What can innovation do for Famagusta?

This week, Lina from the Renewal team shares with us how a team of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots from the Famagusta region have joined forces with the innovation platform Mahallae to crowdsource creative solutions from a community in need.
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I have been working with the Renewal team since September 2014. We work closely with citizens and municipalities in the greater Famagusta region to address specific problems the region is facing.
Our efforts are focused on the walled city of Famagusta as well as the three communities of Deryneia, Frenaros and Vrysoules. Although quite diverse within itself, this region is nonetheless subject to a great deal of shared problems, among which is a very difficult economic situation.
The greater Famagusta region suffers from the highest unemployment rate among yimage (3)outh in the whole of Cyprus. The unemployment here has reached 40%. As you can imagine, the side-effects of this level of unemployment are devastating psychologically, economically, socially. We have a lot of young people leaving their homes in search for opportunities in other cities over the island or abroad. As we took a look at this grim picture, we wondered what we could do as the Renewal team that has never been done before. We began by offering a series of seminars on entrepreneurship, in partnership with the Cyprus Enterprise Link (CEL). This allowed us to build capacity and create an extended network of young people who were meeting frequently to learn together.
But we wanted to go beyond merely offering skills – we wanted to offer the Famagustian youth a chance to put their newfound skills to use.
This is how our collaboration with Mahallae was born, to launch what we are calling the Famagusta Region Challenge. Using the Mahallae platform, we are taking an in10922361_600964856717103_3025988399328892618_onovative approach to supporting positive economic and social development in the region. We are asking young people to submit their ideas; the winners will receive the funding and support from our team to kickstart their efforts. We are giving Cypriots a chance to put their ideas and talents together in order to create a service or product that benefits the communities on the island.
I feel like what really makes this project special is the fact that it has been directly designed based on the needs of the people in the area. As the Renewal team, we are constantly in dialogue with the citizens of the region. The Mahallae Challenges is our response to the ideas and experiences you shared with us on how you can spark change in this region. We are open to everyone’s suggestions, so please don’t hesitate to join us on this journey. And don’t forget to visit Mahallae’s page and read all about our Famagusta challenge. We want to work with you and make you innovative ideas come true!
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Serdar Atai: “My dream is to see Famagusta Walled City as a UNESCO Site”

In the last few months, a local team in Famagusta has been creating good kind of trouble. Today, we’re talking to Serdar, one of the team members of Renewal, about the work they are doing there and his dreams about the region for the future.

Hi Serdar. We would like to begin by getting to know you a little more.

I was born in Famagusta in 1967 and raised here.

DSC_9803I’ve been engaged with civil society and bi-communal work since the early ’90s. I’ve worked with many different groups. I’ve also had the chance of visiting many conflict regions in the world for sharing our experience and exchanging lessons with them.

I’m in love with my beautiful city. My dream is to see Famagusta Walled City as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites where the Famagusta Port is transformed into a Tourism Port and the Greater Famagusta Region; beginning from Deryneia and ending at Salamina, as a completely demilitarised and reunited hinterland.

How did you get involved with RENEWAL?

For the past 6 years, I’ve served as the vice-president of MASDER (Famagusta Walled City Association) and for the past 4 years I’m the spokesperson for the Famagusta Initiative.

RENEWAL is the end product of consultations by UNDP-ACT with local stakeholders in Famagusta and Deryneia regions. MASDER was one of the stakeholders they visited. The idea was born through our consultations together.

What are you trying to accomplish with the RENEWAL initiative?

As RENEWAL, we attempt to provide soft infrastructure for business development, facilitate youth entrepreneurship and enhance civil society dialogue and cooperation within the Greater Famagusta Region.

What are you most excited about in your work?

10457710_579106582236264_1628229526672439542_oFamagusta and Deryneia are two remote regions in Cyprus with physical barriers and extremely limited capacities.

The communities are surrounded by buffer zones.

The Small-Medium Entreprises (SME’s) face major obstacles in their daily commercial activities.

The highest number of youth migration to the other main cities are from this area because of the existing conditions causing unemployment.

The civil society actors and the general public have limited contacts with each other due to the absence of an easy access checkpoint that can be easily opened and operated from Deryneia buffer zone.

Our hands and arms have been tied until now, but RENEWAL gives us the opportunity for tackling all these problematic issues on the ground with technical assistance, expertise and support from UNDP-ACT. With this support, we as the project team are trying our best to achieve the Project’s objectives as much as we can.

Through the initiative has not been around for long, you must already have some achievements you are proud of.

1505194_586130008200588_7474280430414569689_nWe aimed to bring together children, youth and their families by organising different training sessions or cultural and social activities.

We’ve organized youth entrepreneurship seminars, plantation events, chess and football tournaments, folklore and music performances and a food festival. We’ve many people visiting each other’s region for the first time.

Witnessing the satisfaction on the faces of those children, teenagers and the everyday citizens of Famagusta while they spent time together is our biggest motivation in continuing our work.

How do you envision RENEWAL contributing to the peace process?

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Young Famagustians attend youth entrepreneurship workshops organized by Renewal.

In the long run, I believe these gatherings or interactions at the interpersonal and intercommunal levels will help everyone to emphatize with each other that we have more or less the same anxieties and expectations as two peoples of the same region.

Hopefully, it will help us to create a common ground for coexistence and idealisation of a shared future for the Greater Famagusta Region. The synergy of local communities in daily social and economic life is the only way forward for the common future of our region and island-wide.

How can interested people follow the activities of RENEWAL?

RENEWAL has a Facebook page and people who would like to hear more about us or get informed about our future activities can follow our page here.

Good things are happening in Famagusta

We continue to cover inspiring initiatives from across the island. This week, Maria Zeniou talks about her experience at the Green Streets action, organized recently in Famagusta.

green streets 1As the end of the year approached, things seemed to be slowing down with the peace process. The same could not be said for Famagustians. Indeed, it has been a pleasure for me to experience first hand the various activities organized in December by the people of Famagusta Walled City and Deryneia to work together for the future of their region.

Of the number of activities under RENEWAL that recently took place, I wanted to share with you one of the first and the most memimage002orable for me. It was one of the notoriously rare bad weather days (that Cyprus doesn’t see much of) where the sky was pouring, the streets were flooded and you could barely walk outside, let alone do outdoor activities. Well, I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Not even the rain stopped them: Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots Famagustians, soaking from head to toe, planting trees around the walls of Famagusta. Two hours under the rain, and they managed to plant around 900 trees!

Perhaps the ‘Green Streets’ event is not what you would call a game-changer. But it shows that even under difficult circumstances, given the right opportunity, the people of Famagusta have the will to work for change. The RENEWAL project, currently underway in the region of Famagusta, is working to create exactly this kind of opportunity. After all, only if Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriot Famagustians work together can the social and economic change they envision for their region finally come.

green streets 2image001image004Editor’s Note: You can follow the RENEWAL project and its activities via their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/renewal2014