When Tradition meets Innovation - Project born to empower women in Cyprus

When Tradition meets Innovation
A PROJECT BORN TO EMPOWER WOMEN THROUGH HANDICRAFTS HELPED REVITALIZING THE BANDABULIYA (OLD MARKET) OF FAMAGUSTA AND TURN IT INTO A WOMEN'S CENTRE

Imagine having the opportunity to learn anything from basket and chair weaving to wood and ceramic painting, from traditional handicrafts to jewelry design. And then acquiring the necessary skills about their marketing and sales. Wouldn’t that be a great way to develop yourself and to contribute to your family economy?

Nermin Kandili is a housewife and mother who had an interest in growing pumpkins in her garden without knowing what to do with them. "One day I heard about the handicrafts courses at the Bandabulya and I went to register. It is there that I learned what kind of magic I could actually create with pumpkins!" she explains.

Nermin attended courses about pumpkin carving and decoration. Thanks to these courses she has started creating all kinds of decorative items from lampshades to fridge magnets which she can actually market and sell in order to contribute to her domestic economy.

Highlights

  • More than 138 women trained in 5 courses over 6 weeks.
  • The Bandabuliya (Old Market) renovated thanks to EU funds by UNDP-PFF in 2006 has now reopened as a Women Cultural Center
  • 200 people attended the exhibition where the works produced during the courses were on display
  • 120 women are benefiting from the 11 courses every week since the conclusion of the project.

"I am very satisfied with what I create on my own, my husband is very proud of me and my son is pleased to have happy parents. His only complaint is that our house resembles that of Cinderella with pumpkins everywhere!" says Nermin.

The project called "When Tradition Meets Innovation" was founded on this very principle of empowering local women. "Our aim was to achieve the empowerment of local women through sustaining traditional Cypriot cultures with a contemporary innovative twist" explains Bulent Kanol, the Executive Director of the Management Center of the Mediterranean that undertook the EU-funded project.

It took place between April 2013 – June 2013 as part of the UNDP-PFF’s call for proposal for innovative cultural activities in the northern part of Cyprus.   A lot of people from the local community got to benefit from various projects while contributing to the transformation of an old market into a modern public meeting point.

The project was originally foreseen for 30 beneficiaries but with the financial support of the local authority the number added up to 138 at the end. "It was really a great project not just because it revitalized the Bandabuliya but because it gave some of the women a purpose and something to look forward to and to socialize" remarks Jale Canlıbalık the Project Coordinator.

Not only was there a lot of demand for the project but every effort was made to ensure that all groups were included in the activities and outputs. A series of workshops were held that included an older generation of women as they taught the younger generation traditional Cypriot handicrafts and customs. The Management Center arranged for a visit by students to the site during one week of the workshops from the local primary school so that the children would get the chance to see, feel and experience traditional Cypriot handicrafts.

"Some of the feedback we received included women asking whether the courses would continue because they look forward to coming to the Bandabuliya each week and making new friends or catching up with old friends.  We had one Iranian lady who spoke very little Turkish and very little English but through the traditional Lefkara handicraft class that she took she felt like she was part of something and was able to communicate without dialogue" says Jale.

The local authority in Famagusta donated four shops to the local women’s organizations as part of their promise to support women and to turn the Famagusta Bandabuliya into a women’s center. This was a positive step in securing a revitalized Famagusta Bandabuliya and a support center for women. 

With the support of the Management Centre, the local authority went further to set up a women's center called MAKAMER which is run by an executive board consisting of volunteer women plus a female employee of the local authority who is acting as its coordinator. 

"The idea to have a women’s center in Famagusta was first developed two years ago as part of the vision of socially responsible local governance. The local authority led the efforts but the initiative was born through the EU-funded project implemented by the UNDP that laid the ground works for the women’s center" explains Simge Okburan, the coordinator of MAKAMER.

Handicrafts workshops continue to be organized in the Bandabuliya by MAKAMER even after the end of the EU-funded project implemented by the UNDP.  All the shops plus an office space within the premises of the Bandabuliya have been designated by the local authority for the usage of the women’s center. The shops continue to be used in the same manner they were used during the project.

Regional representatives were selected to get feedback about the particular needs of women from different neighborhoods. A public opinion survey was also done with a sample of 400 women representing the 17,000 women living in Famagusta in order to identify needs.

"Handscrafts workshops and awareness raising seminars came out as the top two items of the list. Bandabuliya is open on a daily basis with currently 11 ongoing workshops.  The total number of the beneficiaries amount to 120. In line with the demands of the women, we also organize seminars on breast and cervix cancer as well as on matters like women’s human rights" says Simge.  

The local authority is a huge supporter of the project and provides the vast majority of the financial support. The Center has a running cost of around 3,000 Turkish Liras per month most of which goes mainly to the salaries of the instructors. To ensure the sustainability of the efforts the participants are charged with a monthly fee of 20 Turkish Liras.

As the women keep producing, they keep contributing to their domestic economy. Works are carried out to set up a bazaar around the central square of Famagusta once a week where the women can display and sell the products that they produce at Bandabuliya.

Women like Nermin Kandili continue participating in the workshops, adding new skills to their existing ones. "I am now at the stage of creating new designs that I would like to cater specifically to tourists visiting Famagusta" says Nermin.

"This project literally changed my social life. I have made some great friendships here instead of sitting at home all day. It gave me the chance to find out about the life stories of other women while contributing to my domestic economy!"