Meet Ravda Nur Cuma from Turkey
Ravda Nur Cuma had always dreamt of becoming a doctor. As a child, she imagined she would perform operations that saved peoples’ lives. But then the Syrian war came and completely changed the trajectory of her future.
Today, this 23-year-old Syrian woman wants to be a doctor of peace. She runs her own foundation helping families living in refugee camps provide a better future for their daughters through education. Until now the RavdaNur Foundation has supported more than 40,000 children in the Euphrates Shield area and 3,000 in Gaziantep to go back to school.
While still studying International Relations at Hasan Kalyoncu University, Ravda began working with the International Blue Crescent in Syria as a North East Syria Relief Coordinator. This is an NGO that supplies the area controlled by Turkey with drinking water and basic healthcare.
Her work and devotion won her the ‘Peacebuilder’ award in 202o from the HasNa organization, based in Washington DC.
Despite her young age, Ravda is а tireless defender of human and migrant rights, and she has already spoken up about the importance of education at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and at the European Parliament. Helping people is the main driver of her advocacy, her humanitarian work, and her personal life.
Fighting the trap of early marriages
Ravda Nur Cuma grew up in Idlib, the middle child in a family of nine siblings. Her father was a businessman, her mother a homemaker. Education was the first priority for the family and continued to be so even when they were forced to flee their home when the Syrian war reached their town at the end of 2011.
Ravda was 13 years-old when she had to start her second life in a tent camp near the border with Turkey. She took her father’s advice to learn Turkish while they were there. It will be of use, he said, even if the war ended and they could come back to Syria. It was also his way to keep his kids’ minds busy, distracting them from the hardships of refugee life.
Ravda proved to have real talent and, in two months, she became the top student at the Turkish language course. Soon her family was moved to a container camp near Kilis, where they had better living conditions and the children could continue their education.
But in high school, Ravda noticed that her female peers had stopped coming to class. She realized they were either getting married or being sent to work.
“Because of the economic situation and because they didn’t know what will happen in the future, many Syrian families thought they needed to marry their daughters young to keep them safe”, Ravda explains. “I didn’t want to have this kind of life. The idea of getting married at 14 years-old and having a child while I was still a child – it was destroying my dreams. But my father always told me: “Don't worry, I will do my best to educate you. Even if we are now refugees, I will do my best”.
Instead of feeling pressured to follow the other girls’ paths, Ravda decided to speak with these families, and convince them of the importance of education. Some of them closed doors in her face but others she managed to persuade that the school was a safe place to send their daughters to.
And in 2016, Ravda registered her foundation to continue to support the education of refugee girls.
A role model for young girls
She also got a scholarship to Hasan Kalyoncu University and started working to support herself during her studies. With her first salary, she rented an apartment in Hatay (a Turkish province on the Syrian border) to get her parents out of the camp and take her sisters to live with her and continue their education.
As for her own future, Ravda hopes she will one day be able to help in the restoration of Syria country and its society. After graduating in International Relations, she would like to get a master’s degree in Middle Eastern politics.
The human rights activist believes it is very important for refugees to represent themselves by speaking out, by questioning publicly why the war happened, and by coming up with solutions themselves.
“I was always dreaming big. I was always telling my father that I want to be a strong woman and make a change. I need to keep doing this. I cannot stop because on social media, I get a lot of messages from girls who want me to speak up and tell their stories”, Ravda says.
Even if Ravda is living a good life in Turkey and making a difference through her work, she still faces a lot of discrimination and even hatred as a refugee living in a foreign country. What helps her through these moments is to meet the children from the refugee camps. They are always full of hope despite their hardships.
“Whenever I have hard times in my life, I remember when I was feeling cold in the winter in the refugee camp. Now I'm supporting my family, I'm taking care of my sisters so they can go to school and have a good life. I'm trying to be a good role model for every girl”, Ravda adds.
Her goal is to continue to support the effort to educate a large number of girls and children. She also wants to keep fighting for migrant rights, which are really human rights.
“We weren’t born as refugees and the war in our country is not our fault. I just want us to be seen as human beings because we are not just numbers. Every refugee needs an opportunity in life”, Ravda concludes.
Follow more stories on female empowerment with #FemaleForwardInternational and in our Special Focus on the website.
Discover more about Ravda Nur Cuma from the documentary film “Life flourishes again...Hope has the power to transcend all disasters” by Coşkun Aral.
A product of the “European Cities Network on Migration” project was the documentary directed by the famous producer Coşkun Aral. Four immigrants from four countries (Turkey, Greece, Spain and Germany) share their journeys starting from the first day when they left their homes, the difficulties they have experienced, the opportunities they have seen, their transformations and their aspirations. The project was organised by the European Liberal Forum with the support of the Turkish Office of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.