Merhaba. My name is Nilgun Seyhun and I am the founder of OAK Creative Designs.
In 2014, I moved to Kayseri, Turkey from Canada at a time when Turkey was experiencing a full-blown refugee crisis with over 3 million Syrians settling in the country.
Seeing refugees in Kayseri compelled me to start making door-to-door visits and distribute emergency supplies. Over time, I was able to get to know some of the families and learned of their harrowing stories of escape and survival. As these families started to call Kayseri their home, access to language training and other educational support programs became a priority in the refugee community. With the help and support of family and friends from around the world, it was in 2016 that we established Open Arms in Kayseri (OAK). This centre provided hundreds of women and children with the opportunity to gain the necessary skills to not only survive, but to thrive as contributing members in their community.
From meeting the basic needs to closing the education gap, it was in the same spirit that OAK also began to address the issue of unemployment. As a result, we began to operate a women’s vocational training program to produce high quality handmade crochet items.
As our artisans began to perfect their craft and explore their entrepreneurial spirit, the world was confronted with the Covid-19 pandemic. This made it unfeasible for our team of volunteers to continue to sell our products at local events, bazaars and festivals. As a result, in September 2020, we launched an e-commerce business named OAK Creative Designs with the hopes of reaching customers around the world.
This project has provided many refugee women with the opportunity to earn a sustainable and steady income for their families. Not only has it improved the quality of life for many families, it has also given our artisans the opportunity to explore their own creativity and transform the trauma that they have experienced into something beautiful.
During these last two months, our team has been enriched with the addition of local Turkish artisans. Our studio is located in the Osmanli neighbourhood in Kayseri, Turkey. This residential area has the highest concentration of refugees in Kayseri. In neighbourhoods like this one, it is common for there to be segregation between the refugee and the local Turkish community. Oftentimes, there is distrust and even conflict. Over the past few weeks, it has been wonderful to witness our artisans working together to overcome these challenges and misconceptions.
I am looking forward to seeing our company grow and support as many women in our community as possible. I hope that our company not only brings to the world a line of unique and diverse products, but that it will also honour the brave and resilient women who lovingly make them.