“We have found our entrepreneurial spirit.”
With the Syria crisis entering its ninth year, vulnerable communities in neighbouring countries have shown tremendous solidarity hosting families displaced by war. UNDP is helping refugees and their host communities with a variety of programmes which generate income and build skills and friendships— just part of what we do to help vulnerable communities respond to the impact of the Syria crisis. As the Brussels III Conference on the Future of Syria and the Region commences, UNDP urges partners to join us in supporting 5.6 million refugees and 3.9 million vulnerable members of host communities.
As Jordan’s most densely populated area, the northern governorate of Irbid encompasses a lively community that hosts 21 percent of the total Syrian refugee population in the Kingdom. Undoubtedly, this has strained the economy in terms of resources, the labour market and community ties.
Aimed at enhancing livelihoods, improving job opportunities and strengthening social cohesion in Irbid, UNDP’s Skills Exchange project engaged 89 young Jordanian men and women trainees, and 48 Syrian experts in a unique bonding experience. It’s part of our work within the Regional Refugee and Resilience Programme, which UNDP co-leads with UNHCR in countries surrounding Syria, and in concert with national partners and NGOs.
With a focus on six main sectors, Syrian trainers openly shared their expertise and skills with their aspiring young Jordanian counterparts.
Almost two years later, these ties have had a life-changing impact. Equipped with newly acquired skills and knowledge, the young Jordanians have been able to create their own projects and businesses, and increase their income to better support themselves and their families.
Sanaa’ was a young ambitious Jordanian woman seeking to start her own sewing business who experienced a life-changing encounter when she met her Syrian trainer Nadia. “I started with zero knowledge about sewing clothes. Nadia has taught me all the basics of sewing and tailoring, and how to operate a sewing machine,” she says. Today, she, with Nadia’s unwavering support, has established clientele whom she caters for in her own home.
Sanaa’ has also found inspiration in her children. For “Yellow Day” at her daughter Sawsan’s school, and after tirelessly searching for an outfit in the market, Sanaa’ decided to put her learning into practice, and sewed a vibrant dress to match her daughter’s joyful personality.
“I am blessed to be able to put a smile on my children’s faces,” she says.
Struggling to maintain an income, Islam and Fatima participated in the project to learn the fundamentals of operating a food production business. Their Syrian mentors provided them with food processing tips, and guidance to run their business, allowing them to start providing daily meals for university students.
“When we first operated, we had no competition. But now, other people are seeing the value in what we are doing and have started to do the same. We have found our entrepreneurial spirit and we face our business challenges with pride, passion, and the assistance of our mentors,” says Islam.
“This experience has made us realize that we have more commonalities than differences with our fellow Syrians, which has certainly strengthened our trust and relationships with one another,” says Fatima
This win-win situation has allowed Syrian mentors to help Fatima and Islam by polishing their skills, and, in return, Fatima and Islam have started to engage their mentors in large order preparations, paying them for their contributions.
However, these mentor-mentee relationships extend beyond the kitchen, for the women share a special bond; regularly checking up on each other and often meeting up for tea or coffee.
Ghandi, a Syrian carpenter, generously passed on his expertise through UNDP’s Skills Exchange project to Rami, a young Jordanian eager to learn and excel at this profession.
After completing the project, Ghandi witnessed passion and dedication in Rami that he could not walk away from. The pair united their efforts and capital and formed a business partnership that has improved their productivity and expanded their client base. Both men work full-time on their business and can earn enough to support themselves financially.
“I put my hand in his and we formed this partnership. Together we are better,” Ghandi says.
These unique bonds created through exchanging skills continue to flourish, highlighting the power in cooperation to promote trust, prosperity and cohesion.
By UNDP Jordan; Photos by UNDP Jordan/Lianne Manna