“I feel joy when I provide for the needs of my children” – Self-help Groups Support Women’s’ Financial Independence in SyriaPublished: Oct 2, 2022 Reading time: 4 minutes
The war in Syria, as well as claiming hundreds of thousands of lives, has left millions of citizens without a job or income. Many Syrian families rely on humanitarian aid because they have no other choice. However, humanitarian relief is barely enough under the increasing cost of living in northwest Syria. Food prices have increased drastically, and many people can no longer support themselves and their families.
Through the self-help project that PIN supports, Jamila and Bandar, from northwest Syria, have begun their own businesses, making enough money to support their families. We spoke to them to find out more about the project and how it is helping them to become financially independent.
Bandar and her family live in a two-room house in a village in rural Idleb. Before the war, Bandar travelled from place to place with her husband and children in search of work, most often in cotton and dairy farming. From early dawn until the evening, they would toil in the sun to earn enough money to see them through the winter. After hours spent in the cotton fields and pastures, Bandar would return home to cook for her children and wash their clothes by hand. It was tiring work, but they were happy.
With the outbreak of war, travelling for work was no longer an option. The airstrikes and shelling inched closer and closer, eventually striking the village itself. At the same time, the cost of buying necessities like food and clothes skyrocketed, leaving Bandar and her husband unable to provide for their eight children.
“I work whatever job is available, like farming, to help [my husband]. I sometimes sell used clothes. My children and I collected wood and sold it. Despite all our hard work, it is not enough to secure all our needs.”
Eventually, Bandar heard about the self-help group from her local council. 25 women in the group regularly contribute a set amount. Each week, they draw lots to decide which one of them will receive the sum of the contributions as a loan. When it is her turn, Bandar buys second-hand clothes, or sometimes children’s toys or snacks, which she sells on for a profit.
“The project is not about direct financial support. I wanted to participate and become successful. I am so enthusiastic about the idea of the project. I want others to see how successful I am. I would like them to see how I take care of my children, help my husband, and run a successful small project. Financial profits are not the most important point for me. I just want to be productive and successful in life.”
Stability and providing for her children are the two most important priorities for Bandar. The war has robbed her of the livelihood she once had, but with the self-help group, she is able to support her family.
Jamila is from the same region of Syria. She is young, 47, but is already a grandmother. Before the war, she made a living similar to Bandar, travelling across the country for agricultural work. In the working months the entire family would move to the farms and pastures in the countryside surrounding Hama. The outbreak of war put an abrupt end to this lifestyle.
Jamila and her family couldn’t escape the violence that swept Syria. One of her sons was killed and the other two were injured. With her husband already suffering from health issues which limited his ability to work, providing for her family became an even greater challenge.
On hearing about the self-help group through her local council, Jamila quickly registered to join. The loan she received helped her to start her own dairy production business. She can buy more milk to produce the different kinds of yogurt and cheese that she sells for a profit.
“It motivated me to work. It is better than relying on humanitarian aid.”
“It is a good feeling to work and secure my family’s needs. It is also nice to have a business and try to develop it. I also feel more confident and more able to do business with other people. I feel joy when I provide for the needs of my children. I also feel financially independent. […] Thanks to the help from the project, I am able to work and support my family. Their encouragement and support helped me a lot. The project’s main success is empowering women and encouraging people to rely on their work instead of humanitarian relief.”
Jamila lives each day as it comes, although she worries sometimes about the future of her children. The business she has started with the support of the self-help group constitutes a major step towards building a prosperous future for her family.
Thank you to the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) for funding these activities and providing a dignified way for people in Syria to be self-sufficient and get back on their feet.