For The Price Of A Tin Of Formula Milk

What we do may seem simple. We meet people and help them.

We hear about them through word of mouth. We visit their homes and talk with them, we listen to their stories and find out what we can do – we try and help them. What we really do is reach out and build trust.

There is one story that I can tell which shows what impact we can have.

We arrived at this particular house after we had finished all the houses on our list, as we were taken around to the other Syrians in the neighbourhood.

We walked into a house with wet floors and low ceilings. There was barely enough space to put my notebook and pen down to take my shoes off. I climbed the stairs almost hitting my shoulders on the way up, squeezing my backpack through the tight stairwell.

We were guided through to the living room, which doubled as the bedroom where a child waited, as if desperate to see us.

We took our places on a pile of their mattresses, which they use as a sofa during the day. The child crawled towards us in the most awkward amalgamation of muscle movements; as if a ten-year-old had been crammed inside a body far too small for her.

Unable to properly communicate or focus on anything, the child intermittently threw herself around the room as we talked and asked our questions.

It emerged slowly, as the parents relaxed and began to trust us, that the child had serious growth problems; the doctors had prescribed a special treatment for the child but the family couldn’t afford it. The family has no men, for whatever reason only the women escaped with the child, and the women here can’t work, which means they have no income for the household.

We asked if we could see what the doctors had suggested, and one of the women disappeared and returned with a large tin.

The medicine, that was prescribed to help her grow, turned out to be formula milk.

The formal milk costs just $15 for a month’s worth; you would think that would be manageable. Yet we were told this was not even close to affordable – without a man in the household, no one could earn any money.

In what world can’t a mother afford to provide her daughter with a much-needed nutrition?

They are not the only ones with a story. Many refugee families find themselves in cities across Turkey scratching at the doors of employers. Even when they do get work, for many it’s 12 hours a day, six days of a week, promised measly pay, for them to only be ignored at the end of the month. And without the access to basic workers rights or any legal support, they go home empty-handed, helplessly unable to feed their children.

In the worst of cases, just so as to bring enough money home to feed their family, parents often choose to send the children to work, instead of to school. This leaves many without the basic building blocks of education. Some as young as 11 are working in factories and on the street, vulnerable to the same degrading treatment as their striving parents.

We may just be meeting people at first, but really there is so much more to it. By finding these families one by one, by listening, by building trust and working on solutions we are creating out of the hot, thin air of a hard, dusty, city that smells of cardamom coffee and kebab meat, a community, a heart, and a shot at a real life.

In Basmane, where most of Izmir’s Syrians have taken shelter, I have personally visited over 70 families with the group REVI since I’ve been here. in total Revi are currently supporting 270 families in Izmir. In case you’re curious, here’s the break down by gender and age:

Babies (< 1 year-old) = 103
Children (2-5) = (108 boys, 105 girls)
Children (6-17) = (265 boys, 237 girls)
Young adults (18-25) = (86 men, 119 women)
Adults (26-60) = (236 men, 241 women)
Adults (60+) = (15 men, 11 women)

We’ve heard their stories, fed their stomachs, healed their wounds, played with their children. We are now looking to empower, educate and up-skill them.

We want to help give them the skills to free themselves from exploitation by unscrupulous employers, and escape an unforgiving world where they are unwanted refugees.

Specifically, we are preparing women for career paths. By teaching them professional level skills, beyond basic employment, we are providing mothers with the necessary tools to a better future.

By doing this we hope to take the children out of the workplace; put them in school where they will grow their thinking minds, explore their imagination.

That’s what one of the initiatives I’m involved in. Please look at our Donate page and we hope you’ll join us for the journey.

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