Ruba Alatassi’s husband comes from a well-known family in Syria and worked with the municipality of Homs as an entrepreneur. When the war began, these relationships created a significant threat to him, as well as to Ruba and their children. “We received a call one evening. They told us we had two hours to leave the country,” says Ruba. “We left everything behind and lost everything we had overnight.
After the family arrived in Gaziantep in August 2013, Ruba’s husband struggled with depression because of all that had happened. “Things were very difficult. We struggled with the language. I started sending CVs everywhere I could,” Ruba recalls. She had trained as an English teacher in Syria, but had no experience in the field. In the past, she was a stay-at-home mother raising her children, but everything changed because of the war.
Ruba started working for a private school in 2014 and was soon promoted to Head of Kindergarten and later Deputy Head of School. After several years, the Turkish authorities changed the regulations for Syrian schools, forcing the school to close and leaving her jobless. But Ruba did not give up. Knowing how many Syrian refugee children needed to be enrolled in school and learn Turkish, she and two partners decided to open their own school, the Yeni Dünya (New World) Education Center. After a year, his partners decided to quit and Ruba had to decide whether or not to continue running the school. “When I thought about what to do next, my application for Turkish citizenship was approved,” she says. “It gave me the strength to carry on.”
Yeni Dünya faced challenges during the pandemic like many other companies in Turkey, but Ruba was determined and received a lot of support from her colleagues. “There were times when we struggled to pay the rent. Fortunately, the good people around me have always supported me. The owner of the building and my employees never came to ask me for money. There were times when I couldn’t pay my employees’ salaries, but none of my teachers quit even then. They have always supported me. My family often said that I had to close school, but I didn’t. I kept doing my job and eventually we got through the tough times,” says Ruba.
Today, Yeni Dünya has over 90 students and employs 30 teachers. The school offers Syrian children the opportunity to learn in their mother tongue, Arabic, as well as Turkish and English. “At the age of six, our students can read and write in Arabic, Turkish and English,” says Ruba proudly.
Yeni Dünya has been involved with Building Markets services since 2019. With the organization’s support, Ruba says she feels more confident in areas like financial planning and says these counseling and encouragement services are empowering. . For the future, she hopes to open other branches of the school in Gaziantep and throughout Turkey.
“People around me say I’m a powerful woman, even a heroine,” Ruba smiles in front of her school. “I don’t feel like a hero. I feel like iron. I am more powerful than a hero.