IZMIR, Turkey

A Solar Age Program, conducted by Izmir-based non-profit organization, Imece Initiative, is helping Syrian women gain financial independence by teaching them to produce solar-powered rechargeable power banks.

The program, kickstarted in 2018, was initially developed to tackle the global environmental crisis and empower vulnerable women. However, it later transformed into an empowerment project for Syrian women living in Turkey to create a line of work to help them earn a livelihood.

Inspired by the Barefoot College of India, the program hosts Syrian women and their children at the Imece Village in Izmir’s Cesme district, from where many asylum seekers try to make perilous journeys to cross into Europe.

The trainers of the Imece Initiative provide courses in solar engineering, solar energy systems, and electrical engineering to Syrian women, while their children engage in educational play with international volunteers.

The project ultimately aims to teach Syrian women how to produce an Energy For Everyone or “EFE” device – a portable power bank made of waste wood that can be recharged through its solar panel or by standard plug-in power. The EFE also features two strong LED lights.

Vice Director of the Imece Initiative Irem Somer told Anadolu Agency that the initiative was established in 2014 by a group of university students who wanted to support disadvantaged groups with the motto “empathy makes us human.”

Cesme has become a gateway from where almost 800,000 people tried to illegally cross into Greece in 2015. Somer explained that many who attempt to make these treacherous journeys could have been better helped if they were able to stay connected through charged mobile communications, enabling mobile navigation to avoid risky routes, ensuring that others know of their whereabouts, and diverting help where needed.

Inspired by news of these journeys, the Solar Age Program was created, with the EFE device designed with these trips in mind, but its availability was soon extended to all users.

“We learned about the Barefoot College movement in India where they offer similar training to poor women living in rural communities to help them participate in sustainable solutions,” Somer said.

These women did not have the opportunity to go to school, but Barefoot College began to train them worldwide as solar engineers, entrepreneurs, and educators, she explained.

Since 2017, six female volunteers from the Imece Initiative received training for about six months from Barefoot College and then started transferring their experience and knowledge to Syrian women in Turkey.

“250 Syrian women received training so far”

Ezgi Ozcan is one such volunteer who initially received six months of training from Barefoot College in India and then became a Solar Age Project Trainer at the Imece Initiative to offer training to Syrian women on electricity and solar energy.

“In Syrian culture, women are mainly responsible for childcare in families usually with many children. Therefore, we thought that we could help and empower them, providing them with a new line of work,” Ozcan stressed.

In 2018, 175 Syrian women received solar energy training, but the global Covid-19 pandemic has restricted participants to only those living in Cesme.

“With the removal of lockdowns and restriction measures, we restarted our training one and a half months ago. So far, 250 Syrian women have completed our courses,” she said.

Turkey hosts nearly 4 million refugees, including over 3.6 million Syrians, more than any other country in the world.

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