Meet the Turkish volunteers who feed 4,000 Syrian refugees every day

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Wednesday 12 August 2015 13:40

Last week, a Turkish couple made headlines around the world after highlighted how they had selflessly decided to forgo a party for their friends and family and share their wedding meal with 4,000 local Syrian refugees instead.

Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu and Esra Polat got married in Kilis, on the Syrian border, and donated the money their families had put together towards a traditional two-day wedding to helping feed the local refugee community at the suggestion of Ali Üzümcüoğlu, the groom's father.

Ali volunteers with Kimse Yok Mu, an aid organisation allied with the religious Gulen movement that works around the world as well as at home in Turkey, which is currently home to almost two million Syrian refugees fleeing the bloodshed of civil war.

Around 4,000 displaced Syrians live in Kilis alone, and more arrive every week. The Turkish government has pledged to build a new settlement in the area to cope with the rising numbers, as according to KYM, refugees now make up almost one in two people in the border town.

While the influx of people has had a dramatic effect on life for local Turks as well as incoming refugees, Fevzi Çakmak, KYM's regional director for southeast Turkey, said that the language barrier was breaking down as more and more Syrians became proficient in Turkish, and locals have welcomed them wholeheartedly, as Fethullah and Esra's wedding showed.

"The local people of Kilis have embraced them, opened up their houses for them and shared their meals with them", Çakmak told us.

Certainly, [we] initially thought that the war would end and the refugees would return home. However, the war, which has been continuing for years, has pushed refugees to settle in Turkey... and they have been completely integrated into social life.

  • Fevzi Çakmak, KYM's regional director for south-east Turkey

KYM has distibuted more than three million meals to refugees in Kilis since the war began, and also runs two schools for displaced children in Kilis and neighbouring Yayladağı - but as Çakmak says, there's no way the charity's work would be possible without the help of volunteers.

It is these small acts of kindness from locals that make all the difference, Çakmak said.

In Kilis, two men from the town, Abdülgafur Beyazidoğlu (68) Mehmet Kesmenoğlu (62), have been volunteering at the soup kitchen since it opened. When the number of mouths to feed increased, Kesmenoğlu handed over running his photo studio to his son so he could work at the kitchen full time.

"The have become indispensable figures for the soup kitchen," Çakmak said. "Syrians love them so much."

Volunteers Mehmet Kesmenoğlu (L) and Abdülgafur Beyazidoğlu (R)

More: A Turkish couple spent their wedding day feeding 4,000 Syrian refugees