When a woman has the chance to work and earn her own money, the outcome is outstanding. Not only will that woman lift herself and her family out of poverty, but her pride and confidence will skyrocket. She will pass this same poise onto her children, which will have a lasting effect, especially on her girls. The domino effect begins and entrepreneurs are born.
While traveling with Turkish Philanthropy Funds (TPF) throughout Turkey, I met with a group of women from Trabzon Türk Kadınlar Birliği (TKB), Trabzon's Women's Organization, one of TPF's first grantees. Their office was in the basement of, what seemed to be, and open air shopping center. After walking down three flights of winding stairs, I opened the door to a group of very eager women, and a table filled with sweets and Turkish tea.
Saliha, a stout woman with striking short black hair, sat silent for the first half hour of our meeting while the rest of the women excitedly told me about the cooking courses they took in order to obtain jobs as chefs. I asked her if she would like to share and she proudly stated, "I'm not in that category." Finally, we started hearing about women who took courses to learn how to make handmade textiles. Saliha raised her hand and spilled her story.
"I will never forget the day I was introduced to this organization." She was pregnant and already creating her own handicraft. Uneducated, having only completed up to the second grade, what she lacked in book smarts, she made up in determination. The day the organization approached her, she was selling her goods on the street, as a street vendor. Barely making ends meet, her husband works at a gas station and they were beginning to panic. With a baby on the way, how would they support their family? When Hatice, the President of the organization, approached Saliha on the street, she told her she had much greater potential than what she was achieving. Hatice brought her back to the office, and started her in handicraft courses. Saliha had talent, but needed a bit of refinement. After the completion of the course, Saliha began working hard to sell her goods through TKB. In the meantime, she and her husband saved and saved. They cut corners on food and clothing, but they knew it would all pay off in the end. Soon she had saved enough money to start her own store. This, already being a monumental accomplishment for an uneducated woman in Turkey, she did not stop there. After years of tirelessly sewing, meeting with potential clients, manning the store throughout the day, she finally broke even and was making a profit. Today, Saliha owns six stores in Trabzon where she sells handmade scarves (like the one she's wearing in the photo) and bags.
After the roar of applause from the other women in the office, Saliha then stated, "But my husband always puts me in my place." She explained that he is very supportive to watch her children when she has to work late at the office, but he constantly reminds her of where she stands in the family. I asked her if she believed the words coming out of her mouth. Some of the other participants were shocked, saying "forget him!" or "just leave him!", but she seemed very loyal to her husband. "I'll never leave his side," she said, and with a grin on her face "because, now, he needs me."
She finished by saying how she passed the mayor of Trabzon on her way to our meeting. Previously, she would have either not known who he was, and if she did, she would have been too scared to greet him. Saliha proudly stopped the mayor that day and shook his hand. In fact, she knows him personally as he performed the opening ceremony of her very own store.
Next stop, Van.
Melis has been touring Turkey visiting women empowerment projects around the country. Follow her and UNICEF Ambassador, Dayle Haddon, via #WomenOnAMission