The toy atelier is full of wooden material. There are big machines for cutting wooden planks and large workbenches for emerying. The semi-finished toys lie in a jumble on the workbenches: cars, helicopters, horses, whales. The painted ones look so cute that it’s hard not to touch them.

One of those who produce these wooden toys is Mahmud Abdi. He is a trainee in the ecological wooden toy course under the Karaköprü Municipality Necmettin Cevheri Culture and Performance Centre in Şanlıurfa, a part of the EU-supported ENHANCER Project (which stands for Enhancement of Entrepreneurship Capacities for Sustainable Socio-Economic Integration). He speaks Turkish and says: “I’m from Rakka, Syria. I’ve been here since 2014. I’ve joined this course because I enjoy this sort of thing and wanted to learn how to do it. And now I sell what I produce here.” He has trained here in both carpentry and making wooden toys. Now, he can establish his own business.

Gülay Dağtaş, another trainee, has attended this course for one year. “I’ve learnt a lot of good things here. We sell the toys we make. Also, I make toys for my children,” she says.

Trainer Neslihan Karatay Çiftçi

Trainer Neslihan Karatay Çiftçi reflects that “the trainees want to have a profession and sell what they produce to earn a living for their families.”

Carpets with Anatolian motifs

Another course developed as part of the  ENHANCER Project at the Necmettin Cevheri Culture and Performance Centre is carpet-weaving. The Karaköprü Municipality’s Culture and Social Affairs Branch Manager Mehmet Mahmutoğlu states: “We use the root dye and solely focus on Anatolian motifs. Also, we try to adapt old motifs to the present.”

Trainees want to have a profession and sell what they produce

A woman sits at carpet loom and loops with great care. According to trainer Nadire Yılmaz, “one centimeter of any carpet here has 76 loops.”

Filiz Çelik, the trainee, has attended the course for one year. “I had no profession. I’m here since I like weaving. We’ve learnt everything about carpet weaving starting from scratch,” she says. Hatice Gül Tiryakioğlu, the other trainee: “I’m new. It has been only 20 days since I started this course. God willing, I want to sell the carpets I weave.”

The carpets are lovingly woven by the artisan hands of trainees

Learning new skills and becoming entrepreneurs

Metin Baydilli, the Mayor of Karaköprü Municipality, says: “One of the projects related to the employment of both refugees and Turkish citizens is the courses of carpet-weaving and wooden toys within the scope of the ENHANCER Project. Our carpet-weaving and wooden toy courses are attended by 225 people, 71 of whom are Syrian. I believe that the demand will increase as the courses become known.”

Pınar Yapanoğlu, the Portfolio Manager of International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) Western Balkans and Türkiye Office, says: “the ENHANCER Project started in January 2020 with EU funding. We have been conducting this project in 11 provinces in cooperation with the Ministry of Industry and Technology and Development Agencies. Our grant scheme is unique under. We not only finance, monitor and evaluate but also do initial needs assessment of our grantee organisations, and we bring in expert advice. We are delighted that we have achieved concrete results.”

Ambassador visited these courses in October

The Head of the European Union Delegation to Türkiye, Ambassador Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, who visited these courses in October 2023, reflects: “Especially in the region where the earthquake damage was very severe, projects related to increasing livelihoods and raising the standard of living are significant. The EU has contributed €35 million for the ENHANCER project. And more is to come.”

The courses have been running in Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep since 2020. The ENHANCER Project is implemented in İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Bursa, Gaziantep, Adana, Mersin, Konya, Şanlıurfa, Kayseri and Hatay. Across Türkiye, almost 67,000 people completed short-term vocational skills development training thanks to EU support.

Photos by Murat Baykara