At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March last year, Jihan, a Syrian refugee, found herself in an all-too-familiar situation. “There was no work,” says the 25-year-old, who lives with her parents and younger siblings in the Jordanian capital, Amman. “My parents are elderly and the rest of my siblings are still in education, so I have a lot of responsibility to support them.”

Searching online for opportunities, Jihan saw – and then successfully applied for – a training course advertised on Facebook and run by local agency the Jordan River Foundation, funded by UNHCR. “They taught us practical skills as well as techniques for writing our CVs and applying for jobs,” she says.

In fact, without the knowledge and confidence she gained from the scheme, Jihan might never have applied for the role that ultimately allowed her to support her family. “It meant I was better placed to be successful in getting this job when I applied.”

This Mother’s Day, you have the opportunity to lift up other mothers and their families – by giving them the support and skills to set up their own businesses.

Jihan, 25, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan, makes Ma’moul (an Arabic sweet) at the Jordan River Foundation kitchen in Amman.

Jihan, 25, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan, makes Ma’moul (an Arabic sweet) at the Jordan River Foundation kitchen in Amman. © UNHCR/Lilly Carlisle

Refugee and Jordanian women sew cushion covers at a JRF run workshop in downtown Amman which will be sold at IKEA

Refugee and Jordanian women sew cushion covers at a JRF run workshop in downtown Amman which will be sold at IKEA. © UNHCRJordan/Lilly Carlisle

For the very first time, the Leading Women Fund is supporting a micro-business training program for refugee women in Jordan, starting next month. There are only 134 places available for refugee women and we’d love to let them know our Leading Women Fund community has supported them as a special gesture for Mother’s Day.

For Australia for UNHCR National Director Naomi Steer, this pilot program aligns perfectly with the ethos of the Fund, which provides long-term support and encouragement for refugee women to achieve the financial resilience and security.

“Syrian refugee women, many of whom have found themselves the head of their household, can find it difficult to achieve economic security, which makes them vulnerable to negative coping strategies such as early marriage for their children,” she says. “Through this scheme, we can help refugee women live with dignity by increasing their skills and enabling them to earn an income.”

Why this pilot program matters

UNHCR has always provided life-saving emergency support during humanitarian crises, whether that’s shelter, food or medicine. But increasingly, the organisation is engaging with long-term projects that equip refugees with livelihood skills in everything from agriculture to mobile app development.

“Economic inclusion means enabling refugees to provide for themselves and be net contributors to economic development as consumers, workers and entrepreneurs,” says Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “It is one of the most important keys to enhancing protection and unlocking solutions for refugees.”

While most Syrian refugees want to return to their homeland, the decade-long civil war shows little signs of abating. Over 663,000 Syrians have found refuge in Jordan, and most of them have long exhausted any funds they brought with them. Now, 80 per cent of families live below the national poverty line and many struggle to meet even their basic needs.

Women are particularly vulnerable, as refugee work permits are generally given to men working in industries such as construction, with long, fixed shifts. But the gig economy, and the boom in new, digitally focussed jobs provides a chance for women to build work around their family commitments – as long as they can access the training they need to get these roles in existing businesses, or to start their own.

What the program looks like

UNHCR supports a network of 23 Community Support Centres in urban areas across Jordan, which are managed by more than 200 volunteers from refugee and host communities. These are trusted members of their communities who play a vital role in UNHCR’s overall communications; for example, they manage various WhatsApp groups that reach over 51,000 refugees.

That’s why the Support Centres – familiar, safe and staffed by friendly faces who can help with childcare – are the ideal location for the pilot scheme.

Participants in five cities will receive eight days of micro-business training, focussing on businesses that suit the gig economy (flexible and responsive); those that have an online focus; ideas that support supply chain structure, and more. They’ll learn about business planning, marketing, financial management and other skills essential to the Jordanian economy as it recovers from the pandemic lockdowns.

As Jihan knows, employment training provided by UNHCR can mean the difference between a future filled with fear or one lit by hope.

Thanks to the course she completed, Jihan works in a commercial kitchen that makes pastries and baked goods sold in supermarkets. She works hard – six days a week – but the steady wage makes an enormous difference to her family. She also feels newly part of the local community.

“There are a couple of Syrian refugees working in the kitchen,” she says. “But there are more Jordanians. This has been nice as it means I have met lots of new people and friends. The women who work here are like my family.”

You have until 9th May to help fund this program – so please, donate today. By supporting this project you are transforming the dreams and aspirations of refugee women into reality.




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