“It was a bad situation, to see your home fully destroyed after you had been living in it for almost 16 years; it is an extremely difficult feeling. But then you just think okay, aside from your health and the health of your children you can get through anything.”
Asma and her family are from Homs, Syria. After their home was destroyed in 2013, she, her husband, and their three children fled to Jordan where they now reside.
Today, she and her family are financially stable and Asma is operating a small cooking business. Her prepared meals and catered goods have gained a reputation in her neighborhood and demand for her product has grown, allowing the family to pay down their debts and meet their family’s needs. Asma’s success in starting her business after participating in NEF's program is not surprising when you consider the obstacles that she has overcome to arrive at this point.
When Asma was just 14, she was the victim of early marriage. Approximately one out of five girls across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are married before the age of 18. Gender inequality, high levels of poverty, and lack of educational opportunities for girls are all among the main drivers of this issue. Asma had her first child, a son, shortly after at the age of 15. The marriage was unhealthy and very brief. After their divorce, her ex-husband would not allow her to take custody of their son, and she was forced to leave him with her now ex-husband. She would not see him again until he was a teenager.
“I never stopped trying and wanted to continue my life,” Asma explains as the reason why she continued her studies and then worked as a nurse for three years. She then met and married her current husband, and they built a life and a family together. They had a comfortable home and happy life until conflict began to escalate and her community started to experience raids and indiscriminate arrests of citizens. She recalls an instance when her children were sleeping and soldiers forcibly entered their home and searched it without permission; this happened two other times. Her sister was unlawfully arrested for a month, and her brother was also arrested for a brief time. Both reported torture in prison.
Then, while away visiting her husband’s family, they received the news that there was a raid, and all of the houses in their neighborhood were destroyed. When they returned, their home was gone. They could not even enter the neighborhood to see if any memorabilia items remained because the wreckage from the bombs kept people from entering the area.
Like the majority of the five million Syrian refugees who seek refuge in neighboring countries, Asma’s family chose not to remain in a refugee camp for more than a couple of days after arriving in Jordan. They moved into a low-income neighborhood in Jordan’s urban sprawl. Although she and her husband found informal work cleaning houses, cars, and cooking for neighbors, they were unable to earn enough to meet the family’s basic needs. Describing this time, Asma said, “The monthly money that my husband was making before was not enough to cover all of the monthly expenses. It ran out the middle of the month.”
Asma’s neighbors who had been purchasing her prepared meals encouraged her to start her own catering business. Asma explains, “The Jordanian people were very supportive and cooperative,” and added that she feels very safe in Jordan.
With this encouragement and her husband’s support, Asma pursued her passion for cooking and started a catering business. Through trainings, she learned how to develop a business model, market her products, interact with customers, set prices, and enter into new markets. With the project grant she received at the completion of the program, she purchased a refrigerator for food preservation, giving her as she says, the “push” she needed to get started.
Asma’s household has seen a 50 percent increase in income from her cooking business. Her customer base continues to grow, and she says that she now needs to invest in additional equipment including a “kubeh” machine (grinder) and another refrigerator to keep up with increasing demand.
Asma says, “I have a stronger personality now. I want to make sure my product is perfect, unique, and different from the other products in the markets.” She has gained confidence and independence, especially with regard to decision-making on where to spend money, saying, “Now if my kids ask anything from me, I can do it.”
The family has now started to save some money for the future and emergency expenses which brings Asma and her husband great peace of mind.
Thank you for your continued to support to make stories like Asma's possible!
NEF is excited to announce that it will soon be launching new programming in Armenia that will be specifically targeted toward strengthening the capacity of local civil society organizations (CSOs) that are focused on improving gender equality and women's economic empowerment in Armenia.
Building on the success and momentum of past experience, NEF will help 12 Armenian CSOs improve, diversify, and sustain their technical and organizational capacity to improve their ability to effectively deliver programs that support economically empowering women. These efforts will support 600 vulnerable Armenian women - including survivors of gender-based violence, and women at risk of gender discrimination - to safely access business development and employability training.
