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‘Syrians have many talents to support host country’

Entrepreneur partners with Jordanian to run sewing factory that trained 200 women

By Camille Dupire - Nov 15,2018 - Last updated at Nov 15,2018

Over 200 women from the local community have been trained at Lana’s sewing factory (Photo courtesy of Oxfam)

AMMAN — A Syrian refugee woman who found shelter in the Kingdom six years ago has become a successful and leading entrepreneur in her host community, defying the odds piling up against her.

Two years after fleeing the civil war raging in her hometown of Damascus, Lara decided to partner with a Jordanian man to start her own business of homemade creations and help sustain her and her family’s needs.

Buying material from four other Syrian women she met through her family, she produced soaps, clothing, candles, accessories and embroideries.

“Setting up my business wasn’t easy but the worst part came when I arrived one morning at my workshop and found everything gone,” she recounted, remembering how her partner had vanished, taking with him all the equipment and months of work and investment.

“I lost a part of me at that moment, I got really depressed,” Lara continued, remembering nonetheless the ray of light in the darkness that came in the form of her fellow Syrian workers and her landlord.

“The women I was working with called me saying ‘we will work for you for free’. And my landlord offered me to stay in the workshop until I got back on my feet. This really gave me the strength to start all over again,” the young entrepreneur reminisced, beaming.

With the help of a new sponsor and the unwavering support of her work partners, she managed to start again, with her workshop filling up with more and more orders every day. 

“I set up this business to break free from the cycle of aid. I want to produce something sustainable for me and other women here,” Lara explained, stressing that “we have been brought together by war: we are more than colleagues, we are a community”. 

Boosted by her newfound prospects, she created a Facebook page “Syrian Jasmine”, which caught the attention of Sana, a 55-year-old Jordanian passionate about clothing design.

“I reached out to her to tell her how impressed I was by how kind and inspired she is,” Sana remembered, noting that they realised they were actually neighbours and had a lot in common, prompting them to start working together.

Sana does the embroidery and dyeing at home and regularly visits the workshop where the Syrian women work on the sewing. She said she admires her colleagues’ “skills, determination and willpower to achieve their goals”, stressing that Lara’s feisty entrepreneurial spirit “contributed so much to the lives of these women”.

“If I ever have the money to establish a business, I will open a sewing factory and employ Syrian women. If we can use their skills to improve our economy, then we will not need to import so many products from other countries,” she concluded.

Since its reopening in 2015, the workshop has trained over 200 women from the local community, Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian and Iraqi, among others, earning it the nickname of “A Small Jordan”.

Although women-owned businesses constitute only 10 per cent of all businesses in Jordan, they employ up to 55 per cent of all women in the workforce, according to a recent USAID study. 

“We as Syrians have many talents. We have ideas and innovations. We can use them to support ourselves and the country we are in,” Lara pointed out, underscoring that “we are not a burden but useful to Jordan”.

“Such stories form a small mosaic of what communities in Jordan have done to support each other,” said Jordan INGO Forum Advocacy Coordinator Mathilde Vu, who took part in a campaign aimed at showcasing real life stories of trust, friendship and solidarity that are witnessed daily among host communities, refugees and minorities in Jordan.

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