Help Syrian Refugees to Help Themselves

by Near East Foundation (NEF)

As we marked International Refugee Day this summer, many paused to reflect on the state of our world today—where families are forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict, and persecution.

In Syria, half of the country’s pre-war population, more than 11 million people, have been killed or forced to flee their homes—largely finding refuge in neighboring countries.

Intessar, a 37 year-old woman and single-mother of five, had to flee Syria with her children as violence intensified in her home country. To escape, she and her family had to walk from Syria to Jordan along the Yarmouk River. Families tend to make their journey on foot during the night to avoid being shot by snipers or being caught by soldiers.

When Intessar was asked if she could envision a future in Jordan, she replied, “Yes, because there is no hope to go back to in Syria.”

While immediate humanitarian aid is important, NEF remains focused on implementing innovative and cost-effective solutions in Jordan and Lebanon to help refugees survive in the short term, and thrive in the long term—enabling them to meet their own needs with dignity and to become productive members of their new communities. NEF does this through skills trainings to encourage economic opportunity, financial literacy, social networking, cash-assistance grants, and training in urban agriculture so that families can become food secure.

Living in Zarqa with her children, Intessar was struggling to provide for her family. Through a local community-based organization she found out about NEF’s program that provides opportunities to reduce negative coping strategies among poor, vulnerable, urban Syrian refugees and Jordanians through business trainings, financial literacy, and start-up grants.

Through NEF’s program and a project grant, Intessar was able to set up a small clothing shop and start earning an income to support her family. She said that the best part of the program was “meeting and learning from other women in similar situations.” She is now able to enroll her children in school, and is taking a course in English herself so that she can continue to develop her network.

With diminishing humanitarian aid, we need your support now more than ever. Thank you for your continued support of the Near East Foundation, and for helping women like Intessar and her family find safe and sustainable solutions to achieve food and financial security!


As the Syrian crisis enters its fifth year, millions of refugees continue to seek safety and a better future for their families in Jordan and Lebanon. Jordan hosts more than 600,000 Syrian refugees and in Lebanon, Syrian refugees now constitute 25 percent of the population. 

Out of necessity, women in many conflict and post-conflict areas find themselves as earners for the first time in order to support their families.

Take Fattoum, a 35-year-old woman who fled Syria with her family to Lebanon. “We left everything behind, we came here with nothing.” Her husband does not have a job, and together they have four children—one with cancer.

“Putting a meal on the table is a continuous challenge, the amount of money we spend on rent and medicine leaves us almost nothing for food.”

With NEF’s help, Fattoum is receiving training in small home-based business development and urban agriculture so that she can grow fruits and vegetables at home.                  

“I am an illiterate Syrian refugee woman. This program empowers me as a woman to become more productive and self-reliant. Our living situation is in dire need of such projects to lift us out of the extremely bad situations we are facing.” 

“Growing vegetables at home will help us save some money that can be spent on other things like medicine. NEF’s trainings will help me stand on my feet.” 

Women’s participation in the labor market continues to be necessary for helping reduce poverty and drive the economy as a whole. NEF assists Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and vulnerable members of their host communities, to achieve self-reliance through urban agriculture, small business development trainings, peer support networks, and savings and loan associations.

“NEF’s trainings provide us with a platform to meet new Syrian and Lebanese woman. The program gives us hope that we can provide a better life for our family.”

With diminishing humanitarian aid, we need your support now more than ever. Thank you for your continued support of the Near East Foundation, and for helping women like Fattoum and her family find safe and sustainable solutions to achieve food and financial security!


Bourj Hammoud, a densely populated and diverse city on the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon, is home to over 94,000 people from several ethnicities, nationalities, and religions. Living conditions in this suburb are very crowded and substandard. Commonly known through the years as the “hub for refugees”, Bourj Hammoud is now home to over 18,000 Syrians who have fled to Lebanon for a better life.

Most refugees have little to no source of sustainable income as their savings have been depleted—pushing them into risky coping strategies like child labor and exploitative, illegal, or demeaning work. With an aim to improve access to food and increase the economic resilience of at least 150 poor Syrian and Lebanese families over the coming months, NEF is focused on cost-effective solutions to achieve self-reliance through urban agriculture, small business development, financial literacy, and group savings.

NEF is working with the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the YMCA-Lebanon to help vulnerable families grow fresh fruits and vegetables at home by providing training and start-up materials for container gardening, vertical gardening, and/or rooftop gardening.

The very first woman to welcome the idea of urban agriculture into her home is Araxi. Araxi is a Syrian refugee who escaped the war three years ago. Like most Syrian refugees in Lebanon, she is struggling with insufficient financial resources as she and her husband try to put their two children through school, pay rent, and put food on the table.

After installation in early October, Araxi is already benefitting from the vertical garden which will yield enough onions, garlic, thyme, marjoram, and mint to use in her kitchen—reducing expenses she would otherwise incur purchasing these vegetables elsewhere.

“The kit was just recently installed, but the onion leaves are shooting, and my aunt and I already ate from them. On another note, the week I harvested the green onion leaves, I did not go to the supermarket to purchase onions or green onion leaves. In the long run, this will make a lot of difference.”

With diminishing humanitarian aid, your support is appreciated more than ever. Thank you for your continued support of the Near East Foundation, and for helping women like Araxi and her family find safe and sustainable solutions to achieve food and financial security!


Today, Lebanon hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees and Jordan hosts over 600,000. As the crisis enters its fifth year, refugees have depleted their savings and humanitarian aid is declining—leaving refugees to survive on just 50 cents today, and vulnerable families to resort to harmful coping mechanisms such as begging and child labor.

