Photo: Salam Naqaresh working on her sewing machine. Freya Dowson for Action Against Hunger.
Since the onset of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, approximately 660,000 people have fled Syria and registered as refugees in Jordan. Due to the constant influx of people from across the border, refugees and Jordanians alike have been struggling with economic and infrastructural pressure. In a country where jobs and clean water are scarce, tensions have risen between refugee and host communities. Through our programming, Action Against Hunger works to soothe conflict and increase livelihood opportunities for all vulnerable people in Jordan.
Action Against Hunger’s cash for work program
In 2017, Action Against Hunger launched its cash-for-work program in Irbid, a border town in northwestern Jordan. The program provided training and employment for both Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians. Program participants collected, sorted, and up-cycled rubbish in the area, benefiting both the environment and the host community. Additionally, the program has built bridges between refugee and host populations and provided refugees with year-long work permits.
In May 2018, Action Against Hunger followed up with program participants to see how their lives had changed over the past year. Below is the story of Salwa Naqaresh and her sister Salam, sisters who fled Syria to build uncertain new lives in Jordan.
Salwa and Salam’s story
31-year-old Salwa Naqaresh never wanted to go to Jordan. She had a comfortable life in Syria, working as an English teacher and raising her two daughters.
“We had our car, we had our house,” says Salwa. “My life was very normal, like any Jordanian family now. I see they have their car, their house, their job, their husband. This was my life too, but I don’t have any of that anymore.”
When the war started, Salwa did everything she could to keep her family safe. She and her two daughters relocated to different towns in Syria, trying to escape the violence that seemed to follow them everywhere. But things got worse. Salwa’s father and two of her brothers were killed. The rest of her family was separated. Her daughter started vomiting in fear every time she heard shooting or airstrikes. There was no escape, and Salwa could not stand by as war destroyed her family. In 2014, she made the heart-breaking decision to flee home and join her younger sister Salam in Jordan.
Now, Salwa lives just outside Irbid with her sister, her daughters, and her two nephews. Both Salwa and Salam are separated from their husbands and receive no support, which makes their lives as refugees even harder. The sisters must support their four children together. “Sometimes it all builds up and I feel so stressed that I collapse,” says Salwa.
Despite her training as an English teacher, the strained economy made it impossible for Salwa to find a job in her field. When the sisters heard about Action Against Hunger’s cash for work program, they knew it was an opportunity they needed to take. A year later, they are glad they did.
Making connections and earning a living
“From day one, I loved [the program] and I loved the women I worked with,” says Salwa. When she and her sister first moved to Jordan, they had felt isolated from their local community. But after working with Action Against Hunger, Salwa and Salam met Jordanians who understood their situation. “They were very supportive and would invite me over for lunch,” says Salwa. “They would ask me to bring the kids and spend the day with them, and I was so happy.”
As well as meeting new people in their community, Salwa and Salam earned work permits. Unfortunately, the sisters did not feel safe using their work permits to find jobs around town. As two single women, Salwa and Salam saw that men were looking at them differently. So, the sisters thought of a solution. While working with Action Against Hunger, they had earned 12 JD each day, finishing the program with 600 JD in total. Salwa and Salam decided to spend half their earnings on a sewing machine, which they used to establish a small sewing and repair business from their home.
Now, Salwa and her sister have a safe place to work and earn 125 JD a month – enough to afford food and rent. They still struggle, but for the first time since fleeing Syria, the two women are empowered to support themselves. This is no small feat for two women in Jordan, especially Syrian refugees.
And although the family’s trials are not over, they are safe and slowly adjusting to life in Jordan. “Life is tough,” says Salwa, “So you have to be tougher.”
Photo: Salam Naqaresh (Left) and Salwa Naqaresh (Right). Freya Dowson for Action Against Hunger.