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Saffa fled Syria for a better life. A microloan helped her start over.

Saffa's Kiva loan helped her start a new business; now she dreams of expanding it further.

When Saffa fled Syria for Turkey in search of refuge, she couldn't have imagined the conditions she'd face on her journey. 

“I arrived in Turkey not knowing anyone…I only had my three girls with me,” recalls the 39 year-old mother of six. 

“When I came here, I didn’t know where to go. When they told me I should enter a camp, I was very surprised,” she says. 

“I was shocked to see tents—it was very shocking to us.”

Eventually joined by her husband and three other children, Saffa and her family spent three years in refugee camps. 

Turkey is now the largest refugee-hosting country in the world with more than 2 million refugees within its borders. It has built a network of 24 camps to house more than a quarter of a million refugees. Saffa was transferred to one of those camps in Midyat, the city where she still resides. She learned to make the most of her new environment amongst many other displaced families.

“I was shocked to see tents—it was very shocking to us.”

Finding the resources to rebuild

From the wars in Syria and Afghanistan to the current crisis in Ukraine, the global refugee crisis continues to expand at a dramatic rate. Over 84 million people are currently displaced from their homes—the most in human history—and some experts believe it will become 300 million by 2030. While immediate humanitarian aid is critical, long-term solutions are needed to help these displaced people find and access economic opportunities as they rebuild their lives.

Fortunately, Saffa was able to find such a solution when her husband fell ill. Having heard about microloans from a friend who owns a hair salon, she decided to take one out herself. With the loan, made possible through Kiva’s non-profit Field Partner Turkish Grameen Microfinance Program (TGMP), Saffa purchased shelving and opened a small grocery store in town. She was able to fill the shelves with goods at first, but COVID lockdowns limited her dreams of expansion.

“The girls and their father couldn't work because of the curfew,” she says. “We were highly affected by it.”

Like so many of us in recent times, Saffa pivoted: With another microloan, she acquired a cache of silk veils that she began selling to family and friends with much success. 

“Before the loan, I had no project in mind,” she says. “When I took the loan, I had a project and I relied on it. I've engaged in this business due to this loan.”

Saffa with some of her products

Accessing finance isn’t always easy for refugees

At first, Saffa was nervous about submitting her paperwork to the loan officer at TGMP. 

“I didn’t expect to get it,” she says, remembering how she feared that the loan officer who was Turkish, might not trust her, since she was Syrian. 

“Thankfully, it went well. Now I'm using it; I should repay it and rely on myself. To work on developing myself, by myself.”

While some might see lending to refugees as a risk, Kiva understands that financial access is the key to long-term stability for them in their new communities. Kiva began supporting refugee lending in 2016, dispersing over USD $23 million to more than 27,000 displaced people thus far. The result has been highly successful with a robust 95.5% repayment rate, the same as for borrowers who are not refugees. 

“Debts should be paid…I repay it with thanks.”

“The financing from Kiva gave us the initial push to take the risk and start lending to refugees. We couldn’t have seen this expansion without Kiva,” attests one local lending partner. 

TGMP, the Field Partner who made Saffa’s loan possible, has specifically expanded their efforts to reach Syrian refugees who have fled the war in their home country and settled in Turkey. With refugees largely lacking economic opportunity, TGMP is one of the few organizations willing to serve them. Their partnership with Kiva allows them to scale their support to Syrian refugees as well as Turkish women in rural areas who are looking to start or grow their small business.

For Saffa, there has never been a question of settling her loans as she grows her business.  

“Debts should be paid…I repay it with thanks.”

With as little as $25, you can help fund loans to vulnerable populations like refugees or internally displaced persons

Paying it forward

Saffa found the loan process so straightforward and helpful that she decided to show others how to secure microloans to pursue entrepreneurship or other goals.  

“I found it very helpful, so I told my friend and my other friend about it…It was beneficial for me, for my friends, everyone,” she says.

“When I see someone in distress, I advise them to take a loan to handle it, to resolve their problem…it can be easily paid off.”

Saffa now dreams of expanding her business

With the connections she’s been able to establish with a wholesaler, Saffa now has dreams of expanding her business further. She hopes to open a shop to serve more women in her community, expanding her inventory to include clothing and prayer items.

“That’s my goal, to have a shop and grow my business,” she says. “To open my own shop and have the capital to fill it with clothes…I dream of having that kind of shop.” 

The situation in her home country remains tumultuous, and it is unlikely that Saffa and her family will be able to return any time soon. However, with her growing business and her husband’s taxicab, they have been able to build a new foundation in Midyat that can sustain a stable life for themselves and their children.

“The region here is very nice, it’s free of trouble,” Saffa says with a smile.

“Living here is not difficult at all.”

About the author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos is Kiva's Senior Storyteller and an award-winning writer based in Savannah, Georgia, USA. Covering social justice, cultural equity, sustainable growth, financial literacy, and always celebrating others' success, she is thrilled to help share Kiva's mission—and the stories of the people it connects.