Imece Initiative Association helps refugees with Energy for Everyone project

Our grantee Imece Initiative Association launched its clean energy product Energy for Everyone (EFE) in 2018. This tool seeks to help displaced populations through their journey by serving as a battery bank for mobile phones powered by solar energy. EFE is produced by refugee women to help them acquire skills to become financially independent as well as provide them guidance for a better integration into the Turkish society. With Turkey Mozaik Foundation’s grant, Imece is working on creating a marketing and sales network for EFE, as well working on otherincome generating and fundraising activities for the organisation such as benefiting from the grants and funds. The association also works on a communications strategy that focuses on increasing its social media presence.

Please see below the interview with Imece.

Imece Initiative Association, which operates in Çeşme, works mainly with refugees. Could you tell us about your work, your experiences and the approach of the association in this field?

The Imece Initiative Association (İmece İnisiyatifi Derneği) was operating as an initiative in Çeşme, prior to establishing as an association in March 2016. The initiative used to organize student solidarity groups and provide food and other essential goods to economically disadvantaged people and families.  As of November 2015, we decided to focus our work on seasonal agricultural workers and Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi asylum-seekers who came to Çeşme with the hope of crossing the Aegean Sea to reach European countries. The refugees had to live in unsafe tents in rural areas of Izmir, without basic human needs and services. We believe that we can add meaning to our lives by benefiting not only ourselves but also others. When we find ourselves at the point where we have to choose between helping the poor or trying to end the poverty; we chose to take actions to end the poverty without giving up helping the poor. Unfortunately, the most intense and urgent need was the needs of the refugees who tried to go from Çeşme to Greek Island Chios (Sakız Adası).  We tried to meet the basic needs of people who had to wait for days without electricity and water to reach the shore. From blankets to hygiene items, from food packages to medicine, we tried to bring these basic supplies whoever needed them. Our donors trusted us because of the method we used to supply these materials. In this process, we did not accept cash donations from anyone. We only reported what the need was and where it was needed. We asked donors to come and see the situation here, the desperation that other people are trying to live through. We have witnessed many tragic incidents in this process. It was a tragedy in itself that people risked their lives with the dream of a “better life”. It was difficult to learn that the people whose needs we identified and gave supplies to; with whom we solidarized and chatted, got on the boats and those boats did not reach any shore. There were a lot of people whose needs we identified and found the supplies, but when we reached them, we learned that they passed away. We still continue our support activities for basic needs with the same methodology. We report whatever is needed in the winter for agricultural worker families living in rural areas. If possible, the donor himself provides the stove, rain boots or food packages; we believe it is really important to join the distribution of the supplies and see who they are supporting. In response to the question of what could have saved people who waits for days without having access to electricity and wants to send an emergency message or location on their phone, we developed the idea of Energy For Everyone (EFE) power bank and Solar Age project. We want those who support our EFE power bank project to come and see our Imece Village where it is produced.

Could you tell us how you decided to establish Imece Village and what are the values of the village? What kind of activities do you do?

We mentioned that we are a group of people who believe that we can add meaning to our lives by benefiting not only ourselves but also other beings. It should be noted that the benefit we have mentioned here is not simply distributing food packages or any other aid materials. We have started to do things that will be a step towards eliminating discrimination, injustice and poverty without giving up supporting for the daily and urgent needs. The idea of Imece Village emerged from the need for a place where we can plan and implement all these ideas. Together, we wanted to do an experiment to see the possibilities of a peaceful life that is based on sharing and solidarity.

We have been carrying out soap, candle, jewellery, natural cosmetics and painting workshops, farming for our own kitchen, permaculture trials and our Solar Age trainings in Imece Village, where we organize our activities andcome together with our international volunteers and beneficiaries since June 2017.  The purpose of the Solar Age project is to produce a solar energy power bank (EFE-Energy For Everyone) that people can charge their mobile phones in emergency crisis situations and to strengthen economically disadvantaged individuals, especially women, with the income of this device, and to create a resource for Imece’s activities.

