Dr. Zakira Hekmat
“It is hard to imagine that you are in the third decade of your life, but the war is not over yet, you have spent a decade and a half as a refugee. You wish to go to your homeland, but there is no peace in your homeland and the war is still raging. This is the story of my life and the story of many other refugees.”
In Afghanistan, Zakira experienced first-hand the hardship and discrimination faced by marginalized peoples. She incorporates this perspective into her work, as she assists disadvantaged individuals in her community and works to reconnect isolated people with society.
Despite a lack of funding, in 2014 she founded the Afghan Refugees Solidarity Association (ARSA), renting an office in Kayseri, Turkey that would become a resource hub and healing center for the refugees she intended to serve. Since then she has managed to organize, coordinate, and manage tens of voluntary projects that assist underserved communities. Today, ARSA has helped to meet the needs of hundreds of refugees of different ages, ethnic groups, and genders all across Turkey.
This journey has not been easy. Financially, organizations that focus on non-Syrian refugees in Turkey are often left on the sidelines when it comes to funding, and as a consequence, the needs of these populations and those who serve them are underrepresented. Nonetheless, Zakira has taken these challenges head on, working with her team to complete projects in the realms of language education, cultural adaptation, capacity building, child protection, and language-specific information and awareness campaigning.
Zakira has also worked with other activists to organize peaceful protests against unjust policies that negatively affect asylum seekers in Turkey. She works tirelessly to provide resources to those in need. To this end, she regularly presents at conferences and fora inside and outside of Turkey and helps international reporters, journalists, and university students to access and collect resources. With the help of the UNHCR, she has also organized a network of 370 refugee volunteers in 58 cities across Turkey, which work together to help newly arrived refugees settle into their cities.