Youth Entrepreneurship Programme (GYEP) last year, Syrian Shaimaa Asami and Taimaa Maraawi, opened up their own business in Gaziantep, Turkey last week. The SPARK Entrepreneurship programme, funded by the UK based Asfari Foundation, offered extensive trainings on entrepreneurship, business skills and business plan writing to 100 students, both Turkish and Syrian. After competing with other young entrepreneurs, Shaimaa and Taimaa won the business plan competition and received a startup grant and additional training.

The Cello Arti Café
Their business plan was well received by the jury because it aims to bring together Syrian and Turkish culture. Gaziantep, 60 kilometers from the Syrian border, is heavily burdened by the Syrian war. The influx of the large Syrian refugee population causes great tension in the city.

Both Shaimaa and Taimaa do not feel that they have integrated well into their new society, even though they have lived in Turkey for three years now. Therefore, they came with the idea to open a Cultural Café in Gaziantep, to bring together Syrian and Turkish culture. The café offers Syrian and Turkish food and drinks, and many other facilities, such as a library, a conference room, and a small cinema.

Taimaa: ‘We are excited, we are so happy because finally we did it, we started everything from the beginning, from scratch, and we did everything with our two hands. We went and bought everything together, it was tiring but we are happy because we achieved what we wanted.’

A few weeks after the official opening of the Cello Arti Café, the owners explain that their idea is certainly working; their customers are a mix of Syrians and Turks, and everyone likes the atmosphere, food and drinks.  Their café is a place where people can relax and, more importantly, mingle and get to know each other.

Access to the labour market
It is not easy for Syrians to adapt to life in Turkey. The country is currently dealing with almost 3 million refugees, most of them have a temporary protection status. The owners of the Cello Arti Café feel that they will always be considered refugees. Shaimaa:  ‘Syrians are not allowed to do anything here, and so I will take any chances I can’. Even though her father is still in Syria, and her mother now lives in the Netherlands, Shaimaa is determined to finish her studies and to stay in Gaziantep to run the Cello Arti Café. Recently, Turkey granted Syrians the right to work. As part of the Higher Education for Syrians project, SPARK is currently developing an economic empowerment programme to support access to the labour market for Syrians in their new host country.

A month ago, during a meeting with SPARK and a Delegation from the Netherlands at the University, Shaimaa met the Dutch Ambassador in Turkey. Shaimaa tells us, ‘I told him SPARK’s projects are doing more than just providing financial support, for example. I am getting a scholarship which is good. SPARK is trying to support the Syrian generation so that is a great thing to do. SPARK is participating in building the other side of the person. Ok we are alive we are eating and drinking and then what, SPARK is trying to help people with permanent support.’

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