Imece Village is also a resting area for everyone who is part of this project. Some of the women and children who come to the Solar Age workshop see the sea for the first time with this program. Most of the children experience the excitement of going to the cinema for the first time in their lives in Imece Village. Thanks to our volunteer network, we can facilitate the participation of women with children in our workshops. When the mothers are in the workshops, children spend quality time with our skilled volunteers in our village. In addition to a large playground where children can play freely, we also have a children’s room where they can participate in fun activities on rainy and cold days with toys and educational materials.

Imece Village, which we try to create by adhering to our principles of volunteering, recycling and non-harm, operates on the principle of zero waste. In accordance with our belief in consuming not more than necessary and sharing; kitchen waste is given to the cats, dogs, sheep and chickens where we live with in Imece Village or used to enrich our soil, which is the most important source of our kitchen.

The Imece Initiative Association has an ongoing collaboration with Barefoot College, one of India’s leading social enterprises. What kind of work do you do about clean energy production within the scope of this cooperation? What kind of contribution do international collaborations bring to your work?

The International Solar Training Program started in 2008 and continues with the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC), a division of the Indian Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When the idea of ​​Imece Village first emerged in the group, we met with The International Solar Training Program, thanks to TED speech of Barefoot College founder Bunker Roy. Then, we went to visit Barefoot College. We have explained both our village plan and Solar Age project and why we want to embark on this journey. Bunker Roy told us that we can send trainees to the International Solar Training Program, which is run by Barefoot College, and gave the idea to realize our productions with women who have completed this program. Thus, in 2017, we sent the first International Solar Training Program participants from Turkey. So far, a total of 7 women have been included in the program in the Barefoot Collage. Trainees Mine and Ezgi wanted to continue working with İmece and joined our team. They are currently running the Solar Age program in Imece Village, together. Energy for Everyone is a solar powered power bank, the first product we produced with the Solar Age Project. However, we also want to develop and produce different products such as solar powered toys.

In November, we had the opportunity to meet Bunker Roy again and talked about ways to continue our cooperation. We discussed the opportunity to introduce EFE to Barefoot College’s product catalogue and to practice their programs in Turkey in a smaller scale. This partnership has shown us that it is possible to realize our own dream. We saw in Barefoot that we can make it work. After Mine and Ezgi’s training at Barefoot, they were included in our Solar Age program without the need for a second training. In addition, with the practice they gained in Barefoot by meeting with women from different countries of the world, they were able to communicate easily with refugee women in Imece Village despite all language barriers. This alone is an invaluable experience. It is also important for us to follow the developments in the solar energy field, to see what can happen at the intersection of the energy sector and civil society, and to be a part of it.

In recent years, human rights violations and hostility towards refugees in Europe and the world have been increasing. Turkey has also been dealing with these issues. How do you respond to these violations with the work you do?

We aim to take steps towards eliminating discrimination, injustice and poverty. We believe in carrying out all our activities without taking into consideration the nationality, skin colour, belief or any other difference of a person and to benefit or not to harm beings. In our social media posts, we consciously do not talk about “differences” but about only the people and their needs. We care about what refugees have to deal with and what their needs are, not the reason that they have become refugees or not where they came from. We strive to plan and implement activities that will provide livelihood opportunities and that will ensure them to have a life in accordance with human dignity without being dependent on aids.

In which areas do you plan to improve the institutional capacity of the Imece Initiative Association with the grant and mentor support you received from our Core Fund Program with the financial contribution of Turkey Mozaik Foundation?

With the grant and mentor support we receive, we hope to make Imece Association  financially stable without becoming dependent  on funds and donations. We hope that some of the revenues generated from EFE’s sales will also be to support Imece’s activities. In order to achieve this, we need to introduce our product to organizations providing humanitarian aid. Therefore, we allocated a significant portion of this grant to be used for international travels which will help us establish contacts with humanitarian aid agencies and organisations. We made our India visit to Barefoot College in November with this grant. In January, we will cover some of our expenses for the meetings with Medicin Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders in Brussels, Plan B in Germany and the World Fair Trade Organization in the Netherlands with the core fund.