One year after the devastating earthquakes that hit southern Turkey and northwest Syria, we share the stories of resilience, courage, and hope emerging from the heart of impacted communities. In particular, we spotlight the remarkable women at the Kareemat shelter who, in the face of post-disaster challenges, are showing unparalleled resilience and innovation.
Kareemat is a women’s shelter and community center partnered with ActionAid that provides social, educational, and in-kind assistance to all women, especially to those who have fled Syria and have been subjected to forms of injustice, exploitation, oppression, and violence. Kareemat also works with former female sex workers by offering them a space to learn vocational and language skills and spend time with other women.
Najlaa Alsheikh is the founder of Kareemat. Najlaa is a Syrian refugee herself having fled in 2015. When she arrived in Turkey, she saw how many women were struggling without financial support, so with money she borrowed, she set up a knitting group for women to create items to sell, and from this came the now flourishing community space.
Najlaa Alsheikh, founder of Kareemat, a women’s shelter and community center partnered with ActionAid. Photo: Cansu yıldıran/ActionAid.
Leveraging their pre-existing trust, Kareemat swiftly transformed into a sanctuary for women after the earthquakes struck. Group psychological support, individual therapy, and longer-term skill-building initiatives, such as handcrafting, have empowered women to rebuild their lives and reclaim self-sufficiency.
Najlaa shared with us:
“Women carried the biggest burden [after the earthquake]. Our team, as women, we carried the biggest part of it. We were suffering from PTSD and were completely shaken, yet we still needed to care for our families…”
We lived in tents for a short period of time. We were 52 people in total: the Kareemat team, children, and other people. Thankfully, my friends outside of Turkey kept contacting me and giving me support…telling me to become strong again and get back on my feet. They reminded me of the people who count on me, so we regrouped and made a plan. We started receiving financial aid and we received aid to help with food and shelter…”
Shadia Abdou a trainee at Kareemat. Photo: Cansu yıldıran/ActionAid.
In the midst of battling cancer, Shadia, a trainee at Kareemat, found solace and support in the community center after the devastation of the earthquakes. The challenges of her cancer treatment were alleviated through assistance provided by the shelter, enabling her to continue her medical care.
Moreover, Shadia embraced the skill-building opportunities offered and is now not only a cancer survivor but also a trained hairdresser, a testament to the transformative impact of the shelter’s comprehensive support system. She shared:
“I was devastated to learn that I had cancer and when the earthquake struck, it destroyed hospitals, and medicines became scarce, making access to medical care a nightmare for me. I joined Kareemat because I wanted a change and so I took up the hairdressing training. I learned this skill and I now have a job. I work despite my illness and pain. I am too young to give up. I still have a long life ahead, hopefully. I want to build a future for my children and myself.”
The tenacity of women like Najlaa and Shadia exemplifies why we are committed to our mission; they not only teach us but also serve as a poignant reminder that the power of community, particularly when harnessed by groups of resilient women, amplifies the possibilities to rebuild with care and passion.
“When I see the success stories after every project, these stories humble me and make me proud at the same time. When I see women with disabilities, or women affected by war, when I see these women challenging their circumstances and learning, when these strong women are able to support their families, that motivates me to no end.”Najlaa Alsheikh, Founder of Kareemat
ActionAid and its local partners have reached over 197,211 people in the past year through search and rescue operations, providing food, shelter, and mental health support. Your support and attention to our updates has been crucial in enabling us to make this meaningful impact on the ground and ensure spaces like Kareemat continue to thrive.
We have also supported more than 27,933 people displaced by the earthquakes with urgent medical care from a dedicated team of nurses, midwives, and doctors and 37,667 people with clean water, hygiene kits and washing facilities, ensuring that women and girls have private facilities to use without the risk of harassment or assault.
The crisis response continues to rely on the courage and resilience of local NGOs and volunteer networks, led by women and young people, working in challenging conditions. Yet despite the resilience of women like Najlaa and Shadia and the work of humanitarian networks, over 2.3 million women and girls of reproductive age still desperately need economic, psychosocial support, and sexual and reproductive healthcare in northwest Syria.
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