Shaker always likes to introduce himself by highlighting his impressive academic background, as he holds a PhD in Sharia Law and a Master’s degree in Child’s Rights. Shaker has travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, worked in universities, and managed schools. “At one point, I realized that I couldn’t make a living with my academic job, so we opened a sweet shop in Syria.” The business focused on mamul, a traditional Middle Eastern pastry filled with a variety of stuffings. Shaker’s mamul had a unique twist - instead of the traditional nuts and dates, his pastries were filled with cheese.
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.
From Consortium Partner The William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan
In Istanbul, Mohamad Bakkar, a Syrian refugee and now food entrepreneur, (pictured right) produces his own special Syrian cheeses and yogurt. About three and a half years ago, Bakkar fled the civil war in Syria, where he was an electrical engineer. As a refugee in a new place, life was not easy. To improve his family’s situation, Bakkar opened his own food business in Istanbul.