A labour of love

Every day, 36 year-old Sanaa makes the scenic drive up winding mountain roads to nearby olive groves. But she doesn’t appreciate the view. She’s hidden behind blacked out windows in a crammed mini bus, and the sun hasn’t even risen yet.

Sanaa is one of 15 (mainly Syrian) refugees on their way to work picking olives in northern Jordan.

“I have to take a private bus to the farm and they deduct 1 JOD (about $2 CAD) for the ride. The bus driver hides us on the bus so that the police don’t see us,” explains Sanaa.

Refugees do not have the right to work in the country, so they often risk prosecution from the police, and even the threat of deportation back to Syria if they are caught. But it is often a necessary risk since it is the only way single mothers like Sanaa and other refugee families can afford to rent homes and provide for their families.

Despite working five days a week on the farms, what she earns is often not enough.

“I work like a slave…when I get back I sleep like the dead,” says Sanaa as she describes the arrangement.

This salary is for ten hours of back-breaking labour, where Sanaa’sworth is measured in sacks of olives. What she and her eight children can afford to eat that day is based on the speed and agility of her fingers and the strength of her back.

“We only eat twice a day,” she says. “My children don’t know the taste of different foods, or of good food. Sometimes we have chicken, but only when we have coupons, and I can’t remember the last time we had meat.”

Sanaa has received support from CARE with cash assistance of a total of US $265 ($365 CAD) that helped her pay rent, buy a heater and send her son back to school. The family lives in one small room together which serves as a kitchen, dining room, sitting room and bedroom. They have a small courtyard and outdoor toilet.

“Sometimes,” says Sanaa, “I take Loai [her 11 year-old son] to work with me just to keep him out of trouble, otherwise he can get into fights on the street.”

Sanaa’s eldest daughter, 15 year-old Fedaa, has also had to drop out of school in order to take care of her siblings and the home while her mother works. Sometimes she also helps out on the olive farms, usually leaving before her mother to come back and complete her chores at home. Sanaa cannot read or write, so Fedaa, who reached seventh grade back in Syria, is also the homework checker and teacher for her brothers and sisters.

Sanaa knows how important education is, especially now that she is the sole breadwinner for her family. With CARE’s help, she was referred to an organization that teaches adult literacy.

“I want to be able to recognize words,” she says. “Right now I can’t help my children with their homework and I can’t get better work. Now I am starting to know numbers and the alphabet.”

Thanks to CARE’s conditional cash for education programme, Fedaa’s brother, 13 year-old Qusai, was able to go back to school. Fedaa, though, is needed too much at home to be able to go back to study.

As part of her daily routine, Sana wakes up every morning at 4am to pray.

“I pray to go back to Syria and to protect me and my children from danger and for better conditions for my children here in Jordan.”

You can help support women like Sanaa and her family.