Building bridges among Syrian refugees in Turkey

"In the midst of the current sectarian, tribal and social divides in Syria, peace has become a need for me – it is a principle and a value," says 40-year-old activist Mona.

Originally from Raqqa in Syria, Mona now lives in Turkey. She was forced to flee her hometown in late 2014 due to the ongoing violence. In Syria, she had been a school teacher. But in 2011, when the uprising began, she got involved in activism, which cost Mona her job.

Arriving in southern Turkey, Mona felt adrift. Back in Raqqa she had been "useful and respected", known locally as 'the bride of protests'; in Turkey, after five months watching the conflict rage across the border, she felt she had no purpose.

That is when she decided to get in touch with other Syrian activists displaced by the conflict. One of them was a young peacebuilding trainer from Mona’s hometown, who turned out to be the role model she had needed.

Mona was invited to attend the 'Building Bridges' workshop, run by local NGO Deepening Awareness and Restoring Bridging (DARB) and supported by International Alert. The five-day training took place in a remote and tranquil resort in southern Turkey, and was attended by 24 people from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, mostly living in Turkey but a few still living in Syria.

It was a rare chance for the group of aspiring peacebuilders to openly discuss the conflict in Syria and learn important skills in conflict resolution, including trust-building, conflict analysis and measuring violence. It was also the spark the group needed to start pro-peace initiatives in their own communities.

"I have learned to have control over my feelings and accept the opinion of others," says Mona. "I’d like people to realise that there are ways for getting their rights back that are not necessarily violent."

Mona now volunteers for DARB and is getting ready to join the next workshop – this time as one of the trainers. "I hope to spread the importance of non-violence. I would like to be active within my home, area and wider community. It’s nice to have positive footprint."

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Photo: © DARB