When a couple living in Turkey saw local olive groves being destroyed to make way for new housing developments, they felt called to start a creative community project to help Syrian refugees.
Debrah and Manfred, a Canadian and German who have lived in the Izmir region of Turkey for 18 years, were devastated to see olive wood from local trees going to waste. They also wanted to find a way to bring fair labour to the community’s growing Syrian refugee population – and so their olive wood workshop was born.
Fair employment for refugees
“We have 700 refugees in the town,” Manfred explains. “They are usually underpaid and overworked. They work long hours and only get a certain portion of what a local would get. So we wanted to model a way of employing them under fair conditions.”
The workshop started in Debrah and Manfred’s home, but soon outgrew it and moved to an empty business in the heart of the town. Today, they employ a part-time manager and two skilled full-time Syrian brothers who have been trained in woodworking. Furthermore, the project has also provided a much-needed employment opportunity for Syrian women in the community.
“Culturally, Syrian women do not work outside of their house,” Debrah says. “With this work we can provide some creative labour for them – they do the final polish and the packaging of the olive pieces at home.”
Three beautiful designs
The couple were first introduced to SAT-7 at a conference in Turkey. We commissioned a special order for bespoke laser-cut decorations in three designs – “Peace”, “Hope”, and “Faithful” – for supporters to buy.
The painstaking process of crafting SAT-7’s olive wood decorations starts with branches of the olive trees being cut and dried. The branches are then cut into slices, dried again, sanded down to the right thickness, and then sent to a local shop for laser cutting. Lastly, the decorations have a final sanding and are sent to the women to be polished with olive oil.
Reflecting God’s creation
Manfred explained that for the Syrian workers, the olive wood project is so much more than just a job.
“For them to come to the shop and have creative work, it’s not only mechanical labour, it’s really helping them to overcome some of those difficult memories they have to deal with,” Manfred said. “When I first got to know the two brothers, they were very traumatised. They had news of friends and relatives being wounded or even killed on a very regular basis.”
“We have seen a change in their personalities and their ability to take responsibility, and work in an environment that is almost like a “family – it really makes them feel at ease and safe. That definitely makes a difference in their lives.”
For Debrah, the intrinsic beauty of each wood grain pattern reveals more to her about the creator God. “I love the uniqueness of every piece,” she says. “To see the creativity and art – because these pieces are beautiful artworks – it reflects what God has given in His creation and people.”
“Peace”, “hope”, “faithful” – or all three – which will you choose? Click here to visit the shop and buy decorations for yourself or a friend.
We hope this gift will be a reminder of Christians faithfully witnessing to Jesus Christ in the Middle East and North Africa, and inspire you to continue praying for this precious region.
- Thank God for the Debrah and Manfred’s vision to start an olive wood workshop, and pray the business will flourish and grow.
- Pray for the two Syrian brothers and the women who work for the project, and ask God to be with them and heal them from their trauma.
- Pray for “Peace” and “Hope” for the Middle East, and thank God for the “Faithful” witness of Christians in the region!