Waad was a teacher for 14 years in Palmyra, Syria. “Palmyra is very famous for dates which are filled with other ingredients and sold to tourists.” In 2016, she fled the country and settled in Mersin, where she had siblings. She was always actively looking for opportunities to learn the Turkish language and develop her skills, which is how she came to learn of the LIFE Project.
As a creative chef in homemade desserts, Waad was initially interested in the LIFE Project to build her marketing skills.“The business pitch competition itself was a very big step for me to take; it developed my character and allowed me a chance to meet people.”
Saleh is a food entrepreneur from Deir ez-Zor, Syria. After graduating from the Technical Institute for Tourism and Hotel Sciences in Syria, he worked in Sham Palace and other hotels for twelve years. Almost four years before the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, Saleh opened his own restaurant for pizza and sweets along with all kinds of juices.
Forced to leave his home country, Saleh moved to Turkey in 2016. “I came straight to Mersin as I had friends before me settling here and their feedback in general was always positive about this city. I [then] worked in restaurants in Mersin.” As Saleh realized that the market demand in Mersin focused more on delivery services than restaurants, he transitioned to Turkish sweet shops.
Originally from Latakia, Syria, Zeinab studied fine arts and taught painting. Her father and uncle were well known Attars, people who extract natural essence from flowers and plants for health benefits. As a child, she was fascinated by how her father extracted flower essence: “We had a garden with lemon trees and we would gather the flowers of the lemon tree together to extract the essence [...] After he passed away, I carried on and started first distributing bottles of plant extracts in his honor, as he would have done if he was alive.
In 2018, the LIFE Project built creative solutions to challenges facing refugees and their host communities using an interest everyone shares: food. LIFE Project programming created a space for Turkish and refugee food entrepreneurs to build sustainable livelihoods and develop social and economic ties in their communities.
Before she learned about LIFE, Inam had already decided to take her cuisine to the local farmers’ market.
“I had been at the market for only five days, selling my Syrian style falafel from a two-meter-long table. Everyone came over to try it; they came back for seconds.”
“The LIFE Project mentors me and gives me direction,” she explained from the LIFE Food Enterprise Center in Istanbul.
Fatma joined the inaugural cohort of entrepreneurs for four months of incubation, during which she got a crash course in food entrepreneurship and navigating the regulatory environment in Turkey.