My One Cent: Esat Akgul
"Initially, we weren’t well prepared for handling such big numbers of refugees... That’s another reason why I believe CARE’s mission to serve people in need is so valuable."
March 21, 2018
Esat Akgul, CARE Turkey’s External Affairs and Public Relations Manager, works in one of the world’s most volatile refugee settings. This is Esat’s My One Cent story:
I have worked for CARE Turkey for two years and my role with CARE Turkey is to follow up on all the external affairs, government relations and external relationships for the country office. I’m based in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and I support CARE’s programs in Southeast of the Country on the Syria border. I’m married and I have a four-year-old son, and when I’m not working, I usually spend all my time with my family.
Before working for CARE, I got a master’s degree in Microfinance and worked for three years at a program site for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), another international non-governmental organization (INGO) in Turkey. It was at the zero point to Syria border and I managed community center activities like case management, protection outreach and legal counselling’s for the Syrian refugees focusing on women and girls. Before IRC, I had 12 years of experience working with Grameen Bank in Turkey on microfinance, women’s empowerment and income generating activities for the most vulnerable women in the rural areas of the Country. In those 12 years we reached out to more than 100,000 poor Turkish women through entrepreneurship training, income-generating and microfinance activities.
One of the biggest reasons why I decided to join CARE was that, in my previous work, I saw CARE’s Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) model grow in some African countries where it was used as a very important tool to reach to the most vulnerable women and reduced the poverty. It related so well to my employment and educational background. I felt that CARE was the best organization I could join that’s serving in Turkey to assist refugees and host communities.
Turkey is one of the countries hosting the highest number of refugees and there are very few organizations or INGOS that have a presence on the ground. The total number of refugees registered in Turkey is around 4.1 million. 3.6 million are Syrian and the rest are from different nationalities. Africans, Somalis, Sudanese, Afghans and Iraqis are all refugees in Turkey. Initially, we weren’t well prepared for handling such big numbers of refugees. There was a huge gap in terms of response and providing services to the most vulnerable refugees. That’s another reason why I believe CARE’s mission to serve people in need is so valuable.
I joined CARE in June 2016 and just 15 days later there was an attempted military coup in Turkey that totally affected my job and role within CARE. There is a state of emergency in the country which is still ongoing and I am the head of liaison manager who is supposed to meet with respective government authorities who are coordinating the emergency response to Syria Crisis from the GoT sides. I think CARE’s mission and reputation in the country established them as a presence in the country.
CARE Turkey has permission to work in four cities very close to the Syrian border, which is like having access to 50 percent of the total refugee population on the border side.
I can freely say though, that even in this difficult context, CARE Turkey is doing well. As of 2017, we have received all work permits for our Syrian staff and permission approval from the line ministry, which over the past two years, no other INGO has accomplished. Now, CARE Turkey is one of the leading INGOs in the country has receiving positive feedbacks and appreciation by the authorities We are participating in most working groups on the ground and leading some groups, like those for livelihood specific needs and protections related to working groups.
One of the biggest impacts we have made is within a short-term, three-month vocational training project for Syrian youth. While they’re receiving vocational training, they also receive financial support through a CARE project. Then, in a related project, we connect them to the market and employers. After completing this program, 450 youth got jobs and now they all earn incomes that serve their families and relatives.
I think the situation in Turkey is a temporary problem. It will not continue for a long time and I believe the situation will return to normal. For example, we are seeing some changes being made in terms of responses to the Syria crisis, including integration policies that are starting to be implemented in Turkey. I believe CARE has a good opportunity to be a long-term presence in the country and that makes me optimistic for the future.