After its successful project to advance gender equality and the rights of survivors of gender-based violence, NEF looks forward to re-launching these efforts in Armenia. Project activities are scheduled to launch in early 2018. We look forward to sharing more updates on our progress with you soon!
As conflict in Syria and Iraq displaces thousands, NEF continues to address the protracted refugee crisis in Jordan and Lebanon. Humanitarian aid remains largely focused on immediate and short-term needs, providing little to no support for the long-term impact this crisis will have on affected communities.
With an eye toward the future, NEF is providing solutions that will support both the displaced and affected host communities through inclusive opportunities that enable conflict-affected individuals to earn a living and build resilience against future shocks. In practice, this includes strengthening the capacity of both refugee and host communities to recover from crisis and emerge from poverty through business and economic development, employability training, vocational training, financial literacy and financial/start-up assistance, social networking, and on-going mentoring and coaching for new entrepreneurs. As both women and youth are known to be the most vulnerable during times of conflict, NEF’s work in both Jordan and Lebanon has a focus on adolescents and women headed households.
NEF partners with local civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide these and other services at hubs known as Siraj Centers. In Arabic, the word “Siraj” means lantern—with the connotation of a beacon of light and hope. The aptly named centers offer individuals a safe environment to receive training, information, guidance, and coordinated referrals to other service providers.
NEF in Jordan
Strengthening economic and social resilienceRecent activities in Jordan include multiple four-day business development trainings for 455 participants in four areas of Jordan—South Amman, East Amman, Irbid, and Zarqa. A total of 64 workshops have been held in these four locations since March of 2017. The goal of these trainings is to support business creation and income generation, which will positively contribute to the local economy.
Capacity BuildingTo establish a sustainable framework for continued livelihoods efforts supported by the local community, NEF held an “Ideation and Innovation” workshop to establish a network of local “Master Trainers.” In May, 24 Master Trainers (of Jordanian, Iraqi, and Syrian nationalities) received the necessary training to train others on how to transform their ideas into tangible businesses, perform strategic planning, implement best business practices, and monitor their business’ progress.
Youth TrainingLimited opportunities, isolation, and tension contribute to a sense of despair and hopelessness among refugees and poor Jordanians. To address this, NEF trained 334 adolescents (52 Iraqis, 79 Jordanians, and 203 Syrians) in financial literacy tailored toward supporting self-development through financial management skills. The training sessions also strive to contribute to social interaction and harmony between Jordanians and Iraqi and Syrian refugees, thereby promoting mutual respect and social cohesion.
To date NEF’s efforts in Jordan have directly benefited 7,960 refugees and Jordanians and indirectly benefitted the lives of 39,800.
Last month, a bazaar was held in Zarqa where project participants had the opportunity to display and sell their products.
NEF in Lebanon
Strengthening economic and social resilienceNEF and its partners have conducted 43 business development trainings for over 1000 Lebanese and Syrian men and women. Additional training sessions covering life skills such as household budgeting and savings were also provided. 209 grant recipients have commenced business operations, either through providing services or selling products.
Vocational TrainingOver 370 Lebanese and Syrians received vocational training (300 women, 70 men) related to the type of business plan they had selected. Vocational training topics spanned such industries as food production, tailoring, hairdressing, aesthetics and make-up, book keeping, handicrafts.
Capacity BuildingNEF has helped to increase the capacity of 34 civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide high quality and expanded services. Staff members from each CSO are now able to conduct business development trainings, business coaching, business networking, as well as financial literacy training for adolescents. Additionally, CSO’s have improved their ability to respond to protection incidents and provide appropriate referrals. In May, NEF met with CSO staff members and volunteers to significantly improve and systemize the process of participant data collection and monitoring participant’s progress—this effort will make it possible for NEF and its partners determine the success rate of these services, and make adjustments for improvements as needed.
Khayriye was one of the first few women trained in the Minieh center. She has now purchased a sewing machine and completed a six-day vocational training on tailoring. Khayriye thanked NEF and Hadatha saying, “This project was a great opportunity for me.”
To date, NEF’s efforts in Lebanon have directly benefited 3,050 refugees and Lebanese and indirectly benefitted the lives of 12,200.