Recently, I came across a description of women activists as “the dreamers who dare to envision and demand safe surroundings and flourishing communities; the steadfast movers and shakers who rouse endangered peoples to challenge hostile corporate interests and negligent government agencies” (…) It is crucial to note that women “often fulfill their roles in activism in creative and unconventional ways” (Stein, New Perspectives on Environmental Justice –Gender, Sexuality, and Activism, Rutgers UP, 2004, p.4) It resonated deeply in me, the people around me, and my activist  friends across the world but feel so close to me. What about you?

It has been almost four years since our initiative took its first steps and we have become a growing and supporting family throughout. Our heartfelt, deepest thanks and gratitude goes to you all who have accompanied us so far on this challenging journey.

It is March again, the International Women’s Month, and I am writing this open letter to you in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that hit the ten provinces of Turkey a month ago. Words fail to even get close to the extent of the damage that we have been witnessing closely since Day 1. The immediate need for relocating the survivors showed all of us once again the importance of having safe and shared spaces like Umay which welcomed several survivors immediately and will host them as long as they need. In the meantime, our efforts to support Iranian, Syrian and other neighboring countries’ women in need will continue.  

Umay-like initiatives for women and any living -human and beyond- are needed more than ever and it has been my conviction and observation that women are better at bonding and sharing. The long term thinking, sacrifice, planning and envisioning that founders of Umay and similar places hope for can become possible onlywhen people get out of their comfort zone and reach out in one way or another. Do we still need to even discuss the importance of solidarity, the unconditional and satisfying love that one is cappable of offering during volunteerism? 

On the surface, for some people -among whom are some of my own family members- unconditional sharing and acts of constantly-giving away one’s belongings and time can sound alarming. However, it is the opposite!  Many studies prove that living a meaningful, healthy and fulfilling life surrounded with people who love, trust, and support you unconditionally is the key to one’s inner and outer peace and satisfaction. Can  anyone get any of that from a big home, a fancy vehicle or designer’s clothes?  

Sevilya and I feel blessed with many friends, volunteers,  family members and former students who turned out to be reliable colleagues and family-like over time thanks to and during the efforts of keeping Umay Home and Garden alive. 

Sevilya’s losing family home in Antakya was probably the most devastating event that she has ever experienced but the support was/has been also the most memorable one (Using “past tense” would take some time). In fact, several of my (parents’) extended family are also relocated and have no idea where or when their next new place/home will be. Cansu Dayan’s family is spread across the country based on other extended family members who can offer one room to one at a time, which is not uncommon. Thousands of families began living apart for the first time in their lives who used to be farmers or villagers for generations.

Your gifts are being divided into three main chunks, 2/3 are transferred to meet the basic needs of the members of Sevilya and Cansu’s family and beyond. “Beyond” means the expenses that can be paid on the ground by these family members to others in need and will be reported to us. It is comforting to know how honest and humble these people are, in fact, these essential traits are almost slowing down the process of distributing your gifts as each one checks at least twice to make sure that there isn’t someone around them who needs it more badly and urgently than they do.

Nafise, who is our Iranian guest since the beginning of January, has been enjoying her first room of her own. Umay is also her place of creativity where she types her impressions of the day and all the new experiences that she has been exposed to since her arrival in Turkey. She expresses not only gratitude but also a growing empowerment and love! We hope that her stay will be extended and she will have other opportunities in her area before moving onto the other chapters of life. Reading her first drafts of a documentary scenario was a true pleasure for me. Thank you, Nafise!

We wish you love, health, creativity, joy, and we thank you again for your continuing solidarity as we go through a challenging month of March in Turkey. Reminding myself of how connected we are across the world, especially today (in contrast to the pre-internet or even pre-electricity times) fills me with hope and energy in these trying weeks. 

We always want to hear from you especially during these times when we need to hear some normalcy, light conversations, and so on, which reminds us (thankfully!) that life goes on and we can still smile, go to the movies, exchange recipes, and plan holidays etc. 

Happy International Women’s Day! 

Ozlem (on behalf of Umay International Women’s Initiative)