March 22, 2014
Young Syrian Women in Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp Use Their Skills and Learn New Ones to Open Businesses
Rania Abouzeid’s article in the March 2014 issue of Marie Claire, “Living in Limbo: The Women of Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp” reveals how Syrian women, young and old are making the most of a horrific situation. Covering young female entrepreneurs during Women’s History Month would not be complete if young entrepreneur Syrian women were not included.
While these women have been forced to leave their homeland, they do not sit around feeling sorry for themselves. The Zaatari refugee camp is Jordan’s fourth largest city and the world’s second largest refugee camp. There are over 124, 000 Syrian refugees living there, yes that’s right 124,000. Of that population 54 percent are female.
The young women I want you to meet are 19 and 20 years old. What is different for these young women?
- There are no universities in Zaatari. Rather than complaining about it the young women are carving out productive lives for themselves while they wait to return to Syria.
- It is not uncommon for Syrian women in Zaateri to be entrepreneurs and business owners. They may become entrepreneurs as they are the heads of their households and need to support their families.
- Some of these young women, even at the age of 19 were successful business owners in Syria. They love to work and are passionate about what they do.
Of the five young entrepreneurs in Rania Abouzeid’s article, a fifth one was a business owner in Syria. I want to introduce you to two of them:
- 19-year-old Aisha Hariri works with her family of entrepreneurial women.
- 20-year-old Em Odai is a serial entrepreneur. In Damascus she owned a beauty salon and loved every minute of it. The salon was exquisite as she describes it. In the Zaatari refugee camp Em once again began a beauty salon along with a rental business of wedding dresses and evening gowns.
Like many other Syrian women in Zaatari, Aisha and Em Odai have taken their skills to learn or start a business that helps others in Zaatari. Their businesses help to keep their spirits up while waiting to return to their homeland.
Aisha Hariri is from a family of women entrepreneurs. The women decided to combine their skills and open a family business preparing and selling makdous. To do so they converted one of Zaatari’s communal kitchens into a production facility. For Syrians and Lebanese makdous is a side dish made from baby eggplant stuffed with crushed walnuts, garlic, diced chili peppers and then pickled in olive oil.
Aisha makes a little over $70 a month in the family business. She graduated from high school and wants to attend a university to get a teaching degree. Asisha will need to wait until she returns to Syria to get her degree since Zaatari does not have any universities. In the meantime she is learning to sew while working with her entrepreneur relatives in their family business. Do you think Aisha will start her own business after learning the ropes of her family’s business? Aisha Hariri is learning more than how to run a food production factory. She is learning how to maneuver through a challenge faced by all family owned businesses. Can you guess what that might be?
Em Odai loves her profession as the owner of a beauty salon. She doesn’t need to work yet she enjoys working and her passion makes it happen. In Damascus Em owned a beauty salon named “Beauty Queen.” As Em Odai describes it, the salon’s name was perfect for it. When she and her husband with their 2-year old son headed for Syria, two of her four suitcases held hairdressing equipment. The equipment was taken at a checkpoint leaving her to with nothing to start all over in Zaatari.
Em Odai was able to open a beauty salon in Zaatari with partner who is also a female and refugee. They split the cost of a trailer purchased from a United Nation’s donation. While Em describes her new salon as “nothing special and boring” she would not be able to open it without a business partner. One of Em’s customers, Hadiyee Malak was an entrepreneur in Damascus. She had a salon as well. However Hadiyee does not have one in the camp because it is too expensive to set up a business like “Salon Em Odai.”
As I said earlier, Em Odai is a serial entrepreneur. She also rents wedding gowns and evening dresses. Em’s businesses do so well she is able to have an assistant. Both of her businesses are filling needs for women in a city where women make up 54 percent of the population. (Remember, Zaatari is the size of a small city and there is a need for special occasion dresses.) She has also provided a job for another young woman as her assistant.
I believe the stories of these Syrian women are a future chapter in Women’s History Month. The resiliency of young women from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Rwanda, El Salvador and Guatemala provide the young women with the courage to make an impact in their communities.
These women are instrumental in the growth of the global economy. They are making a difference with the education of their children and supporting their families, even those young women who are in their teens and early 20’s.
Read the complete article in the March issue of Marie Claire by clicking on: “Living in Limbo: The Women of Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp.”
We have two more post before March and Women’s History Month ends for 2014. I am not going to tell you who or what will be highlighting, only that you will be happy with it.
Sylvia Scott, Founder, Girl’s CEO Connection™