Funda Demirel is an award-winning artist, educator, and activist who is training women and girls in traditional Turkish art forms in order to help them recover from domestic violence and gain economic independence.
Demirel started working with women and girls in state-run agencies in 2004, and then in 2010, after six years of listening to heart-breaking stories, she decided to start a non-profit organization that would address the root causes of domestic violence and help women heal.
Her organization is called Yeniden Bir Yaşam Derneği, (abbreviated as YADER), which translates loosely as “A New Life Association.”
Helping Women Build “A New Life”
Demirel says that when she started YADER, she realized that many women who were experiencing domestic violence were afraid to talk about it. They did not understand that there were other forms of violence besides beatings. They were not used to thinking of slaps and verbal insults as forms of violence too.
Demirel set out to change those attitudes and educate women about their rights. The group now serves approximately 600 women every year. YADER connects the women to community services, educational opportunities, and jobs, in addition to training them in the arts.
YADER is based in Manisa, a 3,000-year-old Turkish city with a long history of artisans creating exquisite rugs, tiles, clothing, jewelry, and glassware. Under Funda Demirel’s expert guidance, the women and girls of YADER study these traditional art forms and learn to make dolls, jewelry, handbags, and other decorative items.
Connecting Women To Their Cultural Heritage
Some of the techniques they are learning, such as embroidery and felt-making, are thousands of years old. The process of creating the art helps the women connect to their cultural heritage, release negative emotions, and feel the power of self-expression. They also learn to market and sell their works at festivals and online so that they have a new way to make money. Demirel dreams that one day the women will have a large and fully-equipped studio to heal themselves while preserving important cultural traditions through their handicrafts.
“Our Bread Is Stone” Project
One of YADER’s most successful arts programs has been the “Our Bread Is Stone” project, which started in 2016. The project participants make dolls with painted stones as heads. They gather the stones at the seaside and they use other found or recycled materials to create folkloric clothing for the dolls. These charming baby ambassadors of Turkey’s cultural heritage are extremely popular as souvenirs, and Demirel says that as of December 2022, over 680 of YADER’s stone dolls have been sold.
Theater & More
In addition to the folkloric arts projects, YADER has done many studies about gender-based violence and they have done panels, workshops, and theatre productions to raise public awareness about domestic violence. For instance, their first consciousness-raising play “Being a Woman” was performed in over 100 venues.
They also have a very successful theater program for troubled teens, the YKS Theater Workshop (Life Culture and Art Group), which was established in 2015. The YKS Theater has won top prizes in regional theatre competitions and they were recently involved in creating a film.
YADER helps women and young people create new lives by giving them a wonderful combination of skills, encouragement and hope. Through that work they have also reached thousands of other people every year through their exhibitions, theatrical performances, seminars, and workshops.
Congratulations to Funda Demirel and everyone on the YADER team – your courageous and persistent efforts are truly an inspiration to the women of the world.
For more information about YADER, please visit their Facebook page at Yeniden Bir Yaşam Derneği,.