While immediate humanitarian aid is important, NEF is focused on cost-effective actions that have long-term sustainable impacts by enabling refugees to meet their own needs with dignity, and becoming productive members of their host communities. 

This month, the Near East Foundation held its first workshops in Lebanon as a part of its project to help refugees and vulnerable members of their host communities in Lebanon and Jordan build economic resilience and food security.  

On December 9th, NEF led an urban agriculture workshop at the YMCA in Beirut, Lebanon. Thirteen Syrian and Lebanese women from Bourj Hammoud attended, and were trained by American University of Beirut experts on urban agriculture topics, such as: vertical and horizontal planting, composting techniques, and how to use a sun-dryer.

As the workshop came to an end, the participants were enthusiastic to apply the newly learned information in their own homes. Many mentioned that they would like to attend similar workshops to further refine their skills. 

That same week, NEF led a second series of workshops on enterprise development. The aim of the four-day workshop was to help Syrian and Lebanese women study the aptness of their business ideas to ultimately translate them into viable business plans. The workshops also taught participants how to write clear, concise and effective marketing strategies, and the appropriate techniques needed to formulate a sound organizational and financial plan. 

One participant, Ada, who is a Syrian refugee and mother of two remarked “I have enough self-confidence to become an entrepreneur…but I need to refine my skills”.

A committee, comprised of representatives from NEF, YMCA-Lebanon, the American University of Beirut, and other business professionals, will evaluate the proposed business plans and give feedback and guidance where necessary so that these plans may one day transform into operating businesses. 

With a focus on women and adolescent girls, NEF’s overall aim over the next two years is to help at least 5,000 Syrian, Lebanese, and Jordanian families restore their livelihoods and achieve some degree of economic stability.

As always, thank you for your support of NEF and for supporting our project to “Help Syrian Refugees Help Themselves”!



In the past four years over four million men, women and children have fled across Syria's borders, desperate to escape the violence of their war-torn country. Those who have escaped to Lebanon and Jordan are now struggling to survive. Today, Lebanon hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees – constituting 25 percent of the country’s population. Jordan hosts over 600,000 registered Syrian refugees. Affected host communities and refugees are living side-by-side in impoverished neighborhoods where economic opportunities are extremely limited. Increased competition over jobs, housing, and food has made life harder for everyone.

As the crisis enters its fifth year, refugees have depleted their savings and humanitarian aid is declining. Nearly 90 percent of urban Syrian refugees in Jordan and 77 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in debt. To survive, vulnerable families resort to harmful strategies such as begging, survival sex or child labor.


Earlier this year, the Near East Foundation (NEF) made a two-year commitment to establish three “Siraj Centers” in Lebanon (Bourj Hammoud, Beirut) and Jordan (Zarqa and Russaifeh) to help at least 2,250 Syrian, Lebanese, and Jordanian families restore their livelihoods, achieve economic resilience, and meet their own needs with dignity.

NEF is creating the Centers to serve as physical safe spaces where Syrians, other refugees, and vulnerable Lebanese and Jordanians, particularly women and adolescent girls, can access training, resources, and information to start small businesses, home-based income-generating activities, and savings accounts to build financial assets. The Siraj Center services are tailored to host communities and refugees alike, based on opportunities available to each group.

At the Centers, which are housed within community-based organizations, people have access to:

1. Training and coaching to support microenterprise and small business start-ups;

2. Financial resources, such as start-up grants and savings products;

3. Vocational training opportunities;

4. Financial literacy training and savings accounts;

5. Real-time information on markets, employment opportunities, and related policies;

6. Referrals to other business service providers (micro-finance; business registration).

NEF’s goal is to support long-term solutions for refugees and vulnerable populations. This investment in education and workforce development creates opportunities for these families not only to support themselves but also to become contributing members of their communities. NEF has worked in the region for 100 years, and its on-the-ground teams have a deep understanding of what works. Once established in the three communities, the Siraj Centers can be replicated in other areas with high concentrations of refugees, as they offer a suite of services that fit with local needs and opportunities.


1. Follow-up with 800 participants from an earlier phase showed an enterprise survival rate of 100 percent after one year and an average increase in household income of more than 48 percent.

2. Secured $2 million in funding from Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation, U.S. Department of State and the governments of Taiwan and Switzerland to provide training, coaching, small business start-up funds, and seed money for savings and loan associations; these funds will enable the initiative to reach 2,100 direct beneficiaries (affecting more than 10,000 family members).

3. Completed financial literacy and savings pilot program with 30 Syrian women in Jordan; initiated expansion of financial literacy and savings programs in Zarqa, Jordan, with 52 Syrian and 23 Jordanian women; 100 percent of participants have used savings to start home-based businesses; this is a new approach to building refugee economic security and engaging Syrian and Jordanian women in savings associations to start productive activities.


NEF has secured basic funding for training, coaching, and business start-ups with 2,100 participants.

It is now looking for partners to contribute:

1. Volunteers with business/financial background to provide training, business mentoring, and coaching for new entrepreneurs; opportunities exist to organize service days and celebrations.

2. Basic equipment, furniture, and IT infrastructure for the three Siraj Centers, which will be housed at community-based associations and will continue to serve refugees and host community members after the end of NEF’s involvement; opportunities exist to sponsor and co-brand the centers;

3. Additional financial support to increase the number of beneficiaries/small business start-ups; additional funds are needed for incremental training costs and direct investment in businesses (approx. $600 per person/business); NEF seeks to mobilize an additional $1,750,000 to increase to increase the number of direct participants from 2,250 to 5,000 (benefitting 25,000 people).



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Organization Information

Near East Foundation (NEF)

Location: Syracuse, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Crowley Andrea
Syracuse, NY United States
$18,978 raised of $100,000 goal
108 donations
$81,022 to go
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